EDITIONUSTHE BLOG 05/15/2015 03:16 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016
What makes the difference between our condemnation and our affirmation? Seeing people’s faces and knowing their names, learning their stories. They (and we) are real and, as in whatever group with which we identify, all people (ourselves included) are composites of good and not-so-good qualities. Isn’t it better for us all, to look for values-based qualities and build relationships on them?
One group, Escaramuza Charras, are Mexican-American women (US citizens), who combine regular jobs with competitive horsemanship; riding sidesaddle, they maneuver through intricate patterns involving rapid, highly skilled synchronization.
Graphic by Leah Rama and Pony Highway Productions
Their communal approach to competition is result-based, rather than confrontational; it’s win-win for their community, rather than win-lose for individuals. They work together to achieve goals for their community.
When we refer to immigrants to the United States, we often tend to say they should learn to fit in; they have to adapt to our ways. As they do so, they still maintain their own cultural identity; it’s essential for them, as it is for us all. Learning to maintain identity, while accepting new ways, is one of the most difficult, yet important, aspects of joining another culture, and these horsewomen do so, elegantly and gracefully.
Often, when we describe strong women in the US, we call them badass, meaning that the women are courageous and powerful enough to stand strong without male oppression.
The women described here are strong and, with the equal support of men in their community, they are all free to express their best qualities of gentleness, cooperation, strength, courage and so on, with the two genders complementing each other. Having known each other all their lives, these women (and their families) embody respect, trust, a collaborative spirit, and support for each other. For them, it’s all or none.
The sport of escaramuza charras is exciting, exacting, beautiful and elegant. It’s choreographed in the centuries-old tradition of Mexican horsemanship, and it’s performed by mothers, wives, daughters and girlfriends who fit in the practice and training (horses) sessions with home chores, nurturing families and, for some, outside jobs and businesses.
The eight-woman team of Escaramuza Charras Azalea, based in California, is comprised of first-and second-generation Americans who gracefully combine old-world traditions with new-world customs.
Sandy Torres (Photo by Pony Highway Productions)
Said Sandy Torres, team captain, ”Our goal is to compete with the best in Mexico and to earn their respect over there. It’s their national sport; they’re completely dedicated to it, and when we go over there, it’s not just to represent our last names or our group; it’s the USA, the Mexican-American girls over here.”
In 2012, after competing successfully against other US-based escaramuza teams, Escaramuza Charras Azalea won a spot on the US Congressional team, to compete in the world championships in Mexico. At the heart of their dedication, they say, is to show that they still carry on the traditions of their ancestors, valuing the personal characteristics that enabled them to succeed.
The women are hands-on in every aspect of their hobby, from training and caring for the horses, choreographing prescribed routines, to designing and sewing the costumes while caring for their families. Even Grandmas, retired from riding, contribute by helping to sew the costumes for competition. Competing in Mexico costs each team member approximately $2,000 for themselves and their horse. Azalea members raise the funds together, primarily through fundraisers such as Bingo games and communal meals, which they cater.
Why do they work so hard at the sport? For love and pride; they love the tradition with all its grace and beauty, they love their culture and want to preserve it, they love their children who usually carry on with it, and they cherish the values required for success - success, not only in their sport but also in helping to make the United States of America the best it can be.
Azalea Team member Maribel Gutierrez said, “It’s what we are, and what we want our kids to know.”
Why do we care about getting to know ‘other’ categories of people, anyway? Because, through inclusion of other people with their own unique strengths and abilities, we strengthen our diverse society, both locally and globally.
We, ourselves, are vulnerable to prejudicial labeling, and we usually don’t like it; if, by our attitudes we influence our children to continue harmful discrimination, in which they may very well feel the brunt of it in the form of bullying and/or ostracization, we continue the splintering stagnation of our society. On the other hand, if we believe in, and promote affirmation (inclusion), we enjoy the benefits of a healthy, mutually beneficial society that moves forward.
The way we make people feel is far more important than what we say or do; it is what people remember most about us, and it determines where we each fit into this diverse global society of the 21st Century. Do we strengthen our progress by working together? How do we make other people feel?
I remember my sadness as a teen, when my parents refused to let me be friends with a Jewish girl because she wasn’t our type; her parents felt the same about me, a Catholic. Is this who we Americans want to be? Who do we want to mold our children to be? When our children and grandchildren are adults, today’s ethnic minorities will be majority; where will the WASP adults fit in, then? What will be their legacy? What will be our legacy?
For you and me, we can also consider what we are, and what we want our kids to know. So, rather than excluding others whom we consider different from us, wouldn’t it be healthier for our society if we base our judgements on common values, or values we can emulate, and common goals? It’s our lives and our legacy.
Follow Molly Alexander Darden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MollyDarden
Molly Alexander Darden Journalist; Founder/Editor, First Rate America: Progressing in the 21st Century