Type the text here Horse tripping’: animal welfare

laws and the production of

ethnic Mexican illegality

Laura Barraclough

Published online: 08 Jun 2013. 

Horse tripping’: animal welfare laws and

the production of ethnic Mexican illegality

Laura Barraclough


Conflicts over animal practices have long been used to construct

dynamics of power. This essay examines how debates over immigrant

animal practices contribute to the production of immigrant ‘illegality’ in

the contemporary USA. I examine laws banning the ‘horse tripping’

events of the Mexican rodeo enacted in California (1994) and Arizona

(2009), situating these laws and related media coverage within the broader

landscape of exclusionary anti-immigrant politics. While the activists

(including Latinos) who supported the bills were primarily concerned

with animal welfare, their concerns were marshalled, out of context and

against their will, by nativists who demand border militarization,

exclusion and deportation. This essay shows that a range of actors 

not just notoriously nativist groups but also Latinos themselves, as well as

progressive people and organizations  participate, indirectly and

inadvertently, in the production of immigrant illegality.


In 2009, the Arizona state legislature overwhelmingly passed a littleknown

bill, House Bill 2282, which banned the two so-called ‘horse

tripping’ events of the charreada (Mexican rodeo): the manganas a pie

and manganas a caballo (roping the front legs of a galloping mare

while on foot or on horseback, respectively, to bring her to the ground

in a shoulder roll). In the legislative hearings for House Bill 2282,

charros (Mexican cowboys) were portrayed as threats to American

identity and culture. The bill’s sponsor falsely contended that charros

intentionally maim and kill horses, while a city official from Phoenix

argued that people who abuse horses also abuse ‘our children’ and

must be reminded of American laws’. Ultimately, the Arizona state

legislature deemed the manganas an illegitimate cultural practice, in

contrast to ‘legitimate’ events in Anglo-American style rodeo, which

were explicitly exempted from the law (ASLHJC 2009).

Arizona was not alone in banning ‘horse tripping’; nine states have

banned the manganas since 1994 (Curnutt 2001, p. 153) in two distinct

waves corresponding precisely with the anti-immigrant sentiment and

legislation that erupted in the mid-1990s and again in the mid- to late-

2000s (Varsanyi 2010). Although these laws highlight a deeply contentious

element of Mexican immigrant culture, they have been largely ignored

by the press, scholars and activists, who focus instead on legislation

relating more directly to immigration enforcement and immigrant

exclusion such as Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 (2010) or Mississippi’s

House Bill 56 (2011). Scholars argue that these better-known laws, as

well as the thousands of other immigration-related bills passed in recent

years, collectively construct immigrant ‘illegality’, conceived not as an

objective marker of legal status but rather a racializing device that

positions Mexican migrants as criminals threatening American identity

and sovereignty from within the nation state (De Genova 2002; Ngai

2004; De Genova 2005; Nevins 2010). In focusing on laws directly

related to immigration, however, scholars miss an opportunity to

analyse the wider cultural terrain upon which illegality is constituted.

Given the centrality of animal practices and humananimal relations

to the consolidation of racial categories and structures of power, past

and present, animal welfare laws offer an especially rich site to analyse

the contemporary production of illegality. In this essay, I examine state

proposals to ban ‘horse tripping’, focusing on the laws passed in

California (1994) and Arizona (2009). I examine legislative documents,

media coverage and the websites and blogs of animal welfare organizations

to account for the relationships between the law, media and social

practice in the production of illegality. I argue that the discourses about

horse tripping’ propose an interpretation of charros’ cultural practice

specifically, and ethnic Mexicans’ degree of civilization more broadly,

within a wider social field characterized by debates about the threats

that Mexican immigrants allegedly pose to American culture and the

economy. I show that ethnic Mexicans who engage in the practice are

racialized and marked as illegitimate subjects devoid of claims to

belonging or citizenship that is, as ‘illegal’  and that they are

economically marginalized and politically disenfranchised as a result.

Yet because of the moral dilemmas raised by human domination

over non-human animals, legislation to ban the manganas has

generated substantial support from progressive people and organizations,

including those that represent the ethnic Mexican community,

which complicates analysis of animal welfare practices as a constitutive

site of illegality. As this essay will demonstrate,Mexican American

animal welfare activists, Chicana feminists and organized labour have

opposed the events because of the parallels that they perceive between

charros’ domination of animals, patriarchal ethnic Mexican family

structures, cultural nationalism and capitalist exploitation of the

working class (see also Na´jera-Ramı´rez 1994). Their objections have

often been marshalled, out of context and against their will, by

nativists who demand border militarization, exclusion and deportation.

Thus, a range of actors  not just notoriously nativist groups like

the Minutemen but also Latinos themselves, as well as people and

organizations that are socially progressive in other ways  participate,

indirectly and inadvertently, in the production of illegality. In what

follows, I first develop a theoretical framework for the analysis of

animal practices as a constitutive site of immigrant illegality, and then

use this framework to examine how the laws in California and Arizona

worked to construct Mexican immigrants and their co-ethnics as

illegal’ subjects.

Animal practices and the production of immigrant illegality

Contrary to US popular media, which use the word ‘illegal’ as a

naturalized and dehumanized marker of immigrant status, scholars

conceptualize illegality as a sociopolitical category, constituted by the

law, that marginalizes immigrants who reside within the USA, as well

as their co-ethnics, to preserve the capacity for their economic

exploitation and political disenfranchisement (De Genova 2002;

Ngai 2004; De Genova 2005; Nevins 2010; Harrison and Lloyd

2012). De Genova (2005, p. 215) argues:

In the everyday life of Mexican migrants in innumerable places

throughout the United States, ‘‘illegality’’ reproduces the practical

repercussions of the physical border between the United

States and Mexico across which undocumented migration is

constituted. In this important sense, migrant ‘‘illegality’’ is a

spatialized social condition inseparable from the particular ways

that Mexican migrants are likewise racialized as ‘‘illegal aliens’’ 

invasive violators of the law, incorrigible ‘‘foreigners’’, subverting

the integrity of ‘‘the nation’’ and its sovereignty from within the

space of the nation-state.

Illegality is produced through everyday processes by social actors who

do not necessarily represent the state, including animal welfare

activists. The state is, however, paramount, because it creates the

laws that define immigrant practices as ‘illegal’. The law is buttressed

Horse tripping’ 3 dominant discourse (De Genova 2002).

For Chavez (2008, p. 2), the primary discursive formation shaping

illegality since the 1990s is the ‘Latino Threat Narrative’, which

suggests that:

Latinos are unwilling or incapable of integrating, of becoming

part of the national community. Rather, they are part of an

invading force from south of the border that is bent on

reconquering land that was formerly theirs (the US Southwest)

and destroying the American way of life.

A sense of Latinos’ profound cultural difference and separation is

central to the Latino Threat Narrative. The claim is that ethnic

Mexicans and other Latinos cannot and will not assimilate into

American society, thereby constituting a primary threat to the

sovereignty of the nation state. The Latino Threat Narrative is

constructed primarily through media spectacles, which, according to

Chavez (2008, pp. 56):

transform immigrants’ lives into virtual lives, which are typically

devoid of the nuances and subtleties of real lived lives. It is in this

sense that the media spectacle transforms a ‘‘worldview’’  that

is, a taken-for-granted understanding of the world  into an

objective force, one that is taken as ‘‘truth’’.

As a result, viewers lack empathy for immigrants and their co-ethnics

and ‘pass policies and laws that govern their behavior, limit their social

integration, and obstruct their economic mobility’ (Chavez 2008, p. 6).

Indeed, this is exactly what has happened since the 1990s: the number

of state- and local-scale laws related to immigration has skyrocketed,

corresponding to a charged media climate in which anti-immigrant

sentiment has grown dramatically (Varsanyi 2010).

Though not usually considered within this broader legal landscape,

controversies about immigrant animal practices merit closer attention

as vectors producing illegality. With the growth of the animal rights

movement since the 1970s, a robust body of animal welfare law has

been established (Curnutt 2001). These laws extend a long history in

which conflicts between groups with culturally distinct animal

practices have been used to construct and bolster dynamics of power.

Manipulation of the humananimal boundary was a central tool in

the European colonial project, when modern notions of race were first

being developed; non-European bodies were labelled as ‘beastly’ and

savage’ to justify their dispossession, colonization, enslavement and

4 Laura Barraclough

exploitation (Eze 1997; Elder, Wolch and Emel 1998; Mullin 1999;

Lundblad 2012). Although the terms of race-making have clearly

changed since the height of European colonialism, the humananimal

boundary continues to be a key site for marking difference and

justifying inequality in a post-colonial, neoliberal world. In South

Africa on the eve of democracy, for example, ritual cattle slaughter

conducted by black South Africans in formerly exclusive white,

middle-class suburbs became a ‘lightning rod for concerns about

racial integration in the post-apartheid suburb’ (Ballard 2010, p. 1070).

In Malaysia since independence from British colonialism, characterizations

of ethnic Chinese pig farmers as ‘dirty’ by the Malay-Muslim

majority have subtly shaped land development processes and regulations

to the pig farmers’ disfavour (Neo 2012). And in the USA, in

addition to the events in the Mexican charreada, activists have targeted

the live-animal markets frequented by Chinese immigrants, the

spiritual practices of West Indian immigrants devoted to Santeria,

and Muslim and Pilipino food preparation methods (Griffith, Wolch

and Lassiter 2002; Casal 2004; Kim 2007; Emery 2012). For Elder,

Wolch and Emel (1998, pp. 723), these conflicts signify a ‘process of

animal-linked racialization [that] works to sustain power relations

between dominant groups and subordinate immigrants, deny their

legitimacy as citizen-subjects, and restrict the material benefits that

derive from such status’  in other words, to produce immigrant


Yet because animal practices raise the issue of speciesism 

conceived as the failure to accord any non-human being equal

consideration and respect (Dunayer 2004, p. 5)  such processes of

racialization and ‘illegalization’ become significantly more complicated.

Critical ethnic studies and American studies scholars, among

others, denounce the ways that cultural defences of human ‘rights’ to

dominate non-human animals not only fail to engage meaningfully the

moral issue of animal well-being, but also reify uncritical and nonintersectional

forms of multiculturalism (Casal 2004; Kim 2007). Kim

(2007, p. 234) observes that immigrants and ethnic minorities typically

invoke the value of their animal practices to the cohesion of their

cultural communities, and interpret their treatment by animal activists

as the latest attack in a long history of white aggression. They typically

argue that animal activists are hypocritical because they do not target

animal practices of the majority culture that could, if using similar

standards, also be judged as cruel. Yet Kim responds that the

multiculturalist defence wrongly essentializes and homogenizes animal

activists, who embrace a wide range of ideologies, strategies and

commitments and are often socially progressive in other ways (see also

Finsen and Finsen 1994, p. 26; Beers 2006, pp. 14795). She notes that

the multiculturalist framework overlooks divisions within ethnic

communities, and insists that animal welfare activists are working to

challenge ‘majority’ cultural practices such as American rodeo and

factory farming, albeit more slowly given the power of the industries

representing those interests. For all these reasons, Kim (2007, p. 239)


The notion that we are looking at a ‘‘clash of cultures’’ over

animal usage is therefore misleading. What we are really looking

at is a set of conflicts among interested parties who hold different

positions on specific animal-usage issues and belong to different

racial/ethnic groups, as well as the broader political entailments

that then attach to these conflicts.

My purpose in the remainder of this essay is to investigate these

broader political entailments’, and specifically the ways in which the

horse tripping’ bans  despite their ethical intentions and roots in

progressive movements  contribute to the production of immigrant

illegality. I remain sensitive to the dilemmas raised by the issue of the

human domination of non-human animals, while also showing how

those moral concerns can be, and have been, marshalled in the service of

a wider exclusionary agenda. As Na´jera-Ramı´rez (1996, p. 506) argues:

In a time of heightened intolerance, fear, and suspicion of others,

the charreada  a transnational cultural practice involving

predominantly working-class Mexicans  finds little support or

justification among the American public. Instead, the charreada

becomes one more social problem brought to the United States

by Mexican immigrants.

Indeed, in both California and Arizona, the ‘horse tripping’ bills were

enacted alongside other more obviously anti-immigrant bills, namely

California’s Proposition 187 (1994) and Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070

(2009). Thus, despite their ethical intentions and progressive positions,

animal welfare activists who worked to ban ‘horse tripping’, as well as

the organizations representing ethnic Mexicans that supported the

bills, inadvertently and indirectly engaged in the work of Latino

racialization and the production of immigrant illegality. I now

examine the California and Arizona bans within the wider landscape

in each state regarding ‘illegal’ immigration.

California (1994)

California was the first state to ban ‘horse tripping’, in 1994. At that

time, the state was gripped by polarized debates surrounding

Proposition 187, which proposed to deny medical care, public

education and other social services to undocumented immigrants

and their children. Propelled by economic recession and growing

anxiety among white voters about the state’s emerging Latino

majority, Proposition 187 was passed by nearly 60 per cent of the

state’s voters. Although Proposition 187 was later declared unconstitutional

and unenforceable, its passage produced immigrant illegality

by representing undocumented immigrants as illegitimate

subjects, valuable for their labour but unworthy of political participation

or social membership (Cacho 2000).

Though originating from progressives, California’s ‘horse tripping’

ban was proposed and considered within this context, and thus helped

shape the climate of illegality. California’s ban was initiated by Eric

Mills, director of the Oakland-based organization Action for Animals,

who had worked since the mid-1980s to prohibit various animal

injuries, from American-style rodeo to live-food markets. Like many

animal activists, Mills is progressive in some ways: he is a gay man who

was involved in the environmental movement before turning to animal

welfare activism, and he articulates a ‘universalist philosophy  that

the abuse of animals is deeply linked with the same domineering

mindset that has subjugated women, ethnic minorities, and gay people

throughout history’ (Platoni 2003).

In 1993, Mills approached state congressman Joe Baca, a Latino

Democrat, to sponsor a ‘horse tripping’ ban. Perhaps cognizant of the

climate surrounding Proposition 187 and aware that the bill could be

perceived as another attack on ethnic Mexicans, Mills hoped that

Baca’s ethnic identity would assuage criticism. Baca agreed to sponsor

the bill, and introduced Assembly Bill 1809 to the state legislature that

year. Assembly Bill 1809 proposed to make it a misdemeanour to

intentionally trip or fell an equine by the legs for entertainment or

sport. However, when the Agriculture Committee adopted amendments

to regulate the manganas rather than prohibit them outright,

Baca and Mills dropped the bill (Bustillo 1994).

The following year, Mills worked to get a similar bill introduced, this

time arranging for the California Equine Council to sponsor the bill

through white Democratic Congressman John Burton. The new bill

proposed to amend an existing section of the California penal code

that already banned horse ‘poling’ (using a pole fitted with sharp

objects to make a horse jump higher) to also prohibit ‘horse tripping’,

punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Exceptions were made for medical and identification purposes

(Bustillo 1994). In this version, the bill specified ‘nor shall the section

be construed as condemning or limiting any cultural or historical

activities, except those prohibited therein’ (California Penal Code

597g), suggesting that the bill’s sponsors were concerned with the

potential impact of the bill upon ethnic Mexicans in the state, or

perhaps wished to defend themselves from charges of racism.

Yet these sensitivities were elided by media spectacles that, amid the

tense climate wrought by Proposition 187, transformed concerns with

animal welfare into a wider discourse of illegality. While the ‘horse

tripping’ bill was before the California State Legislature, a television

special entitled ‘Pity the Horses’ aired on the ABC network’s 20/20

programme. In Na´jera-Ramı´rez’s (1996) interpretation, the narrative

portrayed horses as defenceless victims of the Mexican charro. Several

testimonies from veterinarians and animal rights activists (including

one Chicana activist) were featured; all claimed that the charreada is

dangerous and unnecessarily cruel. The one representative of charros

defended charreada in the name of tradition. This media spectacle also

included multiple elements of the Latino Threat Narrative. Through

references to charreada as Mexico’s national sport, the segment hinted

that charreada is un-American. The show also characterized charros as

criminal, dangerous and secretive; for example, the reporter claimed

that she ‘needed to blend in to attend’ because ‘armed guards are

present and conduct full body searches for weapons and cameras’

(CSLHACPS 1994, p. 3). Finally, the segment ignored the fact that

animal rights activists oppose all rodeo activity, including Americanstyle

rodeos, thus ‘racializing the debate’ by isolating charros as the

unitary threat (Na´jera-Ramı´rez 1996). Despite these biases, the 20/20

programme was included as the main piece of evidence in the legislative

analysis prepared for Burton’s bill (CSLHACPS 1994), demonstrating

the power of media spectacles to influence policy (Chavez 2008).

Burton’s bill was supported by numerous animal welfare groups that

focused on the events’ potential harm to animals, but these groups

implicitly constructed charros as illegitimate subjects. In its testimony

before the California State Legislature’s Public Safety Committee

(CSLHACPS 1994, p. 2), the San Francisco Society for the Prevention

of Cruelty to Animals submitted: ‘Although practiced at certain rodeo

shows, ‘horse tripping’ has no legitimate ranching or agricultural

application. It is solely in the name of ‘‘entertainment’’ that horses

running at full gallop have their legs lassoed and yanked out from

under them’ (emphasis added). The Fund for Animals expressed

similarly subtle references to the charros as illegitimate caregivers for

horses: ‘no [true] horseperson would subject his or her horse to such

treatment’ (CSLHACPS 1994, p. 2).

Defenders of the manganas responded that the bill would negatively

affect ethnic Mexicans by contributing to a climate of anti-immigrant

sentiment and anti-Mexican racism; however, their objections echoed

the uncritical multiculturalism and speciesism that have hamstrung an

ethical critique of humananimal practices (Casal 2004; Kim 2007).

For example, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre said he

supported charreada because it is part of Mexican American culture

and a traditional form of family entertainment. He rejected the

characterization of charros as abusers who do not care about animal

welfare: ‘I think [the ban] . . .was prompted not by what is the norm,

but by some renegade groups that made it seem like charros are

unsympathetic to the welfare of animals, which could not be further

from the truth’ (Bustillo 1994, p. A18). Opponents argued that the bill

unfairly singled out Mexican American cultural events because it

proposed to punish ‘horse tripping’ but did not outlaw other activities,

notably Anglo-American rodeo events such as calf roping. As Pedro

Vaca, president of Federacio´n de Charros, told a reporter: ‘This is a

Mexican sport, and I think that has something to do with this. If they

take this away from us, what happens next? That’s what many of us

Latinos are saying’ (Bustillo 1994, p. A1). Manuel Escobedo, a

charreada organizer for the Pico Rivera Sports Arena in Los Angeles

County, believed that there were undertones of racism in the bill: ‘The

Americans are trying to take away one of the greatest Mexican

traditions . Plenty of horses die [at racetracks] but no one has

complained about that like this’ (Bustillo 1994, p. A18).

Yet numerous labour and civil rights groups representing ethnic

Mexicans supported the bill, defying the idea that the debate about

horse tripping’ was clearly defined along racial or ethnic lines. The

Mexican American Political Association, the Mexican American

Chamber of Commerce, the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the

International Longshore Workers Union all went on record in support

of the bill (CSLHACPS 1994). Mills submitted as evidence a letter that

Cesar Cha´vez, founder of the UFW, had written to him in 1990

(CSLHACPS 1994, pp. 34), which says:

There is great need for legislation to ensure the humane

treatment of animals employed in rodeos, and I would certainly

support any such bills . . .Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting,

and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the

same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent

towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.

Mills also submitted a 1993 letter (CSLHACPS 1994, p. 4) that he had

received from Arturo Rodriguez, then-president of the UFW, which


The legislation concerning charreadas and the banning of the

most dangerous and harmful of the events that you [Action for

Animals] are currently trying to put through is worthwhile and

much needed . . . I support your efforts on behalf of animals.

Echoing the animal welfare organizations, the Mexican American

Chamber of Commerce (California State Legislature 1994, p. 4) said:

The tripping of horses serves no useful or beneficial purpose and

is neither an art nor a sport nor can it be defended on the

grounds of cultural diversity or national tradition . . .You don’t

have to know how to trip horses to be considered a good

Mexican or Californian charro . . .No true horseman would

consider, much less allow, his/her horse to be tripped.

The cross-section of interests supporting the bill, including organizations

representing ethnic Mexicans, made its passage quick and easy.

The bill passed the State Assembly, with sixty-four voting in favour

and two opposed, and moved to the Senate in June 1994, where it was

also approved by a wide margin (Bustillo 1994). On 19 September

1994, governor Pete Wilson signed the bill into law, and its language

was added to the California Penal Code (section 597g), making the

practice of ‘horse tripping’ a state misdemeanour.

Despite the law’s progressive foundation and multiracial support,

California’s ban on manganas shaped a wider discourse of illegality,

anchored by Proposition 187, that contributed to charros’ economic

dislocation and political marginalization. Ramiro Rodrı´guez, national

press secretary of the American Charro Association who operated the

Los Alazanes charreada in El Monte (a city in Los Angeles County),

blamed the bill for the demise of his business. He said that the law

exacerbated the constructions of illegality and criminality framing

ethnic Mexicans in California. He told a reporter: ‘They almost made

it seem like going to a charreada was illegal, like going to a cockfight

or dogfight.’ He also noted the negative economic impacts: ‘The

arenas in Escondido, Coachella, Bakersfield, they went away. People

went from training horses to working as truck drivers. A lot of people

that were living well went from being on top to being on the bottom’

(Platoni 2003). Mark Franco, national director of the Federacio´n de

Charros, explained the bill’s impacts on charros’ political legitimacy.

He recalled that when the charros went to Sacramento to protest the

bill, their president spoke no English and needed a translator;

moreover, because of their outfits, ‘the senators thought the guys

were mariachis’. The charros felt that they had been delegitimized as

political subjects: ‘They really decimated us, and at that time we

weren’t prepared. We didn’t know why everything was happening’

(Platoni 2003).

For the California charros, these experiences were a wake-up call.

They immediately called a national meeting of charro organizations,

which decided to modify the practice of manganas in the USA. Since

1994, charros may rope the horse’s front legs but are prohibited from

actually bringing the horse to the ground, and strict punishments are

imposed on those who do (Guzma´n 1999). Despite these modifications,

however, animal activists and state legislatures have continued

their efforts to ban ‘horse tripping’ in other jurisdictions.

Arizona (2009)

Fifteen years after the passage of California’s ‘horse tripping’ ban,

Arizona’s state legislature considered a similar bill, amid a slew of laws

related to immigration enforcement and immigrant exclusion in that

state. The most controversial of these included Senate Bill 1070, which,

among other clauses, requires local law enforcement to determine a

person’s immigration status if there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the

person lacks documents (Arizona State Senate 2009a); and House

Bill 2281, which bans ethnic studies programmes (Arizona State

Legislature 2010).

It was in this context that Arizona’s ‘horse tripping’ bill was

introduced, considered and ultimately enacted. Upon her election to

the Phoenix City Council in January 2008, incoming Republican

representative Thelda Williams announced that her first item of

business would be to ban ‘horse tripping’ in the city, which she had

first learned about the previous summer while working with Maricopa

County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who proclaims himself to be ‘America’s

toughest sheriff ’ (MCSO 2012) and is embraced by nativists for

criminalizing immigrants. She explained her rationale for pursuing the

ban: ‘I don’t understand the entertainment or sport of it all because all

they’re doing is maiming and killing horses, but it is considered a part

of a rodeo and I want it stopped’ (Horse Channel 2008).

The Phoenix City Council did not take action, so Williams worked

with state representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) to introduce a

statewide bill. That bill, House Bill 2539, made the deliberate roping of

a horse’s legs for sport a misdemeanour, punishable by up to six

months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Exemptions were included for

traditional Western show events’ including barrel jumping, steeplechase,

racing and branding. Thus, ethnic Mexican charros were

deliberately singled out, while comparable activities that involve

predominantly Anglos and celebrate the American frontier experience

were specifically protected. In April 2008, the state House of

Representatives passed the bill by fifty-four to two and sent it to the

Senate, where it died on the last day of the legislature’s regular session

(ASLHJC 2009).

Sinema reintroduced the bill the following year as House Bill 2282.

When the bill came before the House Judiciary Committee, of which

she was a member, Sinema described the practice:

The purpose [of ‘horse tripping’] is for entertainment or sport,

and it’s practiced in three of the nine events held in charreada, or

Mexican-style rodeo. The tripping is intentional during these

events and points are awarded to contestants for dropping a

horse to the ground . . .we don’t have a lot of statistics about how

many horses are used in these kinds of charro rodeos, but . . . the

injuries are quite substantial.

Sinema distinguished the ‘horse tripping’ events, which she portrayed

as ‘illegitimate’, from ‘legitimate’ Anglo-American rodeo. This distinction

rested on her false statement (ASLHJC 2009, emphasis

added) that charros intend to hurt horses, an intention she did not

attribute to Anglo-American cowboys, who engage in virtually

identical practices:

I want to make it clear that this legislation would not interfere

with legitimate rodeo activities where the calves and other horses,

cows, are not hurt  or not intended to be hurt  during the

activity. This would solely outlaw those activities where the intent

is to hurt the animal and where points are awarded for felling the

horse to the ground.

Sinema misrepresented the manganas as intentionally harmful and

charros as deliberately abusive, while simultaneously freeing Anglo-

American cowboys from a similar critique. Her narrative fulfilled one

of the central outcomes of the media spectacle: it painted over details

and context to create a sensational (and untrue) portrait of the

practice, which could then be legislated out of existence.

Thelda Williams, who spoke in support of the bill, used similarly

sensationalistic language: ‘We felt very strongly because this is such a

severe formof animal abuse that there are just some things that warrant

this type of punishment and this happens to be one of them (ASLHJC

2009).’ Like Sinema, Williams mischaracterized the events as focused

primarily on the goal of injuring and killing horses: ‘To me, it’s heartbreaking

to think that you would deliberately maim or kill an equine.

They are beautiful animals, they do not deserve this, and it is simply a

sport whose purpose is to maim or kill an animal (ASLHJC 2009).’

She continued by suggesting that the events were linked to other

kinds of crime, namely child abuse, and that if they were allowed to

continue, the state of Arizona  represented by its white American

children  would be threatened (ASLHJC 2009, emphasis added):

I know people who abuse animals also abuse children, and to me,

in my mind, they are both very strongly linked. I think that any

form of animal abuse in the state of Arizona needs to be

prohibited, and very strong penalties attached so that they know

that we are serious about this, and that we will not stand for that.

Our people, our animals, are more important to us than anybody.

For Williams, ‘our people, our animals’ were clearly not charros and

not ethnic Mexicans, nor their children. She represented charros, and

the community that supports them, as cultural and national outsiders

 as illegitimate subjects  who need to be policed within the US

nation state. To be sure, charros would have taken serious issue with

these characterizations  except that none were present in any of the

meetings where the bill was considered. As a result, the portrayals of

charros and charreadas that Williams and Sinema advanced during the

legislative process were allowed to stand as fact.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and

was referred to the Senate, where Senator Jonathan Paton (R-Phoenix)

introduced the language of House Bill 2282 as a floor amendment to

Senate Bill 1115, which revised an existing statute prohibiting dog

fighting, to also ban ‘horse tripping’. Like the house bill, this

amendment specifically exempted American-style rodeo and other

Anglo-dominated equestrian events (Paton 2009). Not one legislator

spoke in support of the charros, or even raised concerns about the bill’s

clear ethnic targeting. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1115 by a vote of

twenty-eight to one, with no discussion or debate, and transmitted it to

the House for reconciliation. The House passed the consolidated bill

overwhelmingly, and transmitted it to Governor Jan Brewer, who

signed it into law on 13 July 2009 (Arizona State Senate 2009b).

As in California, media spectacles in Arizona played a key role in

the discursive construction of charros as illegitimate subjects, although

by the 2000s, websites and blogs had become significantly more

influential. Coverage of the Arizona legislative process was featured on

two blogs: horsechannel.com and the Phoenix New Times. The

horsechannel.com blog post, which caters to animal enthusiasts, first

appeared in January 2008 and opened with Thelda Williams’

mischaracterization of the sport: ‘participants . . . have the horses

gallop around a rodeo arena and then pull wires (sic) to trip the

animals.’ In the comments section, thirty-three individuals posted

thirty-five unique comments over a period of more than two years 

well after the ban had been passed  showing that the blog continued

to influence public opinion about manganas, and ethnic Mexicans,

even when the events were no longer allowed in the state (and despite

the fact that charros had not felled horses anywhere in the USA for

fifteen years). In this discussion, most posters wrote that they had

never heard of manganas, but were appalled to learn about their

existence. Most stated that they did not believe the manganas to be a

valid form of sport or entertainment, and supported Williams’

proposed ban. One person, Kathryn from Florida, did use the blog

to express her prejudice towards Mexico and Mexicans: ‘There is no

excuse for mangana, 400 years of stupidity and cruelty doesn’t make it

right . . . These ‘‘events’’ are enjoyed by neanderthal morons. You

would expect this to come from Mexico, just like bullfighting which is

reprehensible as well.’ Most comments, however, were framed as

concern for animals and did not attack Mexican immigrants, Mexican

Americans or Mexico as a country.

The second blog, posted by James King (2009) on the Phoenix New

Times  a lifestyle website that reaches a much broader audience 

appeared on the day that Brewer signed the ‘horse tripping’ law into

effect. King opened the article with the sentence ‘Its practice is even

dumber than its name’, and described ‘chicken-hearted charros’ who

play a ‘cruel game’. Forty individuals contributed 123 unique

comments. Like the 20/20 programme, this blog became a media

spectacle shaping the wider climate of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Randy Janssen, an Anglo-American man who defends the manganas

and maintains the website legalizehorsetripping.com, posted the first

comment and framed the debate by arguing:

Mangana or what the lunatic fringe likes to call horse tripping is

no more dangerous to horses then (sic) other equine events such

as steeplechase and cross country. The problem is, Williams lied

about it. She would not know the truth if it jumped up and bit

her. The fact is very, very, very few horses are hurt in mangana.

Eric Mills, the key figure in California’s ban, replied to Janssen:

I have witnessed charreadas first-hand. Even when the animals

are not injured, they are terrified. The horses I saw were

emaciated, with wounds old and new. They were leased from

‘‘killer-buyers’’, en route to the slaughterhouse. After being

roped, I saw horses turning somersaults, crashing into the arena

fence, defecating and urinating in fear, even screaming. And all in

the name of ‘‘tradition’’, God forgive us.

Janssen responded:

What you never seem to understand, is the importance of family

and tradition that is part of charreada. It is the core purpose of

charreada. That completely outweighs the small danger that the

animals are in. Homicide is the biggest killer of juveniles in the

country. Charreada helps to stop this . . . Outlawing mangana will

just mean that the already over worked police will have to

investigate alleged injuries to horses when they should be

protecting our children.

Notably, Janssen recast ‘our children’ to include ethnic Mexican and

immigrant children. But, like scholars who have debated the rights of

cultural minorities to engage in practices that harm animals, he and

Mills disagreed about where priority should be awarded: human or

animal lives.

Mills never replied to Janssen or posted again in this blog, but

Janssen’s claims about the centrality of charreada to Mexican culture,

and its importance for steering ethnic Mexican children away from the

dangers that they face by giving them a family-oriented recreational

outlet, sparked a heated debate. As subsequent posters responded,

they also subtly  and, in some cases, explicitly  attacked ethnic

Mexican families and parenting styles. ‘Mac’ wrote: ‘I think it is

supremely insulting to imply that Mexican families need to unite in

abusing animals to stay together. I assure you the Mexican family will

survive by relying on their traditions and religion.’ ‘Tattooed Lady’

wrote: ‘don’t try to use the excuse of ‘‘the ONLY thing keeping kids off

the streets is horse tripping!’’ what a crock! Time to come up with new,

improved ways to do that! Like . . .oh . . .GOOD PARENTING?’ A

poster named ‘MisterPeabody’ stated: ‘Maybe you people should be

encouraging your kids to volunteer at a shelter to keep them ‘‘from

getting pregnant and out of gangs’’ rather than supporting animal

cruelty.’ In response, Janssen replied: ‘Who are ‘‘you people’’,


With this query, Janssen struck a nerve that exposed Arizona’s

seething racial climate. Many blog posters protested that Janssen had

played the race card’, but then immediately  and without apparent

contradiction  linked their opposition to the manganas with the threat

that they believed Mexican immigration posed to American culture:

I am sick to death of hearing culture used as an excuse for cruelty

and abuse . . . FYI, this IS the United States of America, not

Mexico or any other third world country, Charreada is NOT a

tradition or custom here! . . .The ethnic/racial card is old and

played out. It has nothing to do with your ethnicity or race, there

are many customs/traditions that are not legal in the US, animal

fighting, canibalism, human sacrifice, etc and it has absolutely

nothing to do with discrimination. If you don’t like the laws here

you are free to leave at anytime. (‘Laura’)

If you want it in your life so badly, move to Mexico where

families are free to bond with one another over the petty torture

of innocent animals, and stop complaining. (‘Jessica’)

If you like this ‘‘sport’’ so much . . .move to that third world

failed state also known as Mexico. (‘Leni’)

For those of you who support horse tripping: okay, so it’s a

tradition in Mexico. FINE. KEEP IT THERE. I swear, the

machisma (sic) of bull fighting . . . and all the other garbage you

Mexicans call ‘‘tradition’’ can stay in your country and stop

leaking its way into the United States. (‘Andrea’)

I for one am sick of the bs ‘‘culture’’ argument. You are in OUR

country, either accept OUR culture or leave . . .Bottom line, we

need a much more secure fence at the border. For those that are

already in our country, either accept our ways, learn to speak

ENGLISH, or get the he** out. (‘JM’)

I for one am sick and tired of foreigners immigrating to this

country just to rape our freedoms!! (‘Anon’)

And one comment linked the manganas to that other hot topic in US

media spectacles concerning immigrants, the drug war:

I love freedom as much as the next person but a lot of the

‘‘underground’’ Rodeo circuit is actually laundering the drug

money and many gangs participate in every aspect of it, it’s more

like a introduction to the MM than keeping your kids from it.


As these comments illustrate, participatory online discussion about the

manganas offered a platform for the construction of key elements of

the Latino Threat Narrative: the sense of charros (and ethnic Mexicans

more broadly) as a separate and criminal people who are unwilling to

assimilate and who endanger American society. Together, these

discourses and the laws banning ‘horse tripping’ helped to consolidate

the production of immigrant illegality in Arizona.

Analysis and conclusion

There were significant differences between the legislative processes to

ban ‘horse tripping’ and the associated media coverage in California

and Arizona. These differences attest to each state’s distinct political

economy and racial formation, but they also show how illegality has

become consolidated as ‘common sense’, and therefore increasingly

difficult to challenge, in the past two decades.

California’s ‘horse tripping’ bill was notable for its progressive

foundations and multiethnic support. There, a white social progressive

used an intersectional, inter-species lens to link the oppression of

marginalized human groups, non-human animals and the environment.

Whether due to genuine concern for the bill’s potential impact

on ethnic Mexicans or simply shrewd political strategism, Mills

deliberately allied with well-respected Latino labour and civil rights

organizations that opposed the manganas. Although the ethical

foundations of the bill became overshadowed by media spectacle,

charros and ethnic Mexicans in California nonetheless retained some

political voice. After the bill’s passage, established Latino leaders

defended the importance of charreria to ethnic Mexican culture, and

charros had the ear of the media to explain the bill’s negative impacts.

Whatever the shortcomings of the multiculturalist framework in terms

of its refusal to consider the moral well-being of non-human animals,

its proponents were able to show that the law had ‘racialized the

debate’ by singling out ethnic Mexican animal practices while leaving

similar Anglo-American events untouched.

By 2009, in Arizona, these sensitivities and limited defences had

vanished. There, the ‘horse tripping’ ban was initiated not by animal

welfare activists, but by two white elected officials who had virtually

no first-hand knowledge of charreada, showed no concern about how

their bill might affect Arizona’s ethnic Mexican community, and made

no efforts to build alliances with ethnic Mexican representatives or

organizations. As a result, perhaps the most striking characteristic of

Arizona’s legislative process and associated media coverage, in

comparison to California, is the utter absence of Latino voices,

whether in support of the bans or in opposition. Although multiracial

coalitions that included many ethnic Mexicans were vociferously

protesting other exclusionary bills in Arizona, namely Senate Bill

1070 and House Bill 2281, around the same time, such coalitions did

not emerge to challenge the ‘horse tripping’ bill. There are several

possible reasons: perhaps they did not know about it; perhaps they

deemed it insignificant; or perhaps genuine concerns about animal

welfare made them wary of challenging this particular bill. Whatever

the reason, their absence facilitated the construction of charros and

those who support them as threatening, ‘illegal’ subjects.Williams’ and

Sinema’s truth claims about charreada went totally unquestioned,

and not a single legislator went on record as objecting to the clear

ethnic targeting of the bill or the ways in which charros were accused

not only of potential harm to animals, but also of a much broader

range of social ills including child abuse, terrorism and savagery.

The silencing of immigrants and their co-ethnics, and their exclusion

from the sphere of formal democratic politics, is one of the main

effects of ‘illegality’. It is a reflection of the climate of fear, borne by

the threat of deportability (De Genova 2002), that leads ethnic

Mexicans and other Latinos to avoid public space, social institutions

and interactions. Harrison and Lloyd (2012, p. 381) observe that, in

this respect:

Both the oppressive and productive machinations of power here

function in a decidedly Foucauldian way: not tethered to laws or

policies or specific state actors but operating pervasively through

memory of dangerous and expensive crossings, as anticipation of

apprehension and deportation, and through expectations about

the associated burdens.

The cumulative effect is to produce ‘the ideal, productive worker: the

compliant workaholic’ (Harrison and Lloyd 2012, p. 380), who is

simultaneously invisible in other dimensions of social life and who

bears the costs of social reproduction themself. In this way, constructions

of illegality ensure the profitability of capital and maintain the

political legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the public  a public from

which Mexican immigrants and their co-ethnics are increasingly


The legislative processes and accompanying media spectacles

analysed in this essay suggest that these forms of exclusion and

silencing are achieved not only through laws related directly to border

and immigration enforcement, which are of course crucial, but also

through debates about everyday cultural practices, including those

involving animals. Casting the analysis of illegality’s constitutive sites

more broadly, in this way, implicates a far more diverse range of

actors, namely progressive people and organizations, in the constitution

of illegality. As I have illustrated in this essay, animal welfare

activists’ moral objections to the treatment of horses in the manganas

became marshalled by nativists as evidence of ethnic Mexicans’ alleged

threat to American culture, and to support calls for border militarization

and deportation. Given what is at stake, therefore, these cases

suggest the importance of developing political coalitions between the

animal welfare and immigrant rights movements, which so far have

not worked together in any meaningful way. Together, these groups

could fruitfully examine the relationships between the human domination

of non-human animals and the marginalization of immigrants

in the post-colonial, neoliberal world.


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LAURA BARRACLOUGH is Assistant Professor of American Studies

at Yale University

ADDRESS: American Studies Department, Yale University, PO Box

208236, New Haven CT 06520, USA

Email: laura.barraclough@yale.edu

20 Laura Barraclough