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TURLOCK, USA: Like any Portuguese bullfight, the elegant rider skillfully turns his horse to avoid the horns of the hired bull, then bends down to stab him with the banderilla.

Except there was no blood flowing – the banderilla with Velcro just hung on a pillow attached to the back of the bull – and most of the spectators spoke English.

Because the scene takes place in the small town of Turlock, in the center of rural California where tens of thousands of Americans of Portuguese descent have established themselves over the decades and continue to keep their traditions alive, first on where bullfighting.

If there is no bleeding, California law is mandatory.

“The first time I came to California, fifteen years ago, I said + wow! +. It’s unique because they have everything like Portugal, ”said AFP Joao Soller Garcia, a professional rider who came from Lisbon to fight the Turlock bull.

“Go to a bullfight in Portugal and you’ll see the same thing,” he said, before entering the arena to the applause of about 4,000 spectators.

Most of them are from Portuguese immigration – mainly from the Azores archipelago – who have started settling in this agricultural area since the beginning of the 20th century.

The community has continued to thrive since then, with newspapers, radio, associations, and more.

– The bull with horns-

Nunes, Gomes, Martins, Oliveira … the names attest to this legacy in which about 350,000 Californians (a total of 39 million) proudly claim to belong, who have always remained fiercely included in their culture and their language.

This was the case of José, 30, who went to watch the bullfight with a group of friends. The young man, born in California, switched from English to Portuguese without even realizing it. “It comes naturally to me. Many people here speak Portuguese in their daily lives, even the youngest (…) For me it is sometimes easier to express how I feel or joke in Portuguese ”, he explained.

At the Turlock arena, the Portuguese flag flies next to the American flag but when the party starts, the Portuguese anthem is played first, proof of Portugal’s importance in this small part of central California.

Former president of the Turlock religious association that organizes bullfighting, Antonio Mendes was the one who revived this tradition in the city, in 1993.

“We’re Portuguese and it’s about our way of life, especially on the island (in the Azores) where I’m from,” says the septuagenarian who, despite the decades Turlock has spent, prefers to speak his native language. . and translated. .

A cattle breeder, Mr. Mendes also helped create a line of bulls that are still used today in Portuguese bullfights in the region.

Like California the bulls can’t be pierced with real flags, they don’t weaken like Portugal and need to make specific lines, just like fighting but not as heavy.

“Here the bulls weigh 400 to 450 kilos, because they are bloodless. In Portugal, they are about 600 kg, they are big ”, explained George Martins, captain of a“ forcados ”team.

These “forcados”, who were always accompanied by groups of eight men, all amateurs, were responsible for stopping the bull in their hands, thus symbolically inflicting its death. Because unlike Spanish bullfighting, in the Portuguese style the animal is never killed in the arena.

These unscrupulous people are nicknamed the “suicide squad” for a good reason: one of the “forcados” literally has a mission to file a case against the bull and take it by the horns, receiving a an impressive headbutt in the process. the companions captured the beast.

“It’s not just brute force, it takes a lot of technique,” ​​George Martins said.

– “All his strength” –

An enthusiast of bullfighting since childhood, Joao Soller Garcia says he enjoys the classic Portuguese style as much as its bloodless California adaptation. But “compared to Portugal, it’s a little more dangerous because the bull isn’t injured (…) He has all his energy”, insisted the rider.

Maxine Sousa-Correia, whose family of breeders have been making bulls for bullfights in California since the 1970s, laments the use of Velcro on flags, which is required by law.

“Unfortunately, it’s just an imitation but it’s the best we can (…) But we don’t do justice to this beast”, annoyed this bull enthusiast.

“Wrong!”, Cut her husband, Frank Correia.

“We have to do it like Portugal. But we can’t, because we are in the United States and they don’t know how to appreciate this art, ”murmured the cowboy-like man.

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