White city, black cowboys

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Of the large cities in the United States, Portland has traditionally been one of the whitest, ever since the Oregon state constitution restricted the entry of blacks. At the same time it is one of the most cool, artistic, progressive (the Democratic candidate for the US presidency has been the most voted in all elections since 1888) and socially liberal, protagonist of numerous manifestations of the movement #BlackLivesMatter . And now, for the first time, it has been the scene of a rodeo starring exclusively African-American cowboys.

“Black rodeos” are part of the tradition of states like Texas and Oklahoma, but they have never reached this corner of the Pacific coast before. 66.4% of Portland's 640,000 residents are non-Latino white, and while the demographics are changing, the black population is a small community. Several thousand came to work in the shipyards and concentrated in the very humble neighborhood of Vanport, near the river, which was swept away by a storm in the 1940s and never rebuilt. Very close to where it was located is the Exhibition Center where the event was held.

After the civil war, they drove cattle from Texas to the northern states of the country, through the Great Plains

Two thousand people, the vast majority black, have paid between $42 and $160 for tickets, sold out in just five days, to participate in an identity festival, the celebration of a culture and the claim that not all cowboys are synonymous with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or John Travolta, but there are also Jesse Stahl, Bill Pickett, Charles Sampson (the first African-American world champion, in 1982) or Cleo Hearn (starring in Levi's, Wrangler, Ford and Pepsi ads). ).

In the 19th century, white North Americans settled in Texas (first Spanish territory and then Mexican), bringing with them black slaves to grow cotton and tend cattle, so many that in 1860 they constituted 30% of the population (a total of 183,000). Although the civil war barely touched the state, which joined the Confederacy in 1861, many of its ranchers joined the ranks and relied on their forced laborers to tend their land, help deliver calves, keep them from cows escaped (barbed wire had not yet been invented) and wild ponies tamed. Thus the tradition of black jeans was born.

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Upon their return from the war, the landowners found that, despite everything, much of their cattle had been scattered, and they needed the former slaves to take them to their ranches and move them across the Great Plains north of the country, where there was great demand for meat. After emancipation, be cowboy it was a much better paid job for blacks than elevator operators or delivery boys. And although on their expeditions they were subjected to discrimination in the cities through which they passed (they could not eat in the same restaurants and sleep in the same hotels), their white colleagues generally treated them with respect and a spirit of camaraderie. The arrival of the railway, however, put an end to that way of life.

Participating in rodeos is very expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) and requires sponsors to pay for lodging, registration fees, trailers to transport the animals... Most of those who can afford it are white, who compete at across the country (and in Canada, where the famous Calgary Stampede is held) for prizes of up to $100,000.

The one in Portland, the brainchild of photographer Ivan McClelland and councilman Vince Jones-Dixon, has had a $60,000 purse (funded in part by the artist himself), and has attracted 40 cowboys blacks. Apart from the fight between the man and the bull (you have to stay at least eight seconds on the back of the animal without falling to the ground to be considered by the judges), there have been "barrel races" (in which the horses have to barrel raffle) and lassoing contests, and children have been offered scholarships to train themselves as the cowboys of the future. All this in the midst of soul and hip-hop music by a well-known local DJ, beer, barbecues, hats, belts, the typical shirts and pants (for many it has been the first time they have put on boots) and countless flags. of the stars and stripes. Patriotism, don't miss it.

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