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Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart

Airs Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas perform at a circuit competition in Coachella, California.

"Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart," a new documentary by Robin Rosenthal and Bill Yahraus, will have its broadcast premiere on PBS as part of Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series VOCES ON PBS, in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month.

Before every competition, judges from the Mexican Federation of Charrería check to see that every element of tack and costume matches and conforms to FMCH rules.
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Above: Before every competition, judges from the Mexican Federation of Charrería check to see that every element of tack and costume matches and conforms to FMCH rules.

Every weekend, at rodeos from Illinois to California, teams of young Mexican American women climb onto sidesaddles in elegant charra suits or ruffled adelita dresses and weave their galloping horses through dangerous, high-speed ballets known as escaramuzas, from the Spanish word for “skirmish.”

"Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart" follows one Southern California team, Las Azaleas, on their quest to represent California and the United States at the National Charro Championships in Mexico, where “to be Charro is to be Mexican.”

Rooted in the cattle culture of Colonial Mexico, Charrería blends the equestrian skills, handcrafted tack, elegant costumes, music, and food of that rich heritage into a living folk tradition. Between the men’s riding and roping contests, the female escaramuzas charras perform their perilous, precision horse ballets, bending and twisting their galloping, reining horses around each other in intricate synchronized patterns, like weaving a hair braid at warp speed.

Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas team captain Sandy Torres readies herself for competition.
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Above: Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas team captain Sandy Torres readies herself for competition.

Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas member Vanessa Garcia proudly carries the team banner at the National Charro Championships in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
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Above: Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas member Vanessa Garcia proudly carries the team banner at the National Charro Championships in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Las Azaleas, based in Riverside County and led by Sandy Torres and Maribel Gutiérrez, are one of the most exemplary escaramuzas not only in California, but in the United States. Helping to preserve the traditional equestrian culture of La Charrería brought here by their Mexican parents and grandparents, the members of Las Azaleas have been perfecting their skills in various team configurations for many years.

Since forming Las Azaleas in 2005, they have dedicated themselves to excellence, winning California, Regional and U.S. National Championships many times over, and representing California and the U.S. at the National Charro Championships in Mexico.

Their strong ties to the sport are reinforced by having brothers, husbands, fathers and grandfathers who have all competed in charreadas at the championship level. As culture bearers, Las Azaleas not only hold themselves to the highest standards, but have been actively involved in passing their tradition on to the next generation by bringing their daughters and younger sisters into the team, and coaching a team of “up-and-comers” as well.

The film follows Las Azaleas as they rigorously train to compete in Mexico amid growing family obligations and concerns about border violence. For the dedicated members of Las Azaleas, escaramuza describes not only the danger and fierceness of competition, but the tug of war between New World modernity versus the Old World traditions and their own complicated relationship with the culture they love.

This program originally aired in 2012.

VOCES is on Facebook, and you can follow @VocesMedia on Twitter.

Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart - Preview

Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart is the story of Las Azaleas, a team of first-generation Mexican American horsewomen on a two-year journey to represent the United States at the National Charro Championships in Mexico.

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