Charro is a term referring to a traditional horseman from Mexico, originating in the central-western regions primarily in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, Aguascalientes, and Guanajuato. The Spanish terms vaquero and ranchero (cowboy and rancher) are similar to the charro but different in culture, etiquette, mannerism, clothing, tradition and social status.
Charreada has become the official sport of Mexico and maintains traditional rules and regulations in effect from colonial times up to the Mexican Revolution.
The word 'Charro' is first documented in Spain in the 17th century (1627) as a synonym of "person who stops" (basto), "Person who speaks roughly" (tosco), "person of the land" (aldeano), "person with bad taste", and attributes its origins to the Basque language from the word txar which means "bad", "weak", "small". The Real Academia maintains the same definition and origin.
The viceroyalty of New Spain had prohibited Native Americans from riding or owning horses with the exception of the Tlaxcaltec nobility and other allied chieftains and their descendants. However, cattle raising required the use of horses, for which farmers would hire cowboys that were prefereably mestizo and rarely Indians. Some of the requirements for riding a horse were that one had to be employed by a plantation, had to use saddles that differed from those in the military, and had to wear leather clothing from which the term "cuerudo" (Leathered one) originated.
With time, landowners and their employees, starting with those living in the Mexican Plateau and later the rest of the country, adapted their cowboy style to better fit the Mexican terrain and temperature, evolving away from the Spanish style of cattle raising. After the Mexican War of Independence, horse riding exploded in popularity. Many men became mercenaries, messengers and workers in plantations. The most successful of these were those of mixed race who could act as middlemen of the lighter skinned Spanish people and the darker skinned indigenous tribes of the area. Better known as Chinacos, these men became distinguished during the independence war but later became the modern "vaqueros". Rich plantation owners would often dress themselves and their horses in clothing that portrayed their status in the community. The poorer riders would also dress their horses in clothing made from agave or would border their saddles with chamois skin.
In 1861, during the presidency of Benito Juarez, General Ignacio Zaragoza created the first Rural Guard, a mounted auxiliary of the Mexican military. The Rurales were charged with chasing down highwaymen and rural thieves. During the rule of Porfirio Diaz, they were known for maintaining security, but also for their abuse of power. They were experienced riders, uniformed in gray charro clothing and sombreros. Heavily armed with sabers, rifles and pistols, they inspired fear, as well as an expression still in use today: con el lazo y con la lanza se forjó el Charro (With lasso and lance, the Charro was forged).
In the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican riders faced the Reform War. Those riders of Abolengo allied themselves with the foreign prince Maximilian I of Mexico who surrounded himself in their culture in order to appease to the average Mexican. The modern pants of the charro is attributed to his own personal design. On the other hand, the "plateados", riders belonging to rich liberal plantation owners, allied themselves with the republic. From this time period, Carlos Rincon Gallardo established himself as the father of 'charreria' and is hailed by modern charros as well as many players of polo.
However, the most notable example of 'charreria' is General Emiliano Zapata who was known before the revolution as an amazing horse rider and horse tamer.
Although it is said that Charros came from the state of Jalisco and the state of Mexico, it wasn't until the 1930s that charreria became a rules sport when rural people began moving towards the cities. During this time, paintings of charros also became popular.
Use of term
The traditional Mexican charro is known for colorful clothing and participating in coleadero y charreada, a specific type of Mexican rodeo. The charreada is the national sport in Mexico, and is regulated by the Federación Mexicana de Charrería.
Prior to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 the distinctive charro suit, with its sombrero, heavily embroidered jacket and tightly cut trousers, was widely worn by men of the affluent upper classes on social occasions, especially when on horseback. A light grey version with silver embroidery served as the uniform of the rurales (mounted rural police).
In Spain, a charro is a native of the province of Salamanca, especially in the area of Alba de Tormes, Vitigudino, Ciudad Rodrigo and Ledesma. It's likely that the Mexican charro tradition derived from Spanish horsemen who came from Salamanca and settled in Jalisco.
The "charro film" was a genre of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema between 1935 and 1959, and probably played a large role in popularizing the charro, akin to what occurred with the advent of the American Western. The most notable charro stars were José Alfredo Jiménez, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Antonio Aguilar, and Tito Guizar.
In both Mexican and US states such as California, Texas, Illinois, Zacatecas, Durango, and Jalisco, charros participate in tournaments to show off their skill either in team competition charreada, or in individual competition such as el coleadero. These events are practiced in a Lienzo charro.
Some decades ago charros in Mexico were permitted to carry guns. In conformity with current law, the charro must be fully suited and be a fully pledged member of Mexico's Federación Mexicana de Charrería.