By Polly Keary, Editor
The day before the rodeo last year, organizer Candido Hernandez walked down the empty bleachers in the Evergreen State Fair grandstands.
For years the Mexican rodeos that he and his family had put on in Monroe had been small, and had lost money. They’d started out holding them at the horse arena not far from the grandstands, as an effort to hang onto their heritage. They brought in bull riders from Mexico and musicians who could play ranchero and other rural music. Eventually they had grown enough to move to the grandstands, and the people who came to the events really liked them.
But they could only lose money so many years in a row.
Hernandez looked at the empty bleachers and wondered if he would ever see them full.
The following day, he got his wish. The bleachers were full, and people who couldn’t get seats stood packed along the edges. Traffic into town was snarled for hours, and Monroe stores sold so completely out of ice that he had to drive to Everett to find some. In all, 14,000 people drove from as far as Oregon and Canada to attend the event.
The small rodeos that Hernandez and his family started years earlier had finally arrived.
May 5, Promociones Nayarit, the Hernandez family rodeo promotion company, will for the first time put on a nine-hour long Mexican rodeo and festival entirely for free to the community.
Getting off the ground
When the Hernandez family, which owns a recycling business in the Al Borlin area, first got interested in holding a Mexican rodeo in town, there was some resistance.
A couple of years earlier, a fight at a Mexican rodeo at the fairgrounds had ended with someone stabbed.
But rodeo is a big part of rural Mexican culture; in fact the very word “rodeo” is Spanish, and Mexicans living in the United States missed some of those cultural things from home.
So some people approached the well-established Hernandez family to see if they could bring a rodeo to town.
“We didn’t even know where to go to get the permits,” said Hernandez, sitting with his mother and father at Starbucks last week.
The fairgrounds heard about the effort, though, and called the family.
“They called my dad and said, ‘there’s an opening for you guys,’” said Hernandez. “And we took it, with two months notice.”
It was 2008.
It was slow going, but they created Promociones Nayarit and promoted the events relentlessly.
They sold tickets all over the state, talked to businesses about sponsorship, implored vendors to come try the event.
They made thousands of posters and flyers and spent as much as they could on ads on Hispanic television and radio and in newspapers.
They got a big break when the owner of Best Bet Auto in Everett came on board as a sponsor. The dealership worked the Spanish-speaking crowd hard, raffling off prizes and pre-approving people for car loans.
The payoff for the dealership was enormous.
“Best Bet is selling 300 cars a month since we started,” said Hernandez.
Spanish speakers go not only where they can get help in their native language, but where they know they will feel welcome, Hernandez said. So the sponsors and vendors found that they had repeat business long after the rodeo was over.
Best Bet Auto increased sponsorship, pouring tens of thousands of dollars into each rodeo, raffling off entire cars.
Success bred success, and more and more sponsors came on board. Where once they’d struggled to find food vendors, they had all the vendors of tacos, burritos, tortas and corn on the cob with chile and lime that they could fit, and 60 more on a waiting list.
The event grew to nine hours in length, and they spent more money on well-known bands from Mexico. For the kids, they brought in Chichicuilote, a bird-like cartoon character something like Mickey Mouse, an enormous favorite of Mexican children.
Their success caught the notice of other venues, and the Puyallup fair contacted the company, making them an attractive offer on the use of the grandstands there.
They began running rodeos in other communities, joining up with an Oregon rodeo promoter and bringing rodeos to Yakima and Othello.
Most recently, The Monroe Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of Annique Bennett, has partnered with Promociones Nayarit.
Opportunity for local business
The rodeos represent an enormous opportunity for local businesses, said Bennett.
“It’s as much for Latino businesses as non-Latino,” she said. “It’s a way to start a dialog.”
Hernandez said that businesses who want to reach out to the Hispanic community need to be proactive and work the crowd, but that the payoff can be dramatic.
“We would like to prove to local business what we can do – go there, put in a booth, see what we could do for them. Starbucks, Fred Meyer, Denny’s Buzz Inn – all these people, we can do good for them,” said Hernandez.
And although there was violence at one rodeo several years before the Hernandez family started putting them on, these rodeos are very family-friendly, he said.
For every two adults, there is an average of about four children, he said.
The rodeo goes on for a couple of hours, with teams from different regions of Mexico competing for top honors. The music and food go all day and into the evening.
Usually the events cost about $15 to get in, with kids getting in free.
But May 5, on Cinco de Mayo, everyone gets in free, thanks to Best Bet Auto, which is paying to make the free event possible.
Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman, who went for the first time last year, said it’s great for families.
It was a blast; I had a good time,” he said. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for cultures to come together and enjoy the Latino heritage.”
To learn more about the rodeo, call Candido Hernandez at (425) 931-4286.