Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Animal-Rights Activists Target Rodeo

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Animal-Rights Activists Target Rodeo

Article excerpt

About a dozen animal-rights advocates protested on Sunday at a rodeo held annually in Passaic, an event that its organizer maintains has deep cultural meaning for the area's residents of Mexican descent.

The pickets, led by Deanna Bulna, formerly of Passaic but now living in Totowa, stood outside the entrance to the rodeo with signs in English and Spanish. Alleging animal cruelty, the protesters' placards said, "No Mas Rodeo," "No Hay Excusa Para El Maltrato Animal," "There's No Excuse For Animal Abuse" and "Buck the Rodeo."

Bulna, who helped organize the picketing with the help of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says that "bull riding is animal abuse." Bulna and PETA charge that the beasts are sometimes shocked with electric prods to rile them up at the events, and that rodeo riders stick spurs into the animals' sides and put straps on them to irritate them and make them buck.

"It's an old tradition, and it's one tradition that needs to be changed," Bulna said of the rodeo.

As the protesters held up their signs and shouted out their slogans, hundreds of men, women and children -- many dressed in Western-style shirts, jeans, and cowboy hats and boots -- streamed into the event in the blazing spring sun. Rodeo organizer Ramiro Zuniga, owner of the Fiesta Night Club on President Street in Passaic, said that he expected 1,500 to 2,000 attendees at the all- day event. Adults paid $45 to get in, with children under 10 admitted free.

Zuniga and his brothers held two rodeos in Passaic in 2011, and have held one every year since 2013. Three of the most recent rodeos were at the former site of Beth Israel Hospital on Dayton Avenue, but this year the location was switched to a vacant lot on Jefferson Street.

Zuniga said that when the rodeo was not held in Passaic, there was a call from the community to resume it. Rodeos are popular in Mexico, dating to the 16th century in that country, and Passaic has a large Mexican population, estimated at roughly 20,000.

"You have to be from there to really understand it," Zuniga said. "It's a cultural thing. This is a poor man's sport. This is what we grew up with. …

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