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Dwarf Bullfighting Obsession Sends A Red Flag To Little People

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Ignacio Zaragoza, part of a group of dwarf bullfighters, performs at the rodeo in Zacatlan, Mexico, in August.
Ignacio Zaragoza, part of a group of dwarf bullfighters, performs at the rodeo in Zacatlan, Mexico, in August.

The little-known sport of dwarf bullfighting has raised a red flag for America's little people.

The sport, which has dwarf toreadors battling baby calves, is a popular attraction in Mexico and other countries where bullfighting is popular. There are as many as 20 different troupes, according to NBC Sports, but some little people such as Clinton Brown III fear dwarf bullfighting is blurring the line between entertainment and exploitation, especially because the bullish battles are carried out for laughs.

"These guys are really taking their life in their hands doing this," Brown told The Huffington Post. "Frankly, it's a shame that these folks do have to resort to it."

Brown, who is a 3-foot, 3-inch tall financial analyst on New York's Long Island, isn't against little people engaging in athletic contests. In fact, he is also manager of the New York Towers, an all-dwarf basketball team that has won two national championships in the Dwarf Athletic League's annual tournament.

Still, Brown thinks that the troupes -- and the media -- would be better off if they promoted the athleticism of the bullfighters and not their "wackiness."

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"Bullfighting is deeply entrenched in many societies around the world, and I'm sure some of these little bullfighters do it because they grew up watching it, not because they 'need' the job so badly," he said. "It would be so nice if [the media didn't focus] on the 'wow' factor of the story [and instead] focused on a human interest story in that community on someone that loves what they do."

This fits in with the mission statement of Little People of America, a support and advocacy group for Americans of short stature as a result of dwarfism.

The group's president, Gary Arnold, said the real problem he has with dwarf bullfighting is that its main purpose seems to be offering spectators the chance to laugh at little people.

"To me, that's the issue," Arnold told The Huffington Post. "We need to move away from employment opportunities that are specifically for little people and move into integrated employment opportunities."

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Dwarf matador Javier Landa of Mexico, however, says that's not the case.

"They may think we go out there to be laughed at, but that's not the case," Linda told USA Today. "If a little person can fight a bull, he can do anything. That's what we're trying to prove."

Danica Aldrich, 21, a little person who studies fine arts at the Art Institute of Boston, said that while she personally finds dwarf bullfighting demeaning, Landa makes a good point about little people being able to do anything. She fears that his audience is missing that message.

"The fault is not with us little people, but it rather falls upon the audience. It is the audience's perception of the event as either simple entertainment or a freak show," Aldrich told The Huffington Post.

"I find the most offensive reaction to performances like this are associations that people hold for little people as just being 'miniature freaks' when we are presented 'packaged,' such as little bulls for little bullfighters," Aldrich said. "It is akin to making a presumption about the entire Italian culture from the show 'Jersey Shore.'"

But recent dwarf bullfighting stories such as ones recently posted by Metro.co.uk and Buzzfeed come at a time when the prejudices faced by little people are receiving mainstream attention.

In January, actor Peter Dinklage used his Golden Globe acceptance speech for "Game of Thrones" to raise awareness about Martin Henderson, a dwarf who claims he was partially paralyzed on his birthday when a stranger lifted and heaved him onto the hard ground outside an English pub.

The recent controversial discussion about little people between Rosie O'Donnell and Chelsea Handler is truly making little people speak up for themselves, Arnold said.

"More than any other time I can remember, the community rallied together and demanded a response," he said. "In the past, what Rosie and Chelsea did might have been written off as a joke, and people in the general population might have thought that the dwarfism community was being too sensitive. But a lot of people showed empathy and rallied behind people with dwarfism as if we were a community of people who deserved to be treated like others."

The public outcry forced O'Donnell, who initially tried to brush off with an apologetic tweet her controversial remarks about being afraid of little people, to invite Chicago-based musician and little person Chris Errera to her show on Wednesday to discuss her remarks.

For her part, Handler has yet to respond to her comments that sleeping with an adult little person would be "child abuse," and her spokesman, Stephen Huvane, doubts one will be forthcoming.

"Chelsea is not one to respond to any particular complaint made by any group," Huvane told The Huffington Post by email. "She saves whatever reaction she has for her own show. If there is something funny to say, she will figure it out."

Around the Web

Dwarf bullfighters | Reuters.com

Pictures: Colombian dwarf bullfighting 2012 - page 1 | Metro.co.uk

Dwarf bullfighters in Colombia 'trying to change people's perception ...

'Dwarf bullfighting': where human exploitation and animal cruelty ...

Dwarf matadors still stand tall as bulls charge - Mirror Online