During the summer of 1998, I was on a photo shoot in Guanajuato, Mexico, and a poster taped to a storefront window caught my attention: “Directo de Taurilandia—Los Enanitos Toreros [Direct from the Land of Bulls—The Dwarf Bullfighters].” Like most people, I did not know anything about dwarfism. The issue had rarely come up in my life, and when it did, it was usually presented, in film and radio shows, with the purpose of comic effect. The poster I saw displayed a different perspective. In it, there was a man, a man with dwarfism, in control of his own, standing his ground against a fearsome animal.
The show was scheduled for that evening, at the bullring located next to the place where I was staying, and I went to see it. Several performers, all of them persons with dwarfism, appeared in front of a sparse audience, while their average-height promoter introduced their sketches over a loudspeaker in a tone less formal than the poster had implied. When the show ended, one of the performers saw me leaving with my Polaroid camera in hand and asked me if I would photograph her. She introduced herself as Isabel Cortez—she was from Mexico City, and at that time she needed a publicity head shot. Her husband, Gustavo, asked for the same, and so did a few other people employed by the same promoter.
While I was photographing her backstage, Isabel invited me to join her cuadrilla [team of bullfighters] for its upcoming shows in the state of Queretaro. We traveled in a small station wagon driven by their promoter, who had once been a renowned bullfighter and now made his living promoting his Enanitos Toreros show. While traveling, Isabel, Gustavo and I became friends. Through this and some coincidences that followed, I got to know and befriend many other people employed as Enanitos Toreros in the eight or more cuadrillas that currently perform throughout Mexico and parts of the United States.
When Isabel first invited me, I accepted, as I related the opportunity to the familiar story of “photographer touring with the band.” But in time it became clear to me that the Enanitos Toreros performances were not the usual exchange between audience and entertainer. I realized that the shows are built on centuries of cultural misconstruction about what it means to live with dwarfism.
As we spent more time together, I realized that although some performers have a genuine interest in the performing arts, the majority perform in the Enanitos Toreros shows because of a lack of viable employment options. Even so, many described to me the satisfaction they take in making the lives of those with dwarfism more visible and in defying stereotypes about their ability and skill through these shows.
In the absence of support organizations in Mexico created by and for little people, the Enanitos Toreros shows have, as an accidental side-effect, served as an itinerant meeting ground for individuals and families of children with dwarfism. Many people told me that these shows were their first-ever opportunity to engage with others who share their physical characteristics.
This book, with photographs and interviews made over the course of almost a decade, documents some of the experiences, relationships, and family ties that have formed throughout the years. By presenting these images and conversations, made in their homes and at their workplaces, on their tours and in some cases at their specific request, I hope to share a perspective on the relativity of scale and physical appearance.
- Livia Corona Benjamin
Collapsible bullring at night during an encore performance. San José del Cabo, Baja California Sur.
Jorge Ramos waits for his cue to lip-sync “Caballo Prieto Azabache,” a classic ballad honoring a horse who died to save his owner. Tijuana, Baja California.
Brothers Ezequías, Ezequiel, and Gerson Virgen in front of their promoter’s truck. Cosío, Aguascalientes.
Josué Virgen enters the bullring followed by David Rodríguez Montiel and Joselito Hernández. El Volantín, Jalisco.
Juan Rezendis and Gerson Virgen prepare to do a paso de la muerte. Cosío, Aguascalientes.
Lupillo, Juan, and Baudelio at the beach during a break after a show in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.
Josué Virgen. Totaltiche, Zacatecas.
Enanitos Toreros enter the ring for a motorcycle show in Pico Rivera, California.
Audience members leaving the Toreo de Tijuana.
Tomás Emanuel waits to board a bus at the United States-Mexico border.
Tomás Emanuel waits at the United States consulate for an artist visa to join the Enanitos Toreros tour in the United States. Tijuana, Baja California.
Isabel Cortez hangs the family laundry in the patio of their home in Ciudad Neza. Estado de Mexico.
Verónica Alvarado González during her daily exercise routine while on tour. Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.
In the afternoon before a show, Teresa Montiel, her daughter, Claudia, and her grandchildren, Emilio, Elías, Jonás, and Zuri, hang out in a hotel room.
Imelda gets her eyebrows plucked by her sister-in-law, Claudia, with their children Emilio and Jonás beside them. El Trapiche, Colima.
Claudia with her children, Isaac, Jonás and Zuri, nap in the crowded tour van. This was the first tour that her husband Ezequiel led as a promoter. Colima, Mexico
Tomás Emanuel, with a set list taped on the tour van. Riverside, California.
Valeria Parra Cortez at her fifteenth birthday party. Mexico City.
A boyhood portrait of Gustavo Vázquez Buendía hangs in his home in Mexico City.
Ricardo León and Juan Morales on a radio interview to promote the Enanitos Toreros show. Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.
Valeria Parra Cortez, at five years of age, poses in her kindergarden graduation dress. Mexico City.
Zuri Virgen as a maid of honor at her aunt Gloria Virgen’s quinceañera. Guadalajara, Jalisco.
Ricardo Reyes Acero gets dressed to perform as Banda Machos. He got his nickname, “Cucuy” (boogeyman), as a child. Aguascalientes.
Verónica. Jerez, Zacatecas.
Yolanda Biviano. El Limón, Jalisco.
Teresa Montiel as popular feminist singer, Paquita la del Barrio, before a show in Jaltomate, Aguascalientes.
Imelda and David. Paraíso, Colima.
Lupillo, Ricardo, and Chuyito on board the S.S. Azteca, as they sail across the Sea of Cortés.
Baudelio, Lupillo, Ricardo, and Chuyito board a ferry to cross the Sea of Cortés for their tour through the Baja Peninsula. This was the first trip away from home for Ricardo and Baudelio.
Gerson Virgen stands on the crew’s horse trailer. Cosío, Aguascalientes.
The bullfighters walk back to the construction site that serves as their hotel during a tour in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.