Charro, in Mexico, is historically the horseman from the countryside, the Ranchero, who worked on the haciendas and rural areas performing all his tasks on horseback, working as vaqueros and caporales, among other jobs. He was renowned for his superb horsemanship, for his skill in handling the lasso, and for his unique costume designed especially for horseback riding. Today, this name is given to someone who practices charreada (similar to a rodeo), considered the national sport of Mexico which maintains traditional rules and regulations in effect from colonial times up to the Mexican Revolution.[1]

Charro at the charrería event at the San Marcos National Fair in Aguascalientes City.
Female and male charro regalia, including sombreros de charro
Mexican Charro (1828). Originally, the term “Charro” was a derogatory name for the Mexican Rancheros, the inhabitants of the countryside. The term is synonymous with the English terms: “Yokel”, “hick”, “country bumpkin”, or “rube”.



The word charro (syn. charrar, charra) is first documented in Spain in the book “Vocabulario de refranes y frases proverbiales” published in 1627 by Gonzalo Correas as a synonym of dumb or stupid person.[2][3][4] In 1729, the first dictionary of the Spanish language edited by the Real Academia Española, the “Diccionario de Autoridades”, defined “charro” as: “The uneducated and unpolished person, raised in a place of little policing. In the Court, and in other places, they give this name to any person from the countryside”.[5] The first edition of the Real Academia dictionary published in 1780, defined charro as: “the rough and rustic person, as the villagers tend to be”; but they would add a second meaning for the first time: “adjective that is applied to some things that are too laden with decoration and in bad taste”.[6] The 1786 Spanish-English dictionary “Diccionario Español e Inglés”, defined Charro as: “rustic, country like”.[7] While the 1802 Spanish-English dictionary “A New Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages”, defined charro as: “a clownish, coarse, ill-bred person” and “Gaudy, loaded with ornaments in a tasteless and paltry manner”.[8] It wasn’t until the fourth edition of the Real Academia dictionary in 1803, that they added: “aldeano de Salamanca” (villager from Salamanca) as one of its definitions.[9] In his 1745 Spanish-Basque-Latin dictionary, the Basque jesuit priest Manuel de Larramendi, defined charro as a “villager” or “country person” and argued that it was of Basque origin, meaning “vile and despicable thing”.[10] In 1787, historian and philosopher Antonio de Capmany y Montpalau, argued that the etymology of the word was Arabic and that it originally meant “bad of moral malice and of customs” passing on to the Spanish to mean artistic malice, thus something “charro” is something gaudy, overloaded with ornaments.[11][12] In the 20th century, the Catalan philologist and linguist Joan Coromines defined it as a synonym of "unsophisticated" or “unpolished” (basto), "person who speaks roughly" (tosco), "person of the land" (aldeano, ie. "Aldeano de Salamanca"), "person with poor taste",[13] and attributes its origins to the Basque language from the word txar which means "bad", "unimportant", "not worthy of attention". Today the Real Academia maintains the same definition and origin.[14] In Mexico, Charro was originally applied as a pejorative name for the Mexican rancheros during the 18th century, for their gaudy costumes and their country manners and customs, which were seen as barbaric by the elites. The word ‘Ranchero’ is the actual true name of the Mexican horseman dedicated to the maintenance of cattle and horses, working as vaqueros, horse-tamers, caporales (foremen), and other rural jobs. The title of ranchero derives from Rancho which in Mexican Spanish is a unit of land in the countryside were cattle is raised and crops are sowed.[15] As time went on, the term Charro evolved in Mexico, being redefined with more positive meanings. The term which was originally a derogatory adjective, became a noun synonymous with Ranchero, specifically the horse-mounted inhabitants of the Mexican countryside. In 1850, the Spanish historian and writer based in Mexico, Niceto de Zamacois, defined what Charro was in Mexico, as:[16]

Charros: gente del campo que se compone mucho para montar á caballo” (country people who are very well formed to ride a horse).


1830's Charros, from Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la partie la plus intéressante du Mexique. 1834
After the Mexican War of Independence was over one of the major generals Agustín de Iturbide rides into Mexico City victoriously with his generals many of which were charros that served in his army.

The Viceroyalty of New Spain had prohibited Native Americans from riding or owning horses, with the exception of the Tlaxcaltec nobility, other allied chieftains, and their descendants. However, cattle raising required the use of horses, for which farmers would hire cowboys who were preferably 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 used by the military, and had to wear leather clothing from which the term "cuerudo" (leathered one) originated.

Over 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 suit the Mexican terrain and temperature, evolving away from the Spanish style of cattle raising. After the Mexican War of Independence horse riding grew in popularity. Many riders of mixed race became mounted mercenaries, messengers and plantation workers. Originally known as Chinacos, these horsemen later became the modern "vaqueros"[citation needed]. Wealthy plantation owners would often acquire decorated versions of the distinctive Charro clothing and horse harness to display their status in the community. Poorer riders would also equip their horses with harness made from agave or would border their saddles with chamois skin.

Mexican War of Independence and the 19th century

Two policemen of the rurales in charro style uniform c1890. Photo Abel Briquet
Saddle of a charro (Mexico, 19th century)

As the Mexican War of Independence began in 1810 and continued for the next 11 years, charros were very important soldiers on both sides of the war. Many haciendas, or Spanish owned estates, had a long tradition of gathering their best charros as a small militia for the estate to fend off bandits and marauders. When the War for Independence started, many haciendas had their own armies in an attempt to fend off early struggles for independence.[17]

After independence was achieved in 1821, political disorder made law and order hard to establish throughout much of Mexico. Large bands of bandits plagued the early 19th century as a result of lack of legitimate ways for social advance. One of the most notable gang was called "the silver ones" or the "plateados"; these thieves dressed as traditional wealthy charros, adorning their clothing and saddles with much silver, channeling the elite horseman image.[18] The bandit gangs would disobey or buy out government, establishing their own profit and rules.

Towards the mid 19th century, however, President Juárez established the "rurales" or mounted rural police to crack down on gangs and enforce national law across Mexico. It was these rurales that helped to establish the charro look as one of manhood, strength, and nationhood.[19]

During the Second Mexican Empire, Maximilian I of Mexico reigned as emperor and liked to wear a charro suit as the national costume to ingratiate himself with his subjects. He was an avid and skilled horsemen and impressed by the local charros. Emperor Maximilian himself designed the elegant all black charro traje, or costume, as acceptable attire for formal occasions, which the charros and mariachi ensembles by extension still use in modern days.[20]

Charros were quickly seen as national heroes as Mexican politicians in the late 19th century pushed for the romanticized charro lifestyle and image as an attempt to unite the nation after the conservative and liberal clashes.

Early twentieth-century usage

Emiliano Zapata wearing a charro suit

Prior to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the distinctive charro suit, with its sombrero, sarape, heavily embroidered jacket and tightly cut trousers, was widely worn by men of the affluent upper classes on social occasions, especially when on horseback.[21] A light grey version, with silver embroidery and buttons, served as the uniform of the rurales (mounted rural police).[22]

However, the most notable example of 'charrería' is General Emiliano Zapata who was known before the revolution as a skilled rider and horse tamer.

Although it is said that charros came from the states of Jalisco in Mexico, it was not until the 1930s that charrería became a rules sport, as rural people began moving towards the cities. During this time, paintings of charros also became popular.

During World War II, an army of 150,000 charros was created, the "Legión de Guerrilleros Mexicanos", in anticipation of an eventual attack of German forces. It was led by Antolin Jimenez Gamas, president of the National Association of Charros, a former soldier of Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution who climbed the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel in the Personal Guard of Villa's Dorados.

Use of term


Although the word charro was a originally just a derogatory term for country people, synonymous with English words yokel or bumpkin, and gaudy, it evolved, becoming a demonym for the people of the province of Salamanca, in Spain, also known by Campo Charro, especially in the area of Alba de Tormes, Vitigudino, Ciudad Rodrigo and Ledesma;[23] and a noun synonymous with the name Ranchero, the horse mounted people of the Mexican countryside. In other places in Latin America, it retained its original derogatory meaning. In Puerto Rico, charro is a generally accepted slang term to mean that someone or something is obnoxiously out of touch with social or style norms, similar to the United States usage of dork(y), (i.e gaudy). 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.

In cinema


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.[24]

Modern day


In all the states of Mexico — and in some US states such as California, Texas, and Illinois — charros participate in tournaments to show off their skill either in team competition charreada, or in individual competition such as 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.[25]

See also



  1. ^ "REGLAMENTO GENERAL DE COMPETENCIAS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-20. Retrieved 2016-05-11.
  2. ^ Correas, Gonzalo; Mir, Miguel (1906). Vocabulario de refranes y frases proverbiales y otras fórmulas comunes de la lengua castellana en que van todos los impresos antes y otra gran copia que juntó el maestro Gonzalo Correas. Estab. tip. de J. Ratés. p. 284. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  3. ^ Medina Miranda, Hector Manuel (2009). LOS CHARROS EN ESPAÑA Y MÉXICO. ESTEREOTIPOS GANADEROS Y VIOLENCIA LÚDICA. Universidad de Salamanca. p. 97. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  4. ^ Correas, Gonzalo (1924). "Vocabulario de refranes y frases proverbiales y otras fórmulas comunes de la lengua castellana ... : Van añedidas las declaraciones y aplicación adonde pareció ser necesaria, al cabo se ponen las frases más llenas y copiosas".
  5. ^ Diccionario de la lengua castellana. Madrid: Imprenta de Francisco de Hierro. 1729. p. 311. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  6. ^ Diccionario de la lengua castellana. Joaquín Ibarra de la Real Academia. 1780. p. 221. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  7. ^ Baretti, Giuseppe (1786). Diccionario español e ingles. London: A costa de Piestre y Delamolliere. p. 162. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  8. ^ Neuman, Henry (1802). A New Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages: Spanish and English. London: Vernor and Hood. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  9. ^ DICCIONARIO DE LA LENGUA CASTELLANA, COMPUESTO POR LA REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA, REDUCIDO Á UN TOMO PARA SU MAS FÁCIL USO (4th ed.). Madrid: Real Academia. 1803. pp. 259, 918. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  10. ^ de Larramendi, Manuel (1745). Diccionario trilingue del Castellano, Bascuence y Latin. San-Sebastian, Riesgo y Montero 1745 Volume 2. Ciudad de San Sebastián: Riesgo y Montero. p. 195. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  11. ^ Diario curioso, erudito, economico y comercial. Imprenta Manuel González. 1787. p. 727. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  12. ^ Capmany y Montpalau, Antonio (1858). Museo Histórico, que comprende los principales sucesos de España y el estranjero, como asimismo toda la parte artística y monumental de los principales paises Volume 1 (1st ed.). J. Casas y Díaz. p. 409. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  13. ^ J. Corominas, 2008, p. 172
  14. ^ Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
  15. ^ de Zamacois, Niceto (1879). Historia de Méjico desde sus tiempos mas remotos hasta nuestros dias Volume 10 (Volume 10 ed.). Barcelona and Mexico: J.F. Párres y compañia. p. 61. Retrieved 23 February 2022.
  16. ^ Zamacois, Niceto de (1850). Los Misterios de México: Poema escrito en variedad de metros · Volume 1. México: Imprenta de Vicente G. Torres. p. 205. Retrieved 3 September 2023.
  17. ^ Nájera-Ramírez, Olga (1994). "Engendering Nationalism: Identity, Discourse, and the Mexican Charro". Anthropological Quarterly. 67 (1): 1–14. doi:10.2307/3317273. JSTOR 3317273.
  18. ^ Nájera-Ramírez, Olga (1994). "Engendering Nationalism: Identity, Discourse, and the Mexican Charro". Anthropological Quarterly. 67 (1): 1–14. doi:10.2307/3317273. JSTOR 3317273.
  19. ^ Castro, Rafaela (2000). Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans. OUP USA. ISBN 9780195146394.
  20. ^ Sands, K. M. (1993). Charrería Mexicana: An Equestrian Folk Tradition. United States: University of Arizona Press. Pg.59
  21. ^ pages 27-28, "The City of Mexico in the Age of Diaz", Michael Johns, ISBN 978-0-292-74048-8
  22. ^ Paul J.Vanderwood, pages 54-55 "Disorder and Progress - Bandits, Police, and Mexican Development", ISBN 0-8420-2438-7
  23. ^ charro in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
  24. ^ p. 6 Figueredo, Danilo H. Revolvers and Pistolas, Vaqueros and Caballeros: Debunking the Old West ABC-CLIO, 9 Dec 2014
  25. ^ Camara de Diputados. "Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos (Articulo 10 Seccion VII)" (PDF). Secretaria de Gobernacion. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 14, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.]