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How a 13-year-old bull rider holds onto his Mexican rodeo legacy | Race and Culture

Joel Banuelos, the Oakdale Jr. Rodeo Champion, represents Mexico and United States in the International Miniature Bull Riding Association World Finals.

OAKDALE, Calif. — The smell of dust, hay and animals often triggers a whirlwind of worry every time 13-year-old Joel Banuelos crosses the freshly groomed arena at the edge of Oakdale’s city limits, but his size, experience and fears are all in the back of his mind. 

Ahead of him is an animal several times his size and with a legacy older than he can remember. 

“My grandpa did it," Banuelos said. "My dad did it. My stepdad did it. So, they were like, 'Heck, let’s try it.'” 

There are few things more important to Banuelos than his name. 

“What I mean by the name," Banuelos said. "The last name. I am carrying on the Banuelos blood. My grandpa was a very successful rodeo star. He was well known -- so was my dad and my stepdad.” 

The Banuelos rodeo legacy started on the back of a bucking bronc in Zacatecas, Mexico. That is where Joel’s grandfather Antonio Banuelos, better known as Don Toño, was a master in charrería, the traditional form of Mexican Rodeo.  

Credit: ABC10 news
13-year-old Joel Banuelos qualified for the Mini-Bull World Finals in Reno where he will be representing the U.S. and Mexico this November. He's continuing his families legacy of Charreria, the traditional form of Mexican Rodeo.

Toño would eventually migrate to California and passed his love for the sport to Joel’s father, Joel Sr.

“To be completely honest, I am kind of psycho in the head, and I was like, 'hey let’s try this out,'” Banuelos said.

At just nine-years-old, Banuelos climbed onto his first calf. 

“I nodded my head, and they let me out and I flew," he said. 

Banuelos left with an injured hand and bruised ego but learned one of the most important lessons in rodeo: get back on. 

“My mom was like for sure he won’t want to do this again, but I went up to here and said can I do it again?” he said.

In 2017, Banuelos’ mom Maria Viramontes would go on to watch him win the Northern California Calf riding finals, then in 2018 the Clements Jr. Stampede Calf Riding championship and in 2021, three different steer riding championships. 

“It’s in his heart," Viramontes said. "It’s in his blood."

With the family's legacy of charros coursing through his veins and help from his stepfather, Banuelos has qualified for the International Miniature Bull Riding Association World Finals in Reno where he will be representing the U.S. and Mexico this November. 

“Being Hispanic, being from Zacatecas, I think for him, he gets to show the Hispanic world that you can do anything,” Viramontes said.

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