Sunday, June 26, 2005

Circus Demographics

I took Louise to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus yesterday (enjoyable enough though not, actually, the greatest show on earth). I was struck by the fact that the large majority of performers and employees were Hispanic. This was not the case the case when I saw it the better part of three decades ago.

Why is this? I generally think of the traditional circus as a dying art form. Are circuses still thriving in Latin America? Is it the principal recruiting ground of new talent? Is there some other reason? I don't know. Do you?


  1. Anonymous8:17 AM

    A couple of summers ago I worked for the Maryland Department of Agriculture's piddling little excuse for a mosquito control operation (after having a couple of cups of coffee in the Big Leagues of Minnesota, I have the right to judge these matters). One of my stops was the racetrack in Laurel. Pronounce it correctly, please: like most words with vowels in them, you take this one and swallow it--HARD--like it's a golf ball. If it hurts, you know that you are talking like a Marylander.
    Back at the track--my visits informed me that most of the people working at the track (and other tracks, I have since learned) are from Central America--many of the jockeys, most of the grooms, and nearly all of the other maintenance staff
    Circuses, racetracks, farms, restaurant kitchens...I suppose that the migratory and/or seasonal nature of the work says something about who might work at it. Or that these professions involve backstage work making some ephemeral public production.
    Makes me wonder about other things in our world that are outwardly the same as they were years ago (the circus; bag of corn chips), but substantially different (the people who work at the circus; GMO corn in our chips).

  2. Well, it certainly added an untintentional dollop of oddness to the already deliberately whimsical atmosphere.

    The circus is strange anyway. As far as I know, it's the only place in mainstream contemporary culture where you can go and see the surviving remnants of the vaudeville era. The gags are a hundred years old. The characters are just as old: the hobo clown, the country hick in overalls and a straw hat, the construction worker with his lunch pail, the barrel-chested ringleader in tux and tails.

    It was strange enough to see this Old America living and breathing at all. It was stranger still that most of the people giving it life were Very New Americans. A curious juxtaposition.