Anyone looking for examples of everyday Americans displaying charity and acceptance, as opposed to greed and racism, need look no farther than Roswell, N.M., and its embrace of a Mexican circus that has been marooned there since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March.
The Do Portugal traveling circus was touring this part of the world in a convoy of 14 RVs and nine semi trucks earlier this year and had been given the green light for a performance on March 13 in this southeastern N.M. town, population 47,635, when emergency health orders shut off the spotlights.
About half of the 40-member troupe – a fifth-generation family operation in which many of the members are related to one another – has been there ever since.
“Luckily, the fair came to us and said that we could stay here as long as we need to and use the fair’s electricity and water,” says circus manager Damian Portugal.
Leslie Robertson, assistant office manager at the fair – which receives no tax dollars other than lodgers’ tax money – says there was never any question about that.
“From (fair) board president Larry Hobson on down, the Eastern New Mexico State Fair is about community, family and children,” Robertson says. “There was no option. They had no place they could go. Now, the circus is part of the fair family.”
And feeding your family is part of the deal.
The story crafted by reporter Ollie Reed and photographed by Roberto E. Rosales in the Aug. 30 Journal – it’s worth your time if you haven’t seen it – details how Harvest Ministries in Roswell stepped up to the plate. Volunteer coordinator Maria Nease says the organization learned of Do Portugal’s plight when a woman called and said her daughter was with the circus, which was stranded and had nothing.
“We have provided them with whatever we have – fruits, vegetables, canned foods, pasta, meats, eggs, dairy products,” Nease says. “We will continue to give as long as donations hold out, and they have been holding up during the pandemic. People know there are people out there in need.”
Enrique Moreno, director of the Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services, says his organization has been supplying food and toiletries directly to circus members and helping others get supplies to the troupe.
“We are trying to provide anything they need,” he said. “They are really, really humble. They try to be as independent as they can and not be a burden.” Circus members have also helped give back, making more than 80 protective masks “until the fabric ran out,” Nease says.
Make no mistake, the circus performers – from aerial artists to jugglers to clowns, nomads who typically log thousands of miles a year and have no headquarters other than a warehouse in central Mexico – would rather be working. They practice every day but Sunday and staged a two-hour video performance on Aug. 14. It was free, but people were encouraged to contribute to a GoFundMe account, and locals could drive by the circus tent to purchase curbside concessions.
Aldo Portugal, a trapeze artist and clown, says he is grateful to the people of Roswell, those he has met and those he has not, because of their generosity and support.
“They have been nothing short of amazing,” he says.
Indeed. New Mexicans join the Do Portugal performers in thanking the folks in Roswell for putting our state in such a positive light, emphasizing kindness and generosity in a time of global uncertainty, fear and strife – and in wishing the circus every success when it gets back on the road.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.