Just the other day someone was telling me about their "wild youth," when they frequently visited Tijuana and went to "donkey shows." While they insisted these were real, I instantly had a strong suspicion that there was no way they could be. To me, they sounded like something made up by American tourists—a fever-dream of racist stereotypes. Spoiler alert: I was right. When I got home I had to do some research to make sure my hunch was correct, and I found this "Ask a Mexican" entry from 2014 that provided all of the data needed to finally put the rumor of such sex shows to rest (please!).
I truly miss "Ask a Mexican," the weekly column in the OC Weekly written by Gustavo Arellano between 2004 and 2017. It was, as Arellano explains, his "attempt to fight racism with satire and stats," and it provided much needed (humorous) clap-backs to all kinds of dumb and racist questions, like this one, where he explains the racist origins of the myth of the "Tijuana donkey show":
After months of research, the Mexican can confirm the full history of donkey shows, the supposed borderlands specialty in which women have sex with donkeys before a live paying audience. Not only are they not a thing in Tijuana (or Juárez or Acapulco or anywhere in Mexico frequented by tourists), they're actually a wholesale gabacho invention that says more about how America projects its fevered perversions onto Mexicans and Mexico than anything about Mexicans themselves. None of the Tijuana Bibles, the infamous X-rated comics of the Great Depression that showed all sorts of depredations, make any mention of such shows south of the border (the excellent 1997 anthology, Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s, even points out that the foul funnies got their name not because they were made in Mexico but "as a gleefully sacrilegious pre-NAFTA slur against Mexicans"). The earliest published account even mentioning donkey sex shows in Mexico doesn't pop up until 1975, in the book Binding with Briars: Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church. Before that, mentions of "donkey shows" in newspapers, books, or magazines were exactly that: donkeys on display at county fairs, and nothing else.
But after porn star Linda Lovelace claimed her then-husband was going to force her to get "fucked by a donkey in Juárez, Mexico" in her 1980 memoir, Ordeal, the act quickly seeped into mainstream American culture. Three years later, the search for a donkey show in Tijuana is a plot point in the Tom Cruise film, Losin' It; by the mid-1980s, a pioneering ska band called themselves The Donkey Show — based out of San Diego, no less. Really, the biggest culprit in spreading the donkey show myth is Hollywood.