By Scott J. Robinson
Before my first breath of air, bullfighting was in my blood. My 21 year-old mother was two months pregnant, blonde, beautiful, and performing at every bullfight that she could. She finally heeded my father’s pleading, and I was granted my breath of air.
Three years later, I was filling my mother’s zapatillas at the San Diego Zoo. Tourists incredulously watched my performance against the perilous goats of the petting zoo. They didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, But I was dressed for the occasion: My blond hair dangled, my pampers were clean, and my capotito was a vibrant pink.
My mother’s fascination with bullfighting began on a sunny Sunday afternoon watching celebrated matador Manuel Benitez “El Cordobés” at Tijuana’s seaside bullring. Captivated, she quickly traded her surfboards and the waves of Imperial Beach for a capote, a muleta, and the limelight that came with the uniqueness of her career. But bullfight pursuits in a border town had its limits and she moved to the hub of bullfighting in Mexico City to broaden her professional horizons. She took me along, but I had to call her “tía,” not “mommy.” My mother had to conceal a secret. After all, how could a woman, much less a single mother compete in a world of Machismo?
Yet, I didn’t mind. I learned to use it to my advantage.
At a tienta my mother had promised me a pass from one of her cows, but noticing that these were to big for me, she opted to ignore my impatient pleas. What began as “tía, tía” heated up to cries of “Raquel, Raquel!” But my mother is strong willed, and the boiling point came: “Mama, Mama!” I had uncovered the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately, my pleas didn’t render any fruits, and I decided to take matters into my own hands. Startled by the public’s applause, my mother instincts kicked in when she turned and saw me running towards the cow, trying to steal a pass from it. Victory was mine: I was able to complete one pass before being swiped away by her arms.
The competitiveness between mother and son continued. After making history in Reynosa, Mexico with the first mother-son corrida in 1995, my mother contested my triumph that afternoon. She said, “its not the same cutting one ear from a 500-kilo bull, than cutting two ears from your 200-kilo rat.” The luck of the draw had awarded me with the smallest bull of the day, but that was a moot point. The eternal question of whether size mattered was answered.
But, not everything was roses. At one point, after many of the mother’s fellow matadors began refusing to step in the ring with her, three month’s of rent had become past due. Moreover, a wild dog had bitten my hand while in my mother’s zeal to shield me, it ripped-off part of her finger exposing the bone.
However, lady luck graced us with her presence. The dog was free of rabies, and we hit the Loteria Nacional. Not only did we pay the rent for the following year, but for the little boy who had chosen the winning numbers out of whim, the scare of the bite was forgotten with a trip to Reino Aventura, Mexico’s then equivalent to Disneyland.
But as I made the transition from childhood to manhood, I began sensing similarities in my young -yet very successful- bullfighting livelihood with those that derailed my mother’s career. The rigors of a bull-fighter’s life were draining, the lack of political connections became prevalent, and I was being shortchanged by the incessant number of novilleros who paid to have their names inserted into a cartel. Did I want to be thrown into the heap of Mexican Matadors, whose name was in lights, but who struggled to make ends meet? Or could I hold onto the dream like my mother had done for so many years?
While riding the rollercoaster of bullfight may hem. I looked to the other “man in the family.” My father. He was the same man that had sacrificed his marriage and family, so that his wife could have the opportunity to chase her dream. While he awaited our return, time had passed, and his vibrant black hair had turned visibly grey. I was a novillero puntero (a shining bullfight prospect), I had cut a couple of ears at the Plaza Mexico, and the circumstances compelled me to seek his fatherly guidance.
My father is a proud Texan, always a Marine and a San Diego icon. He found me in a state of shambles, picked me up, and put me on the road to success. Still, my mother and numerous aficionados urged my return to the bullfight circuit,, but I decided to follow my dad’s lead. I even took it a step farther. I rejected the halls of Montezuma and flew in the wild blue yonder.
That behind me, I gained my Associate’s Degree with honors, and now I’m ready to receive my American Alternativa. The cartel has been posted, and San Diego State will be the ring. My Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies is the reward, and my performance will be nothing short of Summa Cum Laude.