Steven Schoenherr / South Bay Compass
Raquel Martinez was 22 when she left her home at 729 Cypress Avenue in 1971 and faced her first bull in the Tijuana Cortijo. She was determined to become the first woman matador since Patricia McCormick and Bette Ford in the 1950s, and to become as famous as the great Conchita Cintrón in the 1940s.
She trained at “The Muleteros,” an exclusive bullfighting club in Lemon Grove, and at the Cortejo San Jose school in Tijuana. She started performing in the rings as a novillera, facing calves and young bulls of less than 750 lbs, and gradually gained the experience to fight larger bulls.
For ten years she fought bulls in Mexico, from small dusty villages to the big corridas of Ensenada and Mazatlan. She faced the hostility of male bullfighters and was excluded from the bullring at Juarez. But the crowds loved her grace and style and courage — and her long flowing blond hair. She became known as “La Rubia” and gained the support of important promoters and sponsors.
Tijuana businessman and Conquistador Hotel owner Alfonso Bustamante arranged for her to be promoted to the full professional status of “matadora.” On Sept. 20, 1981, Raquel was the first woman to take the alternativa ceremony and to wear the “suit of lights,” the traditional garb of the professional matador. She could now fight the largest bulls in Mexico City’s Plaza Mexicio, the largest corrida in the world, and earn the same pay as the male matadors.
She continued to fight for another ten years, then retired to be with her husband Bill Robinson, public relations officer with the San Diego Police Department, and her son Scott Jacob. She made a brief comeback in 2002, but decided a year later that she woud step down as the world’s first professional matadora.