Conchita CintrónThe Golden Goddess of the Bullring

Her record stands as a rebuke to every man of us who has ever maintained that a woman must lose something of her femininity if she seeks to compete with men.
—Orson Welles

Faced with a 1,000-pound raging bull in the ring—its nostrils flaring, its head down, poised to charge—Conchita Cintrón would meet A poster advertises one of her historic bouts.the challenge with enthusiasm and courage. Centuries of gender discrimination before her, however, made a far tougher opponent than any angry toro (bull).

Armed with a cape and a sword, or a breakaway spear known as a rejón, this half-American, half–Puerto Rican woman—born in Chile and raised in Peru—would ultimately overcome patriarchal attitudes to become, according to many bullfighting aficionados, the greatest torera in history.

 Born to Ride

Conchita Cintrón Verrill was born in 1922 in Antofagasta, a city in northern Chile. Great bullfighters tend to hail from great bullfighting families, but that wasn’t the case with Cintrón. Her father, Francisco Cintrón Ramos, was a Puerto Rican–born soldier and bureaucrat; her mother, Loyola Verrill, was an American from a long line of academics.

Ruy da Cámara operated an equestrian school in Lima, Peru, where the Cintrón family settled. Cintrón rode her first pony at age three and joined the riding school at age 11. Da Cámara became her bullfighting teacher and longtime mentor (ultimately, she married into his family), and, noting her extraordinary riding skills, fearlessness and continuing progress, he kept presenting her with new challenges.

Soon, Cintrón graduated to bullfighting on horseback, a Moorish-born, Portuguese-practiced sport known as rejoneo. Instead of fighting live animals, the teenager practiced by fending off a chair. In no time, da Cámara and Cintrón’s family agreed she was ready to face her first bull. She was only 13 years old.

 The Blonde Goddess

Two years later, in 1937, Cintrón graduated to a greater stage, making her debut at Lima’s main arena, where she showed much promise. The following year, again in Lima, she debuted as a novillera dressed like the men—in breeches, a short silk jacket with gold buttons and wide-brimmed hat. This event established her as a professional rejoneadora, a rare honor for a woman.

She traveled to Lisbon, and then was invited to appear in Mexico. At her first performance there, she failed to kill her assigned bull, but local newspaper critics and the public were captivated. One periodical noted that the girl soon to be nicknamed Diosa Rubia, or Blonde Goddess, had “caused pandemonium in the stands.”

In the late 1930s and early ’40s, Cintrón’s courage, equestrian expertise and status as the sole female rejoneadora on the circuit made her a big draw. That meant visiting Mexico in the winter; Portugal, southern France, Colombia and Venezuela whenever convenient; and Spain, bullfighting’s mecca, in the spring and summer.

Unfortunately, in Spain it was illegal for a woman to fight a bull on foot. She could remain on her horse as a rejoneadora but could not dismount to make a kill. Other nations permitted Cintrón to make her kills on foot, and eventually local Spanish officials found ways around their nation’s laws, allowing Cintrón to perform at closed-to-the-public charity events.

Such opportunities arose in Carabanchel, San Sebastian, Madrid and Oropesa. In Oropesa, in front of an audience of foreign diplomats, Cintrón stayed close to the bull, a dangerous tactic admired by crowds. In the ring, she displayed particular grace, style and bravado, a combination known as duende, before killing the bull.

By October 1949, Cintrón was ready to retire from bullfighting. She’d seen the world and wanted to soon start a family, but after she stepped into the ring one last time.

 The Final Standoff

After a corrida a bath is a torero’s greatest pleasure. —Conchita Cintrón

Cintrón demonstrates her hypnotic gaze.The final corrida of that 1949 season was held in Jaén, Spain. A bull with coal-black eyes entered the ring. Bugles blared. On horseback, as required, Cintrón stared at the creature. Then, shockingly, she dismounted and approached the bull on foot, matador-style. The crowd went wild.

Cintrón toyed with the bull, coaxing him closer with each pass. When it came time for the kill, she dropped her sword to the dirt and beckoned the animal toward her. Then, instead of stabbing him in the soft, deadly spot between the shoulder blades, Cintrón poked the bull there with her fingers. Triumphant, Cintrón turned to exit the arena, forever. The novillo who was assigned to kill the bull for her (as was the ritual in her Spanish corridas) then entered the ring and killed the bull as planned.

It was almost a storybook farewell—except Cintrón was promptly arrested for violating the prohibition of women bullfighting on foot. The crowd screamed for her freedom. The regional governor, a savvy politician, yielded. He pardoned the bullfighter and exchanged bows and respectful kisses with her. A barrier to inequality had been broken, against all tradition, and with true duende.

 Outside the Ring

The renowned bullfighter salutes the crowd before a fight.During her illustrious career, Cintrón defeated over 750 bulls. Traditionally, a bullfighter receives the vanquished animal’s ear or ears as a trophy. Over the years, Cintrón not only earned a lot of cartilage, but an enormous amount of respect.

Remarkably, this blonde, teenage gringa became the most famous Latin American bullfighter of her day, winning over traditionalist fans on multiple continents and making her adopted home country, Peru, proud.

After traveling so often, and so widely, all before the age of 30, Cintrón settled down. In 1950, she married Francisco de Casteo Branco, the nephew of Ruy da Cámara. With time, Cintrón’s fame faded. She did some writing, worked as a diplomat and raised dogs.

Decades later, in 1991, Cintrón made a symbolic return to bullfighting, riding at the alternativa of María Sara, a young French rejoneadora. Once the sole rejoneodora on the bullfighting circuit, Cintrón rode beside a young woman who had spent a girlhood inspired by the legendary torera, the blonde goddess of the bullring.

:: staff

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