Islander’s book explores the daring lives of women bullfighters
Galveston resident Sandra Martinez Geary always knew her Aunt Gloria fought bulls.
But it wasn’t until Gloria Martinez died in 2017 that Sandra realized the full scope of what that meant, she said.
Martinez left Geary with a treasure trove of items — news clippings, photographs, promotional posters — that told the story of her time in the bullring.
Martinez wasn’t just a bullfighter. She was “La Gitana,” meaning “The Gypsy.” She was a world-traveling, barrier-breaking athlete who made headlines where she appeared.
The revelations inspired Geary to look more into her aunt’s life as a young woman. After three years, Geary’s new book, “La Gitana and the Lady Bullfighters of Mexico,” was released in September.
“I wanted to put down the entire history of our family,” Geary said. “I wanted to know where they grew up and all the struggles they had to go through.”
“La Gitana and the Lady Bullfighters of Mexico” is the true story of real women matadoras who defied tradition and death to take up the cape and sword in the bullrings of Mexico and Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s.
The book explores the challenges and adventures Martinez faced as one of the few female bullfighters in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s. Martinez and her close friend, Angelina Medina, joined a bull-fighting troupe from Monterrey, Mexico, at age 18, against the wishes of their families.
Bullfighting is as much about showmanship as it is about sports, and Martinez was given her alter ego, despite being neither a gypsy, nor living a gypsy lifestyle. The diminutive Medina was nicknamed “The Flea.”
The women were, according to some accounts in the book, a sight to behold in the bullring, “beautiful and uncompromising” performers.
Gloria was a matadora, the type of bull fighter who waves a cape in front of a charging bull. Medina was the banderilla, the fighter charged with stabbing the bull with a spiked wooden stick before the final blow is struck.
“They are completely joined in their mission to conduct an impressive operation,” one newspaper reviewer said of the pair.
The book explores the journey of a young bullfighter, from the 10 months of training, to life on the road around South America and even into the United States, to a doomed attempt to leave an exploitive promoter and attempt by the two women to make a living from the sport on their own.
Telling her aunt’s story took Geary and her husband and collaborator, Cornelius Geary, to Mexico City, where they met and interviewed Medina, now 92, and bull-fighting experts and historians, including Eloy Cavazos, the “world’s most famous living bullfighter.”
Sandra Geary and her mother also spent weeks translating Spanish-language news articles to trace the arc of their careers and their travels around the world.
The book isn’t meant to glorify the sport or tradition of bullfighting, which is losing popularity around the world because of criticisms over animal cruelty, Sandra Geary said. Rather, the book is meant to highlight the challenges and triumphs of women overcoming a traditionally male-dominated career, she said.
“We personally take no pleasure in the demise of the bulls,” Geary said. “This is really about the bravery of these women overcoming the cultural obstacles and to become bullfighters.”
“La Gitana and the Lady Bullfighters of Mexico” is available to purchase online at henschelhausbooks.com. A Spanish-language version of the book is planned to be released at a later date.