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Ring Leader : Still a Novice, Aracelli Gonzalez Is Following Her Dreams. Ears of Her Kills Underscore Her Skills. One of the World's Few Female Bullfighters, She Could Well Become One of the Greats.

November 27, 1994|SIMON ROMERO | Born and raised in the United States, 19-year-old Aracelli Gonzalez is pursuing her dreams in the land of her ancestors: Mexico. After stints as a beauty queen and rodeo star, the Huntington Park resident decided last year to become a matadora, a killer of bulls. The blood and the sweat surrounding the spectacle that originated on the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the exhilarating thrill surrounding each kill, have Aracelli hooked. Now, she proudly displays the ears--the equivalent of a trophy in North American sports--of each bull she has killed. As one of the world's few female bullfighters, her admirers already murmur that she has the potential to become one of the greats. Gonzalez, during a visit with her family in Huntington Park, was interviewed by Simon Romero

I always liked the country better than the city. When I was growing up, my family had a ranch near Fresno, and that's where I always liked to be in the summertime, among the animals: horses, pigs, chickens, cows, dogs and bulls. I loved all of the animals, even the bulls, who due to their nature have the most anger inside them.

After being among those animals for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved caring for my horses, and then started to compete in Mexican rodeos as a charra --a cowgirl. But even rodeos got a little boring and when I saw my first bullfight a year ago in Guadalajara with my father, I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do.

Rumor has it in my family that my grandfather back in Mexico wanted to be a matador--a bullfighter--when he was young. But he came from a good family that pressured him a lot; they wanted him to become a doctor. So he did that, and began caring for people. But I think that's where my desire comes from, from him.

When I told my family I wanted to become a bullfighter, they thought I was crazy. "Not only is it dangerous," they said, "but you're a girl and girls don't do things like that."

I thought about what they said, but I had already made a choice. I couldn't be discouraged.

Fortunately, my dad was on my side and supported me when I decided. But my mom and my brothers, they all told me I was wrong and tried to discourage me as much as possible.

But now that I have started fighting, they're crazy about the idea, and have even come to see me fight. Now all my mom does is talk about what potential I have, and the things I have to do to be one of the best.

Since I started training a year ago, I've tried to stick to a strict health regimen, like all of the best bullfighters do. Even though there's a great night life in Guadalajara where I'm now living--you know, with all the discos, restaurants and nightclubs--I rarely go out, since substances like alcohol and drugs can badly affect your ability in the ring.

I also try to eat only twice a day, no breakfast. Only good wholesome food, my main meal of the day coming during the afternoon. That's the way people eat in Mexico, always with their families, since they take their time. It's so different there than here.

As funny as it sounds, I hardly eat meat, mainly vegetables. It doesn't mean I'm squeamish; it's the key to an active, healthy diet. When I go to Mexico City next month to begin training with an expert, I'll also have to start going to the gym to work out.

Right now I'm considered a novillera , or a novice. Soon, after getting experience and killing enough bulls, I'll become a matadora . And that's when the success begins. That's when you're able to travel to places like Spain, Portugal, France and Colombia, the other countries that have bullfighting. I've never been to those place, but I dream of going.

For now, I'm getting to know Mexico real well. I have family in Guadalajara, where I've been living, so I know the state of Jalisco like the back of my hand. People from Jalisco are known as tapatios , and now that I've been there a while, they call me tapatia when I travel around the country. I've also gone to Zacatecas and Aguas Calientes and Baja California to fight.

Most Mexicans, when they meet me, don't know I'm American. I grew up in a house where Spanish was spoken, so I speak it well, sometimes better than English. And I look very Mexican. When they do find out I'm not a citizen down there, they tease me and call me "gringa." I hate that, since that word sounds so awful.

There are a lot of other differences between the two countries. Every time I leave my house in Mexico, I have to be dressed well, a lot of the time in a suit. Everyone takes their appearance very seriously. It's so formal.

That's why it's so nice to come home, since here you can just wear whatever you want, there's no need to worry about it. It's so nice sometimes just to wear a T-shirt and jeans and not worry what people think. But every time I come home, I know I'm going back to Mexico, since that's the only place that I can kill bulls now.

Killing a bull--the act of weakening it and teasing it until the point where you can stab it in the back of its neck--actually requires so much luck. All of the hard work and training you do won't pay off unless you have luck on your side. Every bullfighter in the world knows that, since every bullfighter has come close to death.

I myself have been hit by a bull's horns and wounded during a fight. People always ask me if it hurts and I say no, not until afterward when the fight's over. They laugh and ask how that could be.

I don't know what it is that keeps a bullfighter alive after she's been hit, it might just be adrenaline, or the simple thrill of the entire fight. Maybe it's the fact the you just want to get out of the whole thing alive and that means not falling when a bull hits you. It means killing the bull and staying alive.

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