“Do you still recall the fateful night [you] crossed the Rio Grande, Fernando?” (Abba)

He did recall and he did love both sides of the Rio Grande. And I loved him. I have lost my good friend, Fernando Corral. He passed away, perhaps where he was most at home, in Mexico City, in December 2014. Please “Google” Abba singing “Fernando”. It became for me a funeral dirge. Perhaps you will cry, as I did, for the passing of this great human being.

Fernando Corral, 1931-2014.
Fernando Corral, 1931-2014.

Don Fernando was a bull-fighter, an acclaimed bull-fighter, the oldest—at his time—in Mexico City. He was gored badly in 1986, but he never stopped. He recovered and continued fighting bulls at the Santa Maria ring, in La Gloria, Texas. He was always of slight build and, at the end of his lively life, quite frail, but always courageous. A feisty epitaph should be posted at the enormous bull-fighting Arena de México in Mexico City—the coveted “feo, fuerte y formal” (Ugly, Strong and Proper).

Fernando Corral was unique. He was not only a bull-fighter but an aficionado who took pride in teaching the lore and intricacies of bull-fighting. He took pleasure regaling listeners with stories of personal exploits and those of other famous matadores. Some of those he shared with my students of Latin American Politics at the University of Texas—Pan American (UTPA). He also had an amazing governmental career in Mexico before coming to the U.S. He served both countries in major ways.

Fernando was a U.S. soldier, a Korean War veteran. “How proud you were to fight for this land, Fernando” (Abba). He was a dual citizen, an Ambassador of Good Will from each country to the other. Those who knew about his public service in Mexico can attest to the positive contributions he made to the people of Mexico and to the U.S.A.

Fernando – born in the State of Mexico, 1931 – was, among other things, a geologist. He graduated from the University of Texas—Austin. He became the founding, lead investigator for the Instituto Mexicano del Petroleo and a professor of Geology with the famous Insituto Politécnico Nacional. After all this, he began his bull-fighting saga at age 50, thus, “un caso insólito,” an unusual man (’Corralito’: Caso Insólito, por Gabriela Zavala; Narrado por Fernando Corral, Editorial del Grupo AGA, S.A.1986).

During years previous to bull-fighting Fernando knew the family of the “Franklin Roosevelt” of Mexico, the renowned President Lázaro Cárdenas. He maintained relations with the president’s famous son, Cuahutémoc Cárdenas, and served in his administration. Cuahutémoc is considered the “grand old man” of Mexican politics. Through Fernando’s palanca, I was able to bring Cárdenas (and later, his own son, “Cuahutito”) to speak at UTPA.

Cuahutémoc had succeeded his father as Governor of Michoacán and, later, became not only Mayor of Mexico City, but candidate for President himself. He was, most scholars agree, cheated out of that position by the party his father had founded (PRI). They elected the more conservative Salinas de Gortari instead. Corral had advised Cuahutémoc on matters of water and energy (Zavala).

His adventures were many and varied. Fernando, while working for the Cárdenas administration, investigating geological deposits for valuable minerals, at times found himself in danger. Angry marijuana growers took pot shots (pardon the pun) at him and team in Guerrero. In the woods of Michoacán he witnessed the growing danger of pot growers, later to become the feared “Knights Templar,” La Familia and other groups.

But the real Fernando was a cultural aficionado. He wrote poetry and captivating short stories in his advancing age. He read some of my own works about Mexico and advised me about scenes, authentic characters and sub-plots for my film-script, “Monarchs.”  He was generous with time and property.

Don Fernando lent our children’s dance company his splendid “suit of lights” and matador’s cape, so we could create authentic costumes for ballets Paquita and Don Quixote. Fernando helped others as well, teaching High School Science courses in Mercedes, where he resided for many years.

Fernando had the right to be a proud man. But there was no pomp or posing to him (except in the ring). He loved politics. He loved the U.S. and its government, appreciative of help he received from the GI Bill of Rights and the Veterans’ Administration. He believed in the proper, service role of government in his life and all our lives.

Dr. Gary Mounce
Dr. Gary Mounce

Corral despaired, as many of us do, about conditions in Mexico. We often talked about the threats of violence. We agreed only economic fairness and progress (and rational changes in U.S. drug, immigration and gun policies) could begin to help heal the corruption or diminish profits and power of the cartels.

Fernando leaves behind four special, beloved sons. He leaves behind me and other friends. We will remember him fondly. I was privileged to have known him. I will miss my friend, Fernando. His was a life fully lived. “There was something in the air that night. Your star shone bright, Fernando” (Abba). Requiem in Pace, Don Fernando, el “Corralito.”