Sadly, most people have never heard of that name before. A passionate activist for Mexican-American rights, this Eagle Pass native used music to speak out on a variety of issues that affected the barrios.
I first came across Fuentes in the documentary Chulas Fronteras. His brief, animated appearance featured him performing the song Chicano (a Doug Sahm tune that Fuentes improved upon) with the norteño group Los Pinguinos Del Norte. Searching for what else he's done led me to his lone release — "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement".
This album was released in 2009, twenty-three years after Fuentes had passed away at the age of 46. These songs had been stored away since 1972. The sound and content of them are very much of that time period.
This was a time when we had Colegio Jacinto Treviño, a Chican@ college, in Mercedes and San Juan. We also had "El Papel Del Valle", a local Chican@ newspaper that used the UFW emblem as its logo. It's history that doesn't get much exposure. Fuentes was able to experience a portion of that history and preserve it through these wonderful recordings.
The opening track is Soy Tu Hermano, a spirited rally cry to fight for one's rights. One of the memorable lyrics of this song is: "Si sangre mi hermano, yo tambien sangro, la herida es igual." ("If my brother bleeds, I also bleed, the wound is the same.")
The song that resonated with me the most is Corrido De Pharr, Texas. In this heart-breaking ballad, Fuentes covers a series of issues (police brutality; city corruption) in Pharr that led to a protest on February 6, 1971. The clash between the police and the protesters reached its boiling point when an innocent bystander, Alfonso Laredo Flores, was shot in the head by Robert Johnson, a sheriff deputy. In a news-report of the incident found on YouTube, it's mentioned that witnesses saw Johnson aiming directly at Flores. Flores was taken to the Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, but he didn't survive the head wound. He was 20 years old.
This powerful, passionate corrido is a piece of media that I push to anyone who is interested in Valley history. Here is a brief excerpt of the lyrics, along with the transcriptions. From the liner notes:
"Una protesta calmada (A quiet protest)
en contra los policías,(against the police,)
la gente los denunciaba (the people denounced them)
por cosas que se sabían. (for things that were known.)
Mataron a Poncho Flores, (They killed Pocho Flores,)
fue un policía de Pharr; (it was a policeman in Pharr;)
a un hombre empistolado (a man who wears a gun)
no se le puede confiar. (you cannot trust.)"
I grew up a few blocks from where this injustice took place, so it's something that I think about quite often. Especially when I'm walking near the abandoned Ramos barbershop, on the corner of Bell Ave. and Cage Blvd. I can't walk through that site without thinking of what happened there 42 years ago.
The album also contains two versions of the song Mexico-Americano, a warm song about the melding of two cultures ("Dos culturas, tengo yo."; "Two cultures, I have."). The second version, the last track of this 13-track CD, is a live recording of Fuentes and Los Pinguinos Del Norte. I dig it a lot, it feels rough but alive. Also, adding an accordion is always an improvement!
The other songs cover a wide range of topics, from the walkout at Crystal City to the short-lived Raza Unida political party. One catchy huapango is also worth mentioning. With it's fast-pace tempo, Huapango Los Trabajos details the life of a migrant worker. I'm surprised that no one has covered it yet.
This collection is a treat for anyone that is curious about a part of history that has been obscure for far too long.
You can find a copy of "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement" at Arhoolie.com. The physical copy comes with excellent liner notes. For Facebook users, this album is available for free streaming on Spotify.