Fuentes, Rumel López (1943–1986)

By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: Biography

Published: October 25, 2021

Updated: October 25, 2021

Rumel López Fuentes, a Chicano movement corrido composer and activist, was born the ninth of eleven children of Isidro Fuentes and Damacia (López) Fuentes on June 25, 1943, in Eagle Pass, Texas. The local economy was in decline in his formative years, so his family migrated annually to harvest crops in Indiana and Michigan. As a youngster, Fuentes learned from his father about the Mexican corrido tradition in which he later excelled. However, he was initially drawn to rock-and-roll and found the corrido “low class.” As he matured, he recognized the value of the corrido and embraced it artistically and politically. In high school, Fuentes sang in the choir, played tennis and football, and joined the Future Teachers of America club. He graduated from Eagle Pass High School in 1961. Later accounts about Fuentes have stated that he was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school and attend college. In the years that followed, he joined the Chicano movement and the Raza Unida Party, which provided a platform for Fuentes to convey his heritage through the music he composed.

On June 1, 1968, Fuentes married Jo Zettler, who was in Eagle Pass as a VISTA Volunteer who also sang harmony with him for several years. Soon after their marriage, he began junior college. In 1970 he met Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, who recorded a live performance along the Texas-Mexico border of Fuentes and his group Los Pingüinos del Norte. The event marked the composer’s entry into the ethnic and regional music world that Arhoolie Records championed.

Fuentes and Zettler moved to Austin and attended the University of Texas, where they joined Teatro Chicano. The group provided a means for him to share his songs, thereby motivating others to join the Chicano movement. In 1972 Strachwitz recorded Fuentes singing his compositions in the living room of the married student housing apartment where he and Zettler lived. After receiving a master’s degree in education from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974, Fuentes returned to his hometown to work as a teacher.

The Fuentes works recorded in Austin were not immediately released because Strachwitz did not think they would find an audience—a decision Strachwitz later regretted. Thus, these compositions “gathered dust on a shelf for almost four decades.” They were finally issued as a CD in 2009, under the title Rumel Fuentes, Corridos of the Chicano Movement. Zettler, whom Fuentes divorced in 1975, contributed to the liner notes. Among the works were “Yo Soy Tu Hermano,” “Walk-out en Crystal City,” Aztlán,” “Partida la Raza Unida,” and numerous other anthems that depicted Mexican American heroes and dreams. The CD’s iconic “México-Americano” appears twice on the album, as tracks number six and thirteen. The latter was recorded by Strachwitz in 1975 in Eagle Pass during the filming of the documentary Chulas Fronteras and featured Fuentes singing with Los Pingüinos de Norte.

Fuentes was committed to sharing the historical and musical importance of his works. Thus, in 1973 he wrote “Corridos de Rumel” that, along with some of his sheet music, was published in El Grito, A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought. His article introduced him to readers interested in the ties between Chicano movement activism and artistry. He wrote, “The very first time I remember hearing about corridos was when my father would listen to them on the radio. I was then about six years old, and I neither understood nor liked the corrido.” He noted that his entry into public school cemented, for a time, his love of “nice, good American music.” Fuentes’s return to the corrido freed him to use his works as a “means of exposing evils and injustices, and relating the truth about things as they actually happen.” Further, he added, “These corridos are stories and situations where the Chicanos are the protagonists of the corrido.” Fuentes also described the corrido as “a type of narrative poem consisting of eight syllable quatrains that tell the story of an occurrence.” His songs, he maintained, should be heard at the political gatherings that advanced “La Causa” by teaching Chicanos that they should change the difficult economic and social conditions under which they lived.

During the Chicano movement, Américo Paredes, the highly-regarded professor of Mexican American studies, brought attention to the corrido through his research. Two of Fuentes’s works, including “Corrido de César Chávez,” found their way into the Paredes archive at the University of Texas at Austin’s Benson Latin American Collection. Their inclusion demonstrated the value of Fuentes’s contributions to the corrido tradition.

The initial shelving of the recordings of some of Fuentes’s most important songs proved a sorrow to him and a great loss to contemporary corrido history at the time. He expressed his frustration to Strachwitz in 1972 and stressed the importance of contemporary stories about Chicanos. José Ángel Gutiérrez, a founder of La Raza Unida Party, echoed Fuentes’s assertions. “He put us into the corrido. The mainstream media didn’t carry our stories unless they were negative. He told our stories. This was our validation. We saw ourselves when Rumel started singing.”

Mexican American musical artists Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, Los Texmanics, and La Santa Cecilia have acknowledged the relevance of Fuentes’s compositions by recording his famous “México-Americano,” bringing it to a new generation of listeners. During an important period of twentieth-century Mexican American history in Texas, Fuentes’s unique artistry turned his corridos into a potent force for his community’s political ambitions. When his 1972 recordings were released in 2009, Juan Tejeda, leader of Conjunto Aztlán, stated that Fuentes’s compositions “set him apart” and made him “an important voice” in the corrido tradition.

Rumel López Fuentes died at the age of forty-three on October 10, 1986, in San Diego, California. He was buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in that city.

Rumel Fuentes, “Corridos de Rumel,” El Grito, A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought VI (Spring 1973)    (https://opendoor.northwestern.edu/archive/plugins/PdfEmbed/views/shared/pdf-embed-js/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fopendoor.northwestern.edu%2Farchive%2Ffiles%2Foriginal%2F3e1f3a14ce5eec313dc78e70996e571b.pdf#zoom=auto&page=1), accessed April 28, 2021. The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings: Strachwitz Frontera Collection, Artist Biography: Rumel Fuentes—Corridos, Chicano Politics, and the Birth of the Frontera Collection (https://frontera.library.ucla.edu/blog/2020/10/artist-biography-rumel-fuentes-corridos-chicano-politics-and-birth-frontera-collection), accessed April 28, 2021.

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Music
  • Genres (Conjunto, Tejano, and Border)
  • Genres (Ethnic)
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • South Texas
  • South and Border

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Fuentes, Rumel López,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fuentes-rumel-lopez.

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October 25, 2021
October 25, 2021

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