Fw: Bert Corona R.I.P.

Gary Kennedy g.s.kennedy at SPAMworldnet.att.net
Sat Jan 27 10:06:54 MST 2001



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----- Original Message -----
From: "Seth Wigderson" <seth.wigderson at gte.net>
To: <H-LABOR at H-NET.MSU.EDU>
Sent: Friday, January 26, 2001 8:31 AM
Subject: Bert Corona R.I.P.


> [Cross-posted from H-Radhist]
>
> EL VALIENTE CHICANO
>
> By David Bacon LOS ANGELES, CA
>
>  (1/19/01) -- Bert Corona belonged to that heroic generation that gave us
> social security, unemployment insurance and industrial unions. It was a
> generation hardened by the great depression -- the Los Angeles of Corona's
> youth was the scene of violent industrial wars at North American Aviation
> and on the waterfront. It was the Los Angeles where immigrants arriving in
> the wake of the Mexican Revolution were met with the business end of
> police billy clubs, the city of Sleepy Lagoon -- where blacks and Latinos
> sat in one section of movie theaters, and whites in another.
>
> Some might say LA hasn't changed that much. But what once was the open
> shop city is becoming a union town. The key to getting elected now in LA
> and Orange County is winning the votes of hundreds of thousand of active
> working-class Latinos. And the last decade saw a hundred thousand sin
> papeles march against anti-immigrant hysteria, their strikes and
> organizing drives sweep through industry after industry, and twenty
> thousand undocumented and legal residents rally in the sports arena, under
> the banner of the AFL-CIO.
>
>  If this is not the same world Bert Corona was born into, it is certainly
> one he helped create.
>
> Corona, who died on January 15 at 82, was a child of the border, so it was
> no surprise that the line in the sand between the U.S. and Mexico, and the
> problems of the millions of people crossing it, dominated his life.
>
> Corona's father was a comandante in Francisco Villa's Division del Norte,
> one of the two main insurgent armies of the Mexican Revolution. Villa
> himself was the sponsor at his parents' wedding in the Juarez customs
> house.
>
> After Villa was defeated by counter-revolutionaries, Noe Corona brought
> his wife, a schoolteacher, and mother-in-law, a doctor, to El Paso, where
> Bert Corona was born. Noe then returned to Mexico, where he was
> assassinated by Villa's enemies. Bert grew up moving back and forth
> between Juarez, Chihuahua and El Paso, in an era when crossing the border
> was an ordinary activity, not like traversing a no-mans' land between two
> hostile armies, as it is today.
>
>  Corona came to Los Angeles to study at USC, where he went to work and was
> caught up in the labor ferment of the late 1930s. He became president of
> Local 26 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and a
> political ally of Harry Bridges, one of U.S. labor's most progressive and
> democratic leaders. That labor experience was welded to the revolutionary
> history of Corona's family to frame his understanding of the world.
>
> "Bert saw Mexicanos in the United States, not just as a people suffering
> racial and national discrimination, but as a working-class community,
> exploited for their labor," says Nativo Lopez, who helped Corona organize
> the Hermandad Mexicana, a community organization of Mexican workers, and
> worked with him for the last three decades. "He believed that change would
> come about by creating organization and leaders among grassroots people,
> in unions and in the neighborhoods."
>
>  But Corona was not a pure-and-simple unionist. Looking at the huge mass
> of Mexican immigrants populating LA barrios, he saw not just a population
> excluded from the political mainstream, but a very different future in
> which their votes would eventually shape the politics of the city and the
> state. The base of Mexican labor that developed the southwest over the
> last century could, Corona dreamed, become as important politically as it
> was economically, acquiring a voice, and even more important, power in its
> own right. In that sense, the growing ranks of Latino political leaders
> nationally owe a debt to Corona and his coworkers, who spent decades
> fighting to build political organizations to empower Latinos.
>
>  Corona became a leader of El Congreso Nacional del Pueblo de Habla
> Espanola, and after the war, the Associacion Nacional Mexicano Americano.
> Both were
> leftwing organizations of militant Mexicanos, with close ties to the
industrial
> unions of the CIO. It was the era when the leftwing of the U.S. labor
movement
> was at the peak of its political strength. Much of that history is unknown
to
> today's activists, who see globalization and immigration as issues which
have
> just arrived on the political radar screen.
>
> Yet, during a period when he lived in northern California, Corona
organized an
> ANMA chapter among smelter workers employed by the American Smelting and
> Refining Co. Decades before the current cross-border organizing movement
was
> born, these workers launched sympathy strikes in solidarity with coworkers
> employed by the same company in Mexico and Latin America.
>
>  ANMA also organized braceros. The bracero program brought workers from
Mexico
> into the U.S. from the 40s to the 60s, housing them in huge, fenced-in
barracks
> in rural areas, where they toiled in the fields for the growers for
extremely
> low wages. Leaders like Corona, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez and others
> struggled to end the program, since braceros were not only exploited
> themselves, but used to undermine wages and efforts by farm workers to
form
> unions. ANMA did not just lobby against the program, however, but sought
to
> organize the workers.
>
> That idea became a hallmark of Corona's approach to immigration. After the
> program was ended, immigrants without papers continued to come to the
U.S.,
> driven by hunger and poverty. Conservative unions of the coldwar era were
very
> hostile, calling for deportations and measures to try to ban them from
jobs,
> saying the undocumented couldn't be organized. Corona never stopped
fighting
> that idea, and helped organize a radical immigrant rights group, CASA, to
prove
> it wrong. Some of LA's most prominent Latino political leaders, including
> Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo, have political roots in that
struggle.
>
>  Although Corona and Cesar Chavez were allies through the years, they
fought
> over that problem. In the wake of the 1973 grape strike, when workers
without
> papers were brought in by growers to defend their sweetheart agreements
with
> the Teamsters and break the UFW, Chavez also became hostile to the
> undocumented. Corona openly criticized the union for that, which Chavez
felt as
> a betrayal. But eventually the UFW returned to organizing all workers,
> regardless of immigration status, and when Corona published his
autobiography
> in 1994, he dedicated the book to Chavez' memory.
>
> Corona's ultimate vindication came last year, when the AFL-CIO itself
adopted a
> new pro-immigrant policy, calling for amnesty for undocumented workers and
an
> end to employer sanctions, which make it illegal for them to hold a job.
At the
> end of his political life, he was finally honored at the labor
federation's
> huge rally for amnesty at the sports arena in June.
>
>  "To those of us who became active in the immigrant rights movement in the
70s
> and 80s, Bert was a veteran," says Cathi Tactaquin, director of the
National
> Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "We often saw ourselves as the
> radicals, but really we had a lot to learn. He helped us understand that
we
> needed an alliance with the labor movement, towards which he was both
> respectful and critical at the same time."
>
> When Corona went to Washington to lobby for immigrant rights, she
remembers, he
> took 200 grassroots activists with him. After spending the day trooping
from
> office to office on Capitol Hill, they slept on the floor of the Council
of
> Churches office in sleeping bags. "He was able to inspire ordinary
people," she
> says, "and give them a sense of history, that they could do things
themselves."
>
>  Corona was an unrepentant radical. "If by socialism," he wrote in his
> autobiography, Memories of Chicano History, "we mean someone who believes
that
> the principal means of production should be regulated by government or by
the
> people in the form of coops, then I would call myself a socialist."
>
> But his vision was a very indigenous one. "I believe in the American
dream," he
> told Mario Garcia, who collaborated on the book, "or at least in my
version of
> it. I interpret it as a hope and a wish, which has not been completely
> fulfilled for all Americans such as Latinos and other racial minorities.
It's
> similar to the dream of the Mexican Revolution, which also promised
freedom,
> equality and democracy. Clearly, that hasn't been fully achieved. In both
> cases, they're unfulfilled dreams."
>
>  Corona was not an isolated voice on the margin. He helped found the
Mexican
> American Political Association. He worked in the Democratic Party, trying
to
> force it to deal with the political aspirations of Mexicanos and workers.
He
> supported the early political careers of Mexicano and African-American
> politicians, from former Congressman Edward Roybal to the late state
Senator
> Byron Rumford, author of California's Fair Housing Act.
>
> Carlos Mu=F1oz, professor of Chicano Studies at UC Berkeley, was a student
> leader in the Los Angeles school blowouts of the 1960s. He recalls that
this
> new generation of activists "was very down on the old generation of
political
> leaders, who we saw as accomodationist."
>
> But Corona was viewed differently, he remembers. "We saw him as an
> extraordinary guy. He was a good warrior." When La Raza Unida Party was
> organized, Mu=F1oz and others wanted Corona to become one of its leaders.
"But
> he was more focused on organizing the undocumented, whom he saw as the
most
> oppressed."
>
> Nevertheless, "Bert saw that our struggle for immigrant rights and
Mexicano
> political power was tied to much larger movements," Lopez says. Corona was
a
> national officer of the 1980s' most powerful peace group, SANE-FREEZE. He
> helped Jesse Jackson found the Rainbow Coalition, and was co-chair of the
> National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
>
>  When Lopez himself became the target of "B-1 Bob" Dornan and the
Republican
> right, after Dornan's defeat at the hands of Loretta Sanchez in Orange
County,
> "Bert told me: 'Don't leave. Stay and fight.'" Dornan, one of the most
> conservative members of Congress, and a longtime legislative advocate for
> armaments manufacturers, alleged that Lopez and the Hermandad Mexicana had
> registered non-citizens to vote. The LA Times put the subsequent
investigations
> on its front page day after day.
>
> In the end, Lopez was vindicated. But there was no doubt about the message
> of the Orange County election, and Dornan did indeed have something to
> fear: Sanchez' career in Congress is living proof of the growing power of
> the Latino vote.
>
>  "That was typical of Bert," says Eliseo Medina, a former UFW leader who
> today is vice-president of the Service Employees International Union. "He
> didn't just put his finger up to see which way the wind was blowing. He
> took a principled stand and stuck to it."
>
> Another veteran of the farm labor wars, Alfredo Figueroa, calls Corona "a
> father of the modern-day Chicano movement." Figueroa summed up Corona's
> life in Mexican style, writing a corrido on hearing of his death. It ends
> with these verses:
>
> The U.S. government never offered you its hand or appreciated the efforts
> of this valient Chicano.
>
>  Nevertheless you decided to fight against their system, and organized a
> movement crying "Long live the union!"
>
>              - 30 -
>
> ---------------------------------------------- david bacon - labornet
> email      david bacon internet:    dbacon at igc.apc.org   1631 channing way
> phone:     510.549.0291      berkeley, ca 94703






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