[Marxism] Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales (1928-2005)
jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Thu Apr 14 17:21:11 MDT 2005
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, one of the most influential shapers of the
nationalist outlook of the Chicano movement of the 1960's and 1970's, died
in Denver on April 12.
Corky was a successful feather weight boxer in the 1940's,
capitalizing on his popularity by opening the Corky's Corner bar after he
retired from the ring in 1955. By the late 50's he had become the first
Chicano district captain for the Colorado Democrats; in 1960 he headed the
Colorado "Viva Kennedy!" committee, and was rewarded with various posts,
including head of President Johnson's "War on Poverty" in Colorado.
He used those positions to organize a grass-roots group called "Los
Voluntarios" (the volunteers) to press for Chicano rights; this eventually
got him fired from his government jobs.
"I'm an agitator and a troublemaker," he once said. "That's my
reputation, and that's what I'm going to be."
During one protest in 1966, he proclaimed "this is a Crusade for
Justice." The name stuck.
With his trim build, good looks, and curly black hair, typically
dressed in a red shirt and black pants, in the late 60's and early 70's he
looked more like a movie star that a radical political leader.
But what made him the idol of the young rebels was his
uncompromising defense of his people, and his vision of Chicano Power as
part of a unity of all Latin Americans.
Corky was one of the few --very few-- of his generation who set an
example for radical Chicanos and Latinos in the barrios, high Schools, and
colleges by turning his back on the role of the hyphenated-American vendido
that the system had been grooming him for.
Instead, in his epic poem "Yo Soy Joaquín" he counterposed an
indigenous and latinamericanist identity to assimilation.
* * *
Yo soy Joaquín,
perdido en un mundo de confusión:
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.
My fathers have lost the economic battle
and won the struggle of cultural survival.
And now! I must choose between the paradox of
victory of the spirit, despite physical hunger,
or to exist in the grasp of American social neurosis,
sterilization of the soul and a full stomach.
Yes, I have come a long way to nowhere,
unwillingly dragged by that monstrous, technical,
industrial giant called Progress and Anglo success....
I look at myself.
I watch my brothers.
I shed tears of sorrow. I sow seeds of hate.
I withdraw to the safety within the circle of life --
MY OWN PEOPLE . . .
Or whatever I call myself,
I look the same
I feel the same
Sing the same.
I am the masses of my people and
I refuse to be absorbed.
I am Joaquín.
The odds are great
But my spirit is strong,
My faith unbreakable,
My blood is pure.
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.
I SHALL ENDURE!
I WILL ENDURE!
* * *
As leader of the Denver Crusade for Justice, Corky rose to national
prominence, and in that capacity hosted the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation
Conference that adopted "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" a manifesto to
reconquer in the lands stolen by the yankees from Mexico the Aztec homeland.
* * *
In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud
historical heritage but also of the brutal "gringo" invasion of our
territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land
of Aztlán from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their
birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare
that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our
We are free and sovereign to determine those tasks which are justly called
for by our house, our land, the sweat of our brows, and by our hearts.
Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather
the crops and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious
frontiers on the bronze continent.
Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose
time has come and who struggles against the foreigner "gabacho" who exploits
our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hands and our
hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are
a bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North
America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation,
we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán.
Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada.
* * *
Corky Gonzales's vision was not that of a narrow nationalism, but rather the
redemption of a continent enslaved for 500 years. As such, he defended the
Cuban revolution the student movements and political prisoners in Latin
America. He was a big promoter of Chicano protests against the Vietnam War,
and was one of the major speakers at the August 29, 1970, Chicano Moratorium
protest in Los Angeles that was savagely attacked by police.
He was also a major figure in La Raza Unida, the independent Chicano
political party that came to control several local and county governments in
the Rio Grande Valley in Texas at the end of the 1960's and beginning of the
70's. And he often referred to his own experiences in explaining the need to
break from the Democrats and Republicans.
"The two party system is one animal with two heads eating out of the same
"Some people will question my statements and ask, 'How do you know?' I know
because I was an organizer for the Democratic Party. I was the first Chicano
District Captain in the history of Denver....
"Yes, I learned the hard way that I was a stooge for the party delivering my
people's vote. And, when I asked for social change, when I demanded jobs for
people, they winked and I could have gotten a liquor license under the
table, a zone change for a paying businessman, or a political job that was
equipped with a gag to keep your mouth shut."
Corky was also active in defense of undocumented immigrants, branding the
European invaders as the real "illegals." And after high school protests he
founded Escuela Tlatelolco, and independent Chicano school in Denver that
continues to function to this day.
The Crusade has many run-ins with the police during the 60's and 70's. It
was targeted for disruption by the FBI's COINTELPRO program and, in the wake
of a Crusade demonstration in support of the American Indian Movement's
occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, the Crusade Headquarters were attacked
and partly destroyed.
In the late 1970's Corky faded from the political scene. Accounts after his
death say a heart attack caused a car wreck that left him with head injuries
that forced him to withdraw from public life. But he was in the news again
at the end of March.
"Gonzales checked himself out of the hospital last week after being
diagnosed with congestive heart failure," the Associated Press reported
March 31. "He told the cardiologist that he's 'indigenous' and that he'll
die a natural death, said his wife, Geraldine."
"'That's his style,' said daughter Nita Gonzales, head of the Escuela
Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios, a nonprofit school and part-time health
clinic that her father founded in the 1970s. 'He has a very strong
constitution and a very strong will.'
On the home page of the Escuela Tlatelolco, a line from "I am Joaquín"
stands as his epitaph:
"I am Joaquín. I must fight and win this struggle for my sons, and they must
know from me Who I am."
* * *
There will be a memorial march and celebration of Corky's life in Denver in
Sunday, April 17. Details are on the Escuela Tlatelolco web page.
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