April 15, 2005

Civil Rights Icon ‘Corky’ Gonzales Dies At 76

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a boxer turned civil rights activist and a leader in the Chicano movement in the Southwest, died Tuesday (April 12). He was 76.

Gonzales died at his home weeks after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure and renal disease, his son, Rudy Gonzales said

“In the last days many people called him, e-mailed and came to see him to tell him how his activism changed their lives and made them better people,”

Gonzales said. “They told him how he made them aware and concerned of the issues.”

For Chicano veteranos like Herman Baca of National City he will be remember as “a leader, organizer, fighter, warrior, and poet, who fought a life-long militant struggle for self determination, respect, dignity, freedom, justice, and the human/civil rights of this nation’s 30 million Chicanos/Mex-icanos/Latinos.”

In the late 1950s he became the first Mexican-American district captain for the Democratic Party in Denver, later becoming disenchanted with the party, which he said wanted Chicano votes but not Chicano candidates.

Gonzales’ 1965 poem titled, “I Am Joaquin,” resonated with many Mexican-Americans as the poem’s character struggled with forgetting his or her culture to achieve economic stability in the United States.

“I am Joaquin:”

“I must fight and win this struggle for my sons, and they must know from me who I am…

I am Joaquin, 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…”

In 1966 he founded the Crusade for Justice, a cultural center that attempted to get the city to eradicate poverty and deal with racial injustice. During his work Gonzales marched with César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers, and met with Martin Luther King Jr.

He also founded Escuela Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios in 1970, a nonprofit school and health care center that operates today under the leadership of Nita Gonzales, one of his six daughters.

Among his other notable accomplishments, Gonzales won the National Amateur Athletic Union bantamweight title in 1946 and turned pro in 1949, compiling a 65-9-1 record as a featherweight before retiring from boxing in 1955.

Besides his daughters, Gonzales is survived by his wife, Geraldine, two sons, 22 grand children and 8 great-grandchildren.


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