Corky Gonzales (1928–2006) social activist
Born in Denver, Colorado, to a family of migrant farmworkers, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales became one of the leading activists for fair treatment of Mexican laborers in the United States. After a career as a professional boxer (1947–55) and businessman, he began to work as a local organizer for the Democratic Party. In the early 1960s, he led a variety of organizations, including the Viva Kennedy campaign, the Denver War on Poverty, and the G.I. Forum. In 1965, he left the Democratic Party and founded the Crusade for Justice organization, with its emphasis on Chicano empowerment. It became a cultural center that included a school, the Ballet Folklórico de Aztlán, and the newspaper El Gallo. As the Chicano movement developed, with its assertive pride in the native and mestizo heritage of Mexico, Gonzales played a leading role. He led a Chicano contingent in the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. (1968), was a key participant in the Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War (1972), and organized the annual Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, including the 1969 Denver meeting at which El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán manifesto was drafted. His 1967 epic poem, I Am Joaquín, became the literary touchstone of the Chicano movement, tracing the cultural heart of the native peoples of Mexico and the American Southwest back to Aztec kings and emperors. He was a cofounder of La Raza Unida (1970), the political arm of the Chicano movement, and in 1972 led the movement to create La Raza Unida Party (LRUP). Although the LRUP received 7 percent of the vote in Texas, it was not successful nationally. He died on April 18, 2006.