Corky Gonzales: Always Fighting

A glimpse into the life and activism of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales at Raza Unida Event by Oscar CastilloUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Known as “the fist” of the Chicano Movement

Corky Gonzales was a Chicano boxer, poet, and activist who dedicated his life towards fighting injustices, while inspiring youth to seek meaningful change in their communities. Continue reading to learn more about the life of Gonzales and to hear anecdotes from his family.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales PortraitUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was born on June 18, 1928, in Denver, Colorado, the youngest of eight children. As described by his uncle “He was always popping off like a cork. So we called him Corky.”

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales as a TeenagerUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Art Gonzales discussing Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales as a child

Art Gonzales describes how his brother, Corky Gonzales, embraced his leadership abilities from an early age.

While in his teens, Gonzales established himself as an amateur boxer and later turned professional in 1947. During his professional career, he was ranked by the National Boxing Association and The Ring magazine to be as high as the number three featherweight in the world.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Boxing PortraitUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Rudy, Art, and Charlotte Gonzales discuss boxing career of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales

Rudy and Charlotte, two children of Corky Gonzales, and Art, his brother, discuss the career of Corky Gonzales as a prize winning fighter and Denver's hometown hero.

Gonzales Wedding PortraitUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

In 1949, Gonzales married Geraldine "Geri" Romero and together they would go on to have eight children: six daughters and two sons. He was devoted to his family, and his children would later help carry on his legacy.

Gonzales Family (circa. 1950)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Valerie, Charlotte, Rudy, and Geri Gonzales discuss family

Valerie, Charlotte, and Rudy, children of Corky Gonzales, discuss his number one priority, his family, and growing up under the judgemental eyes of the media. Geri, wife of Corky Gonzales, remembers her husband.

Corky's Corner Grand Opening AdvertisementUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

After retiring from professional boxing in 1955, Gonzales focused on his business pursuits. He opened Denver’s first sports bar, Corky’s Corner, which he then later sold to open Corky's Bail Bonds.

Vote Corky Gonzales Matchbook BacksideUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

During this period, Gonzales also became increasingly interested in political causes. His campaign efforts as the Colorado coordinator of the Viva Kennedy Campaign contributed to the election of John F. Kennedy as President in 1960.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales with Open PalmsUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Frustrated with the racism and discrimination faced by Mexican Americans, Gonzales founded the Crusade for Justice in 1966—drawing from his experience as the director of the local Neighborhood Youth Corps and Colorado state chairman for the War on Poverty program. This civil rights organization sought to promote ethnic awareness and emotional pride, as well as providing community service programs.

I Am Joaquin Cover (1967)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Throughout his life, Gonzales was a writer and poet. His widely popular epic poem, Yo Soy Joaquin (I Am Joaquin), was published in 1967. The poem explored Chicano identity and was a turning point in the Chicano Movement. It was quoted in protest literature, published as a play, and reprinted in several editions.

I Am Joaquin Inside Content (1967)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Nita Gonzales speaking about I Am Joaquin, followed by Rudy Gonzales reciting an excerpt

Rudy and Nita, two children of Corky Gonzales, talk about his writing and read from his epic poem, I Am Joaquin.

Chicano FlagUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

In 1968, Gonzales led a Chicano contingent in the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C. During his time there, he issued his "Plan of the Barrio" which called for better housing, education, barrio-owned businesses, and restitution of pueblo lands.

Poor People's Campaign (1968)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Nita Gonzales discusses the Poor People's Campaign

Nita, daughter of Corky Gonzales, discusses the Poor People's Campaign and the openness with which Corky Gonzales approached all people.

Escuela Tlateloco ShirtUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

To unify Chicano youth across the Southwest, Gonzales helped organize the Chicano Youth Conference of 1969. Drafted at the conference was El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a document that articulated Chicano political, social, and economic issues and demands. In 1970, he founded Escuela Tlatelolco, a school for Chicano children with an emphasis on cultural identity and social responsibility.

Denver Youth Conference Demonstration (1969-03)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Nita, Charlotte, Valerie, and Geri Gonzales discuss the legacy of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales

Charlotte, Valerie, Rudy and Nita, the children of Corky Gonzales, Art, his brother, and Geri, his wife, talk about the legacy of Corky Gonzales.

Anti-Vietnam War ProtestUCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Gonzales worked alongside activists from a broad range of communities to tackle issues such as police brutality, and to support the anti-Vietnam War movement.

United Farm Workers Event (1970) by Manuel Garza Barrera Jr.UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Collaborations between Gonzales and other Chicano leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, unified Chicanos across the country and strengthened the Chicano Movement.

Cesar Chavez Leadership Hall of Fame Award (2004)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Millions have been inspired by Gonzales' call for change, both in his hometown of Denver and beyond. His children, Executive Director Rudy and Consultant Nita Gonzales, continue his commitment to community-based work and advocacy through Servicios de La Raza, a Denver organization dedicated to serving the needs of all its community members.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Portrait (circa. 1999)UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

Nita Gonzales reading an excerpt from I Am Joaquin

Nita Gonzales, the daughter of Corky Gonzales, reads an excerpt from her father's epic poem, I Am Joaquin.

Credits: Story

Grace Muñoz, CSRC 2020-2021 Graduate Student Researcher

Denver Public Library
Google Doodle Team
UCLA Film and Television Archive
Rudy Gonzales and family
Xaviera Flores, CSRC Librarian and Archivist
Dr. Christine Marín, Arizona State University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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