Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales: Inspiration, courage, identity

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales: La inspiración, el coraje, la identidad

I thought I would jump into the polemics over whether or not the new library in West Denver should be named after famed national leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. What Corky Gonzales did for the community cannot be measured in economic terms. Let me deliberate on three essential concepts that I think Gonzales highlighted during his activist career; inspiration, courage and identity.

Gonzales did not dole out cash to the library so that his name would be inscribed in stone. His work was not about having his name plastered on a public building as an outcome. In fact, part of his mission was to struggle for others to have access to “the American Dream” so that they might obtain that benefit. True liberationists aren’t generally glory hunters.

While other Americans throughout history raised Cain and have been touted as heroes, Gonzales has been anathematized by media pundits as a militant, tainted as a seditionist, insurrectionist and subversive. While photographs of other American heroes’ who practiced rebellion in some form gloriously hang in libraries, governmental offices, schools and community gathering places, Gonzales’ activism is criticized, with a wanton disregard of his contributions. What he had the courage to do was inspire a whole generation of Denverites to practice good old fashion rebellion, changing Denver’s mainstream historiography.

The invectives he shouted were at those institutions suffering from short term memories, lacking knowledge about La Raza’s history and who as a matter-of-fact didn’t care about Chicanos. The educational system’s disdain for Chicanas/os in America had instilled a series of negative myths about the Mexican and his purported inferiority. Gonzales knew that healing was needed to mend the broken and wounded spirits that lay in parks with needles sticking out of tattooed arms. He challenged tecatos and vatos locos to reconcile their differences and work together in building community. He addressed racial profiling before it was conceptualized and the stigmatization of being a Chicano long before the 1960’s.

Why would the power brokers support the naming of a building after him? He criticized those institutions for not being inclusive; suffering from institutional deviancy, so why would they now not fulfill their prophecy? After all, if you can make the general public believe that a group is inferior, you can rationalize their perpetual subjugation.

Another one of Corky’s main contributions to La Raza was a re-discovery of an identity. The dominant culture with all of its privilege has no inkling of this. The American identity of baseball, mom’s apple pie and the puritan ethic did not include Chicanas/os. Gonzales challenged a people, a tribe; an ethnic group that had been shunned in history and made invisible, to struggle, reinvigorating the concept of identity for La Raza, its relevance in the world, and the importance of self-love.

Developing cultural self-esteem included overcoming the pressures of conquest, colonialism, militarism and annexation in order to recreate a new history. The cornerstone of the Chicano Movement of which he was a leader was about reclaiming cultural identity to achieve true humanization. His struggle was about members of this group that had walked in shame and indignation for too long. He preached to the people that they did not have to bow down to false masters and purported leaders whose interests were to keep them down.

Gonzales offered people drowning in misery, hope and a path to authentic human liberation. As a leader, he not only spoke his truth but laid out elaborate plans to achieve equality. Using the praxis of liberation as a method similar to other historical figures, he confronted the power structure. His style of struggle was no different than other American and international heroes who picked up the banner for social justice. He challenged the absolute power of a minority privileged group who would not share power with the poverty-stricken majority of the people. Gonzales just happened to be brown at a time when brown people were not seen as equals.

Denouncing an unjust social order was part of a strategy to create voice for the voiceless, challenging La Raza to stand up and be counted. Gonzales had seen La Raza become subservient to idolatrous forms of success. His vision for the future included the decolonization of the mind, heart and spirit of a people that had suffered at the hands of an oppressor. His negation of oppression was antithetical to what “the man” wanted.

It takes courageous for a leader to stand up and shout invectives at powerful people, even at the risk of being shunned. Corky did this.

My good friend Tony García happened to come by and visit me while I was writing this column. Tony is a homeboy. He was in the middle of the struggle. To paraphrase Tony, “Corky changed the dynamic of the city; post Corky victories include the first Chicano Mayor, the development of arts in the community and the creation of more Chicano businesses. He was the pivot point for us as a community from being obscure to having a prominent presence. Before Corky, we were invisible. After Corky, we had voice and presence.” Another dear colleague Dr. Darlene LeDoux shared that as she led the walkout from Rishel Junior High School during the heyday of the Chicana/o Movement, she did so with pride as a Chicana.

As Corky so eloquently stated, “All oppressed people have the right to revolution.” This is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. I honor that document and those who stand up so that America can take heed of its own creed.

Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an independent journalist. ©2013 Ramón Del Castillo

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