The Fists of La Raza

Corky Gonzalez will undoubtedly be remembered as a mythic figure

By Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: April 19, 2005

The Fists of La Raza

He lived, wrote an epic poem, then died.

That seems to be the obituary that many observers have settled upon for many a 1960s-'70s-era icons. The latest icon to move on has been Denver's Rodolfo Corky Gonzalez.

In the past 12 months, preceding him have been Lalo Guerrero, Octavio Romano, David Risling Jr., Lalo Delgado & Gloria Anzaldua.

Many of these icons led full lives, yet their memories have been reduced to a song, a poem, a play, a book or but a single act or an idea. Typical of the era, they may never see the pages of a history book.

Corky too lived, wrote an epic poem - Yo Soy Joaquin - then died. He was a boxer, a warrior, a husband, father and grandfather, and in his role in the Chicano movement, he strapped on a six-shooter (rather than a pen). He was a cross between Mohammed Ali and Malcom X. This is how he is being described by some.

Many a commentator who are describing him were born after he splashed onto the world of Chicanismo. This is how history is generally written. Myths (sometimes distortions) often are created by those far-removed from the individuals or events being described. Truth is, he took part in hundreds of actions - often risking his life -- against a society bent on culturally assimilating or eliminating La Raza.

Corky merits his own story (Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings, Arte Publico Press). To attempt to understand him through an obituary is akin to learning quantum physics through a book review. To learn his story is to learn the spirit of a movimiento. He and the Crusade for Justice developed what some term a militant brand of Chicano nationalism that was centered on the idea of the liberation of Aztlan.

Aztlan too cannot be understood in but a few words, because it is loaded, charged and mostly misinterpreted. In his day, it was about a territory which had once belonged to Mexico?which purportedly had been the homeland of the ancient Mexica.

Many people associate this idea with the poet Alurista and the 1969 El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, yet Alurista has always maintained that it was a vision that perhaps emanated from the Crusade. His vision was that of a continent, not the U.S. Southwest, Alurista says.

Accurate or not, the idea of Aztlan as the Southwest did take hold in that era. Yet it was never a single idea and it was always conflictive. About the only people that are crystal clear about Aztlan is the fanatical extreme right wing which is convinced that Chicanos - through MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) - a student organization--are plotting to ?take back Aztlan? via ?La Reconquista.?

It is tempting to want to rebut the extremists in depth here - for desecrating something they know nothing of, this while converting those who have lived the effects of racial, economic and cultural oppression - into caricatures or objects of fear. This is par for a nation that is being dismantled by other like-minded merchants of fear.

Instead, here, it is a time of honoring and it should be recognized that Corky was human, with faults like anyone else. Yet, he will undoubtedly be remembered as a mythic figure - the Fists of La Raza - someone who personified the essence of resistance and defiance. What he symbolized is that the era of bowing down to the patron was over.

Despite this mythic view, one cannot forget that this era spawned a lot of internal conflict. Some of it was gender related. In effect, the nationalism of that era - which was characterized by male dominance and a culture of intransigence -- triggered the development of the Chicana movement. To be fair, this typified the whole era, not just nationalism.

While that era is now long gone, the struggles against racial oppression, anti-immigrant forces and against patriarchy continue.

Today, Chicanos/Chicanas struggle to situate themselves within these movements and within this continent - an indigenous continent. And yet, that would not contradict Corky's views. Perhaps this points to the destructive role of the nation's intelligences services of that era. Activists then did not actually differ that much. It was the intelligence services (through infiltration) that magnified and manipulated differences for the expressed purpose of disrupting and destroying these movements.

Petty differences aside, most people active in these struggles did have and do have something in common - the desire to uplift La Raza - the desire to uplift humanity. Corky Gonzalez, presente.

? Column of the Americas 2005

About Roberto Rodriguez:
The writers can be reached at or 608-238-3161.

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