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“Yo Soy Joaquin”: One Man’s Journey to Change Chicano History

For Hispanic Heritage Month, we've gathered info on some of our favorite Latinos who, besides their main careers, are known for their activism for causes like immigration equality, farmer's rights, women's rights and more. Stay tuned @lapazchatt for the full series.

Corky Gonzales at a rally at the state Capital in Denver in 1971.

Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was born on June 18, 1928. Earning his nickname for his tendency to “pop off like a cork”, Gonzales devoted his fiery personality to championing social justice. Gonzales came from an extremely impoverished family, as a Mexican-American immigrant during the Great Depression. As a child, he worked alongside his mother and siblings in the fields, while his father worked in the coal mines. Rodolfo started his professional boxing career after being unable to afford more than one semester of college. It was there he first began to grow a platform, as his talent in boxing brought him recognition and fame. During his boxing career, Gonzales fought as a featherweight seventy-five times, for a total of 63 wins, and was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, 33 years after his retirement.

Around the late 1940s, Gonzales began to involve himself in activities with the democratic party. He ran for Colorado State Representative in 1947, but was defeated. Undeterred, he proceeded to devote his efforts towards voter registration for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, focusing on registering Latino voters through the “Viva Kennedy” campaign. Gonzales’s efforts registered more Mexican Americans than any other time in Colorado’s history. In 1967, Gonzales ran for Denver mayor, but lost again.

Despite this, Gonzales remained devoted to improving the lives of Mexican-Americans. During the Chicano movement of the 1960’s, Gonzales founded the Crusade for Justice, an organization devoted to spreading awareness of issues surrounding Chicano rights and culture. He led a group in the Poor People’s March on Washington, a protest organized by Martin Luthor King Jr. to raise awareness of the issues facing poor Americans, and organized a resistance at West High School against discrimination in the classroom. Gonzales also helped to create the Ballet Chicano de Atlan, a Chicano dance group, and El Teatro Pachuco, a Chicano theatre company. He opened a summer school in 1969 and the Escuela Tlatelolco in 1970, which aimed to build students’ characters through culturally-relevant curricula.

In 1967, Gonzales published the poem “Yo Soy Joaquin” (I am Joaquin) which focused on the struggles of Chicanos to assimilate into American culture while still maintaining their Mexican roots. The poem became a testament to the Chicano movement, and was widely read and published, eventually even becoming a play performed by the Teatro Campesino, which toured nationally.

Over the course of his political and public career, Gonzales helped improve Chicano rights and provide a voice for hispanic Americans, forever leaving a mark on Chicano history.

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