Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales knew something about fighting, both inside the ring and for civil rights in the Chicano community.
After hanging up the gloves on his professional boxing career, Gonzales became a political organizer, civil rights activist and even a poet. Google dedicated its Doodle on Friday to Gonzales as part of its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Doodle illustrates key moments in Gonzales’ life, from his humble beginnings as a boy picking crops to his boxing career to his days as a political and community organizer. It also highlights portions of I Am Joaquin, his epic poem about the Chicano movement in the 1960s.
Gonzales was born to a poor family in Denver on June 18, 1928. His mother died two years later, and he was raised by his father. Gonzales worked in the sugar beet fields when not in school, but despite his job and the long distances he had to travel to attend class, Gonzales graduated from high school at 16 with a B average.
After his studies at the University of Denver were cut short by tuition costs, Gonzales fought his way out of poverty by donning boxing gloves. He began training in 1944 as a 125-pound featherweight and turned pro at 19, compiling a record of 65-9-1 before he retired in 1955.
Ring magazine ranked him as the third-best featherweight in the world from 1947 until his retirement, but he never got a shot at the title. In later years, his boxing success would give him prominence as he turned his attention toward politics.
He’d open a sports bar and a bail bond business before being named the Denver Democratic Party’s first Mexican American district captain in the late 1950s. Gonzales was key in registering Latino voters in Colorado for the Viva Kennedy campaign in 1960s and ran for public office on the Democratic ticket a few times. But he grew disenchanted and broke with the party in the mid-’60s, saying the party wasn’t doing enough for the Chicano community despite seeking its support.
His disillusionment with politics led him to write the 1965 poem I Am Joaquin, in which the narrator struggles with the challenges Chicanos faced in the 1960s of achieving economic stability in the US and assimilating in American culture while not abandoning their own culture.
The next year, Gonzales founded Crusade for Justice, a grassroots cultural and civil rights organization focused on eliminating the racial and economic injustice Chicanos faced. His text Spiritual Plan of Aztlán was later adopted as the manifesto of the Chicano Movement. Even though the organization believed in nonviolence, it was often mischaracterized and was closely watched by the FBI.
He died at home in 2005 at the age of 76.