Do you consider me prominent? Geraldine Gonzales asked curiously over the phone. “Yes, I do!” I said. “Well I don’t,” she responded matter-of-factly. Her son Rudy Gonzales, executive director of Servicios de La Raza also assuredly teased, “I think you have the wrong family.” Full of warmth and modesty, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales left behind a wife, eight children, 24 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. All with the same desire to follow their family rock’s vision and all ready to pop off like a cork for it with as much passion as Corky himself.
Gonzales’ father moved from Chihuahua to the U.S. in 1911. He was married in Trinidad, Colo. to his wife who passed away when Gonzales was only two. Geraldine Gonzales’ mother was born in the San Luis valley in 1887. Her father was from a small town just outside of Santa Fe. A southwest family through and through, the Gonzales’ roots run for centuries. “When they say go back to where I come from I can turn around once and I’m here,” Rudy said.
Corky was born in 1928 and had his first struggle with the system while still in the womb. His mother had to drive to a further hospital to give birth because the closer one didn’t allow Mexican-Americans. Geraldine was born in Brighton in 1931. The two married in 1949 as Corky’s boxing career took off. He later became a bondsman and would help his clients in the court system where his first devotion to the people was made. People soon learned they could count on Corky. From police brutality to landlord issues, he was there to help. “He never had time for anything, but for everybody,” Rudy recalled.
Corky’s children were a well rounded bunch. They would travel performing ballet and theatre. Corky didn’t only believe in the power of the spoken word, but of the written, too. Never absent from a family dinner, Corky would mandate that all his children gather round after the meal and listen to the wise words of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Neruda and Lorca. “He loved art, expression, the plays, he was a voracious self taught reader and always said don’t read between the lines, read beyond the lines,” Rudy said. “In my nine-year-old life, I saw white people as the oppressor,” Rudy accounts. “But my dad showed me it wasn’t the color, but the system.”
“My older sisters got the family life with my mom and dad and us younger ones, we got la familia, we grew up in the movement. My mother was the glue of the family. We did everything together and the crusade was our lives,” he said.
Nita Gonzales, president of Escuela Tlatelolco had this to say about her father. “I recognize now that my father was someone who possessed a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest principles and imagine that united we could accomplish greatness. Now in life I also distinguish the incredible realization that there are those individuals who grace our lives and teach us how to live life humanely and justly, to act against all odds.”
Dubbed the leader of the west by Dr. King, the family would caravan to D.C. with the civil rights leaders. Everyday marches, everyday demonstrations. “We marched across the Missouri river, we slept in Churchill downs … it was incredible,” Rudy smiled. But life was somewhat of a fishbowl for the Gonzales. The kids would get threatening phone calls, but were never afraid with Corky around. He always reassured they were doing the right thing.
“Every day I am grateful for the gifts my father and mother gave to our family ... gifts of love and dedication ... love of family ... dedication to our people, nuestra Raza Indigena. We were taught to dream, to embrace our humanity with integrity, and to have the confidence to speak out against injustice. I am confident that my father’s legacy of social justice lives on in each time we stand for human rights ... each time we rally for equality for all people ... each time we march for dignity. His love of life and quick humor lives on in our memories and is seen in his most valued treasures ... his wife, his children, grandchildren, and great grand children,” said Nita.
Although Corky has not been immortalized by a statue yet, his legacy will always live on. “He taught dignity and respect. He taught a whole people how to love ourselves again,” Rudy shared.
“I don’t believe there will ever be another person who will stand up like he did,” noted Geraldine.
If one word describes the Gonzales’ it would be passionate. “Love is long and the hate is short and intense,” chuckled Rudy. “Everyone knew Corky---he was the golden boy here. He loved his Colorado and he traveled everywhere, but he always came home.”
Corky and Geraldine’s eight children are all successful in their respective fields and shaping Colorado for the better while cementing their father’s work and vision forever.