Geraldine Gonzales, the wife of Chicano Movement leader Rudolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales, has died. The 89-year-old matriarch of the Gonzales family died July 30, 2020. But in the nearly nine decades of her life, there was a seismic and kaleidoscopic change in the social, political, and cultural landscape of the state and nation. And Gonzales had a birds eye view to much of it.
“She was raised at a time when women were raised more traditionally,” said Nita Gonzales, the oldest of the eight Gonzales children. But she was neither tied to the traditions or boundaries her father may have brought from his native Mexico nor was she shackled by the expectations of a strong-willed young Mexican-American husband whom she married in her teens. “My Dad came kicking and screaming into feminism,” said Gonzales. But once he arrived, “It became normal,” she quipped. The pair and their family, two boys, six girls, was a unit.
While husband Corky absorbed most of an often overheated spotlight, Geraldine stood close by. His, after all, is the name most synonymous with Colorado’s ‘Chicano movement.’ He was Denver’s golden boy in Golden Gloves boxing in the late 40’s and the name etched on the epic poem, “I Am Joaquin.” It’s the story of a young Chicano uncertain about the values and ways of a nation that excluded him and others like him. “Lost in a world of confusion, caught up in the whirl of a gringo society, confused by the rules,” it reads.
But there was no grey, no fog, no mist in this union. Together Gonzales and her husband moved through an epic period of unrest and awakening as a team, bringing along a family that has carried on the values taught at home and at the “Crusade for Justice,” the school they started for young Chicanos in Denver in the late sixties. Denver’s Servicios de la Raza, a community resource center, now led by Rudy Gonzales, continues the mission of lending a hand to those in need of help and information on everything from health issues to education.
Husband Corky may have been the point of the spear, but his wife was no shrinking violet. “She did not walk behind my Dad,” said daughter Nita. “She walked beside my Dad, she walked on her own,” and with a selfless determination. But in her own life, she grew in her own independent way, as well, said Gonzales.
“Think about it,” said Gonzales. Until the age of 83, “she never lived alone.” From birth to late teens, she lived with family. After marriage, she lived with her husband and children. But in her eighth decade, her independence roared again. “She went into her own apartment,” said Gonzales. “I don’t know many who would do that.”
Geraldine Gonzales has no poems that carry her name, said her daughter. There are also no public buildings like Denver’s Rudolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales Library to remember her by. But there is a family and a tradition of fighting for justice and a community that bears the unmistakable mark of this quite remarkable woman.
“When she saw inequality or injustice,” said Gonzales, “she was tireless. She made sacrifices to work for self-determination.” Her contributions did not garner the headlines or attention that seemed to follow her husband. But if he did something that challenged the establishment, you can be certain, said Gonzales, that this family matriarch played a role.
Both the Crusade for Justice and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school later started by the family, are gone. But the imprint left on the city and the scores of young people this unique pair touched will be part of a fabric this quiet force of nature helped to weave. “Corky,” said daughter Nita, “would not have been Corky without a Geraldine.”
Beside her own eight children, Gonzales is survived by 19 grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren, their spouses and significant others.