Bert Corona

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Bert Corona


Bert Corona (1918- 2001), was an icon of the California and Chicano left.

Early life

Bert Corona was born in 1918 in El Paso, Texas, at the height of the Mexican Revolution. His father was a member of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, an anarcho-syndicalist group. He was murdered when Bert was five.

ILWU and Harry Bridges

In the 1930s Corona was close to International Longshore and Warehouse Union leader and secret communist Harry Bridges.

According to Communist Party USA member David Bacon[1];

Corona came to Los Angeles to study at USC, where he went to work and was caught up in the labor ferment of the late 1930s. He became president of Local 26 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and a political ally of Harry Bridges, one of U.S. labor's most progressive and democratic leaders.

After Corona was fired from ILWU position union over an internal dispute, Harry Bridges, also a major figure within the communist dominated Congress of industrial Organisations (CIO) offered Corona a job as a CIO organizer.

Activism

In 1937, Corona began working with labor leaders such as Josefina Fierro, Lloyd Seeliger and Bridges, and many others who provided a political education. He organized with the Longshoremen's Union in Los Angeles. With labor organizer Luisa Moreno, he helped shape the National Congress of Spanish Speaking People. In the 1940s, he was elected President of Local 26 of the Longshoremen's Union. Later, he joined La Asociacion Nacional Mexico-Americana (ANMA), which was one of the few organizations protesting the "McCarthy hysteria of the early 1950s".[2]

Communist Party member

During the 1940's, Corona was an organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and was identified in Congressional testimony as a Communist Party USA member inside that union.

On February 8 and 9, 1975, the Second National Conference in Solidarity with Chile was held at Concordia Teachers College in the Chicago suburb of River Forest. Known Communist Party USA members sponsoring the event included Bert Corona [3]

Ed Roybal

Corona helped elect the first Los Angeles Chicano city councilman, Ed Roybal.[4]

Working with Cesar Chavez

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Corona helped establish chapters of Saul Alinsky's Community Service Organization, and in doing so, he met a young organizer named Cesar Chavez.

In 1964, Chicano civil rights movement activists like Bert Corona, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta forced Congress to end the guest worker "bracero" program. The next year, Mexicans and Filipinos went out on strike in Coachella and Delano, and the United Farm Workers was born.

That year, in 1965, they went back to Congress. Give us a law, they said, that doesn’t make workers into braceros or criminals behind barbed wire, into slaves for the growers.[5]

MAPA

In 1959 Ed Roybal, Communist Party USA member Bert Corona and Eduardo Quevedo met in Fresno to form the Mexican American Political Association.[6]

Infiltrating the Democratic Party

Corona was one of the founders of the Mexican American Political Association in 1960, an organization whose mission was the support and promotion of Mexican American candidates within the Democratic Party. The young organization helped set up the Viva Kennedy clubs that, for the first time, brought large numbers of Mexican Americans into a Presidential campaign.

In the 1960s Corona served as co-chair for both Lyndon Johnson's and Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaigns in California.[7]

Corona ran the Mexican American Political Association and, in 1965, California Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown appointed him to the California Civil Rights Commission. Corona delivered a nationally televised address at the violence-prone 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, but then broke with the Democrats and backed the separatist La Raza Unida party. It was based on the irredentist concept of Aztlan, the notion that an occupied Chicano nation in the southwestern U.S. needs to be wrested from the occupying "Anglos."[8]

Soviet connection?

Acavedo letter

On April 9, 1975, Jorge Acevedo wrote a letter in Spanish to several well known Chicano activists including Enrique Lopez, Lorenzo Torrez, Bert Corona, Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Alfredo Figueroa, Luis Valdez, Ernestina Garcia, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Rodolfo Gonzales, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Lila Gonzalez, and Santiago Montoya.

The letter referred to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco, Chicano participation in the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, Chicano self-determination, the "socialist system" and the Soviet front World Peace Council. The letter spoke of two proposals received from the Soviet Consul in San Francisco.

The first proposal was to invite students of both sexes to enrol in the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, for the academic year beginning in September 1975.

"Professional and personal expenses" would benefit the socialist system, which "seeks to support the Chicano self-determination movement."[9]

National Committee Against Repressive Legislation

Corona was listed as a Vice-Chairperson of the Committee of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, circa 1965.[10] NCARL has now merged into Defending Dissent.

La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional

Corona was most closely identified with the work of La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, or the National Mexican Brotherhood. Founded in 1951 in San Diego by brothers Phil Usquiano and Albert Usquiano, the organization provided services to immigrants. Over the years, La Hermandad established chapters throughout the country and at one point boasted a membership of 30,000. The focus was organizing trade unions, defending undocumented workers, and providing social services to the undocumented. Corona quickly recognized the urgency of this group's efforts, and he helped establish its Los Angeles chapter. For the next four decades, he devoted much of his time to La Hermandad. He was the group's executive director when he died.

Immigrants proved convenient for other causes and Corona brags about using them to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam. After receiving a teaching appointment in Chicano studies at Cal State LA, Corona, whom the Los Angeles Times has described as "an energetic man with a booming voice and a Marxist-Leninist viewpoint," surrounded himself with a bodyguard of radical students. A supporter of Fidel Castro, Corona is one of the few to lament the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"Renewed class struggle in these societies will lead to new forms of social arrangements," he said. "The workers of East Germany, for example, aren't about to give up easily many of the supports they had under socialism, such as low rents and free education for their children." With his stirring defense of socialism, Corona earned icon status with the left wing of the Democratic Party, becoming a hero to state politicians such as Tom Hayden, Sheila Kuehl, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo and Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, among others. He maintains a residence in Washington and has been entertained and praised by Bill Clinton.

Under Corona's helmsmanship, Hermandad had become a kind of domestic Third World dictatorship in style, tactics and fiscal policy. During the later 1980's and 1990's, it secured a staggering $35 million in grants. By 1997, Corona's Hermandad was $8 million in debt, including $4.2 million on its new Los Angeles health clinic. In 1995, Hermandad was evicted from its North Hollywood office and sued for $400,000 in back rent. Rank-and-file employees complained they had not been paid and Corona, whose own lifestyle did not appear to suffer, told reporters that the group used employees' withholding taxes to pay bills, a violation of state and federal law. These derelictions did not stop the California Department of Education (CDE), headed by Delaine Eastin, former Bay Area Democratic assemblywoman, from channeling nearly $10 million in adult education funds to Hermandad. The CDE punished the whistleblowers, one of whom was threatened by Corona and his enforcers.

The U.S. Attorney subsequently raised the possibility of criminal violations, but to the astonishment of many, particularly the whistleblowers, no charges were filed. [11]

Defending the "undocumented"

In Spring 1974 , La Hermandad held a conference at Northridge, and representatives from ten states met to discuss problems confronting Mexicans in the United States who had no visas or citizenship documents. The first day, participants discussed how to defend persons detained by immigration authorities and how to help immigrants acquire disability and unemployment insurance and welfare.

Over the course of the day, Corona seemed to be everywhere. If not speaking at one of the workshops, he was bustling around making sure everything was running like clockwork.

The next day, participants discussed resolutions from the workshops. Corona stressed the need to establish a legislative program to campaign against bills that would crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants and to fight for humane immigration policies and practices.

According to participant Carlos Ortega;

This conference helped us organize at our campus and in the local community. At the same time, La Hermandad was also going through some changes. There had been an influx of student activists, professionals, and community organizers. The ideological nature of these groups brought a strong Marxist appeal, which changed the focus of the organization as Corona knew it. The newer activists wanted to deemphasize the service aspect of the organization and focus on larger ideological issues. At Northridge, there was some support from students who wanted to push a more revolutionary agenda, but many of us were not convinced how this agenda--which had its merits--would bring immediate results for the undocumented and the poor. I threw my support to Corona and to the idea that organizing could not be accomplished by polishing leftist vocabulary but rather by working hard, speaking to one person at a time, and building an organization.

By 1975, Corona had moved his operation to the San Fernando Valley, where Cal State Northridge was located, so he could continue to work with the undocumented. A group of students including Carlos Ortega brought Corona back on campus for a conference to clarify how students should organize and mobilize against deportation raids and repression in general.

"Present-day immigration policies and practices of the government are fundamental characteristics of the capitalist system," he said, "and the only possible way to confront those oppressing us is to organize as one, the alliance of students, workers, and the community." He added: "The student movement only has validity if directly linked with the workers' movement and the movement of people."

Corona, "more than any other person, furthered the ideological struggle against the nativists," according to Rodolfo Acuna, professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge.

Corona made the issue of immigration and undocumented workers, in particular, a civil and human rights concern.[12]

CASA

By his late teens, Antonio Villaraigosa had anchored himself to the movement -- and to the legendary Bert Corona, a radical organizer and proponent of immigrant rights who nonetheless functioned in mainstream politics. With Gilbert Cedillo and Maria Elena Durazo (much later to become president of the L.A. local of the hotel and restaurant workers), Villaraigosa became a full-time organizer at Corona’s Centro de Action Social Autonoma, CASA for short. [13]

National Hispanic Media Coalition

During the mid-1980′s, Alex Nogales co-founded an organization named HAMAS along with Frank Zuniga who was then a notable director of films. HAMAS as an advocacy group attempted to get more Latinos into the media industry by meeting with management and asking for change. However, since most of its members were working within the industry it was difficult to speak out publicly and forcefully without experiencing retaliation at one’s job. During this time, Nogalez met Bert Corona and Joe Sanchez who provided assistance and encouragement to himself and others in our struggle with the media industry.

Soon, they formed the National Hispanic Media Coalition to carry out the immense work of tackling these issues of inequity that existed within the television media industry. An attorney named Armando Duron became president of the group and Nogales became vice-president. They began to acquire funding in order to develop the organization and broaden out its work.

After a while, I decided that I didn’t want to work as an employee for the media any longer and have my voice stifled by retaliation so I left in order to be free to advocate for Latinos from the outside.[14]

Anti Klan

Chicano leaders like Chole Alatorre, Roberto Martinez, Bert Corona and others were active in the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional during the 1980s to protect minorities from Klan abuses.[15]

Communist endorsed demonstration

Salvemos Nuestra Ciudad!! Salvemos Nuestros Ninos!! was the rallying call of a large leftist demonstration held in Los Angeles, May 16, 1992.

Most of the events endorsers were known members, or affiliates of, the Communist Party USA.

They included Bert Corona and Soledad Alatorre, Company Directors, Hermandad Mexicana National.

Chicano movement

The 40th Anniversary Commemoration Committee of the Chicano Moratoriums was formed in the summer 2009 by the Chair of the National Chicano Moratorium Committee of August 29, 1970 along with two independent Chicano Movement historians whom although not of the baby boomer generation, have become inspired by the Movimiento.

The organization posted a list of significant “Chicano movement” activists on its website which included Bert Corona, of MAPA.[16]

External links

References

  1. http://dbacon.igc.org/Portrait/07Corona.htm
  2. [1] The Legacy of Bert Corona - political activist The Progressive August, 2001 by Carlos F. Ortega
  3. Hearings before the Subcommittee to investigate the administration of the Internal Security Act, U.S. Senate, 94th congress part 2 July, 1975 (page 182)
  4. LA Times, Bert Corona January 24, 2001
  5. Democratic left, Fall 2009
  6. Chicano!: the history of the Mexican American civil rights movement, By Francisco Arturo Rosales, page 108
  7. http://www.bcli.info/profile.htm [2] Bert Corona Leadership Institute profile, accessed May 2010
  8. Union Card for Green Card: The Radical Vanguard in the Los Angeles Labor Movement, By Lloyd Billingsley.August, 2000
  9. [Rodolfo Gonzales papers Denver Public Library]
  10. NCARL letter, circa October 1965
  11. Union Card for Green Card: The Radical Vanguard in the Los Angeles Labor Movement, By Lloyd Billingsley.August, 2000
  12. [3] The Legacy of Bert Corona - political activist The Progressive August, 2001 by Carlos F. Ortega
  13. LA Weekly, Crunch Time The race to succeed Richard Riordan — and to reshape Los Angeles — comes down to the wire Harold Meyerson published: March 29, 2001
  14. LatinoPOV.com Latinos in the Media: Stererotypes, Struggles and Progress Posted on March 15, 2013 by Jimmy Franco Sr.
  15. San Diego History Center, San Diego's Ku Klux Klan 1920-1980
  16. Chicano Moratorium website: Moratorium Participants (accessed on April 16, 2010)