Corky Gonzales Origins: Mexico, Immigration and Beets

Corky’s story starts June 18th, 1928 in Denver Hospital. (1)

Corky’s father was from Chihuahua, Mexico and served in Pancho Villa’s army during the 1910 Mexican Revolution. It could be tall-tales but the timeline fits and many immigrants to the states in the 1910/20’s were fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The violence was very real–stories of troops marching into town and dragging off anyone near soldier age was not uncommon. Porfirio Diaz is really at the root of the chaos and the immigration to the States from Mexico. His history starts as a general in the war against Napoleon and against big odds beat the French Imperialists at the battle at Pueblo on the 5th of May–to be immortalized in the States as the day everyone wear sombreros, drinks Margaritas and says, ‘Hola’… Gracias.

Porfirio was a Mestizo Indian who after quite a bit of military commanding and beating off colonialists, became to president in 1877 and had a group of Scientists, Cientificos, who were to run the government like a well oiled machine which was pretty unique for the time. He sought foreign investment to promote national industries, railroads, and other modern business developments and promoted large Haciendas at the expense of the peasant campesinos lifestyle that most of the Mestizos had engaged in for generations. A strict law and order type he eventually became a Dictator and was well liked for modernizing Mexico until his corruption ended up pushing millions of people off their land to give to his buddies. The ensuing widespread poverty and political turmoil was seized upon by Madero who overthrew Diaz during the 1910 revolution only to loose control of the country completely and ultimately get assassinated. This gave rise to some local leaders–Pancho Villa, Zapata, and others trying to form coalition governments and promote land reforms but as those broke down they resorted to guerrilla warfare and ultimately most were assassinated by rivals. If your Dad fought with Pancho Villa he probably had a bit of revolutionary spirit in him!

The trek to America was a common one and the border and immigration looked quite different then. Charles Armijo who crossed Dec, 1910 said, “well, we just came over. There were no restrictions then about Mexicans coming over. They were free to come in and go out without a passport, without anything else. everybody was allowed to go back and forth whenever they wanted” Cleofas Calleros recalled, ” All you had to do coming from Mexico if you were a Mexican Citizen was to report to the immigration office on the American side–give your name, the place of your birth and where you were going to.”  (2)  And, it was the Porfirio’s railways that gave people the mobility to immigrate. Most immigrants were men, some to work for a period and take money back home and some brought families with the intention of staying.

It wasn’t until the 1917 Immigration Act that any formalized rule was put in place. El Paso began collected an $8 per person tax and rejecting ‘undesirables’–anyone sick, mentally unsound, or illiterate. Then, realizing the illiteracy test was going to have a negative impact on sources of cheap farm labor throughout the South West, delayed the implementation. The tax was also routinely avoided by walking around border control in El Paso or Tijuana into America rather than paying $8 to work in the states for a farming season. (3)

So, the path of Corky’s father is very common. Between 1900 and 1930 approximately 1.5 million Mexicans migrated northward. Not only did this make Mexicans the largest source of immigration to the United States, it also resulted in a loss of nearly 10% of Mexico’s total population. (4)

Corky’s parents both worked in the Sugar Beet fields in North Denver and moved around to work in whichever field needed work. The need for manual labor was great as beets were very challenging to grow and harvest. Immigrant workers filled Colonias, early barrios/shanty towns where housing was provided so workers could be relied upon to come back the following season. Video: Sugar Beets in Colorado.

Corky’s mom was a native from Southern Colorado who died when he was a toddler. (5) I couldn’t find much information about her which is somewhat expected as she passed away long before he became someone who anyone would consider writing about.


He attended four grade schools, three junior high schools, and two high schools. After which, he attended Denver University for one semester, but dropped out unable to pay further school fees.


Corky Biographies:

Corky at Colorado Sports Hall of Fame

Encyclopedia of Great Plains Biography

Corky Biography at Colorado Encyclopedia 



  1. I don’t think it was Fitzsimons Army Hospital–does anyone have pics of what would be called Denver Hospital in 1928?
  2. Sanchez, George J. (1993) Becoming Mexican American, Ethnicity, Culture and identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945
  3. Sanchez.
  4. Sanches. Pg. 18
  5. Vigil, Ernesto. (1999) The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *