Corona’s ultimate vindication came last year when the AFL-CIO itself adopted a new pro-immigrant policy, calling for amnesty for undocumented workers and an end to employer sanctions, which make it illegal for these workers to hold a job. At the end of his political life, he was finally honored at the labor federation‘s huge rally for amnesty at the Sports Arena in June.
Corona was an unrepentant radical. “If by socialism,” he noted in his biography, Memories of Chicano History, “we mean someone who believes that the principal means of production should be regulated by government or by the people in the form of co-ops, then I would call myself a socialist.” But his vision was a very indigenous one. “I believe in the American dream,” he told Mario T. Garcia, who collaborated on the book, “or at least in my version of it. I interpret it as a hope and a wish, which has not been completely fulfilled for all Americans such as Latinos and other racial minorities. It’s similar to the dream of the Mexican Revolution, which also promised freedom, equality and democracy. Clearly, that hasn‘t been fully achieved. In both cases, they’re unfulfilled dreams.”
But Corona was not an isolated voice on the margin. He helped found the Mexican American Political Association. He worked in the Democratic Party, trying to force it to deal with the political aspirations of Mexicanos and workers. He supported the early political careers of politicians of color, from former Congressman Edward Roybal to the late mayor of Oakland Lionel Wilson.
“He saw that our struggle for immigrant rights and Mexicano political power was tied to much larger movements,” Lopez says. Corona was a national officer of the 1980s‘ most powerful peace group, SANEFreeze. He helped Jesse Jackson establish the Rainbow Coalition, and was co-chair of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
When Lopez himself became the target of Bob Dornan and the Republican right, after Dornan’s defeat at the hands of Loretta Sanchez in Orange County, “Bert told me: ‘Don’t leave. Stay and fight.‘” Dornan, one of the most conservative members of Congress, alleged that Lopez and the Hermandad Mexicana had registered non-citizens to vote. The L.A. Times put the subsequent investigations on its front page day after day. But in the end, Lopez was vindicated, and Sanchez’s career in Congress is living proof of the power of the Latino vote.
“That was typical of Bert,” says Eliseo Medina, a former UFW leader who today is executive vice-president of the Service Employees International Union. “He didn‘t just put his finger up to see which way the wind was blowing. He took a principled stand and stuck to it.”
Another veteran of the farm labor wars, Alfredo Figueroa, calls Corona “a father of the modern-day Chicano movement.” Figueroa summed up Corona’s life in Mexican style, writing a corrido upon hearing of his death: