Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) Biography » Bert Corona: 1918-2001: Labor Organizer Biography - El Paso Childhood, Fought Crackdowns On Undocumented Latinos, "remained Optimistic"

Bert Corona: 1918-2001: Labor Organizer - El Paso Childhood

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Corona was born in El Paso, Texas in 1918. Both parents were of a progressive mind: his father Noe had, during the 1910 Mexican Revolution, fought on the side of the Partido Liberal Mexicano. During his military service he met a Chihuahua City woman, Margarita Escápite Salayandía, who ran the local teachers' college. After the Mexican conflict ended, the pair wed in Juárez and then again El Paso. Corona was the second of their children, but Noe Corona was slain in the early 1920s, and Corona and his sister were raised by their mother and maternal grandmother, who had been a physician in Chihuahua City. He attended public schools in El Paso, but during the 1920s children of Mexican heritage were forbidden to speak their language at school, and transgressions against this rule were punished harshly. Margarita Corona objected to such tactics as forcing children to wash their mouths out with soap, and for a time Corona was transferred to a boarding school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Corona was a standout basketball player at El Paso High School, and graduated at the age of sixteen. Ineligible to become a college athlete at that age, he played on El Paso community teams until 1936, when he accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC). He was surprised at the differences between Los Angeles Latinos in 1936 and those back home in El Paso. In Texas Corona had been proud of his Mexican heritage; one day on a Los Angeles streetcar asked two Mexican-American men for directions in Spanish. They ignored him, but followed him at his exit, and told him that in Los Angeles it was wiser to speak English.

At a Glance . . .

Born May 29, 1918, in El Paso, TX; died of kidney failure, January 15, 2001, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Noe and Margarita (Escápite Salayandía) Corona; married Blanche Taff (a union organizer; died, 1993); married Angelina Casillas (an English instructor); children: (first marriage) Margo, David, Frank, Ernesto.

Career: Longshoremen's Union, Orange County, CA, organizer; Congress of Industrial Organizations, organizer, canning and packing industries, beginning 1930s; Allied Workers of America, organizer; Brunswick Pharmaceutical Co., 1930s; U.S. Dept. of Labor, consultant; faculty member: Stanford University and California State University at Los Angeles.

Memberships: Centros de Acción Social Autónomo (Centers for Autonomous (Independent) Social Actions), cofounder, organizer, until 1977; National Association of Mexican Americans, regional organizer, beginning 1950; Northern California Democratic Campaign Committee; La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (Mexican National Brotherhood), organizer, beginning 1968.

During his time at USC, while studying commercial law, Corona also worked for a drug company. The position with Brunswick Pharmaceutical Company led to a job with the local Longshoremen's Union organizing farm workers in Orange County. The agribusiness in the Southern California region depended on Latino labor, and Corona helped the workers carry out successful strikes for wage increases and fair treatment. He was so enthused by this work that he dropped out of college altogether. He took his next job with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a union organizer, then did similar work on behalf of the United Cannery, Agriculture, Packing and Allied Workers of America. For a time in the 1940s he even served as president of Local 26 of the Longshoremen's Union.

Corona's labor activities drew him into political matters. In 1938 he worked with labor organizer Luisa Moreno to form one of the first nationwide groups of its kind, the League of Spanish-Speaking People. He also organized chapters on behalf of the Community Service Organization and worked with La Asociación Nacional Mexico-Americana (ANMA); through these activities he met César Chávez. By 1960 he had co-founded National Association of Mexican Americans, one of the first Latino political organizations in California, which organized "Viva Kennedy" groups to give Latino voter support to Democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy.

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