As a champion for the rights of undocu¬ mented Mexican workers in the United States, Bert Corona carried on his fathers revolution¬ ary passion in his own activism.Corona’s father had been a commandant in Pancho Villa’s army during the Mexican Revolution at the turn of the twentieth century.
When Villa was defeated, Corona’s parents moved to El Paso, where Corona was born. After his birth, his father returned to Mexico and was killed there by Villa’s enemies.After high school, Corona moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. He worked there, too, and he became president of Local 26 of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union.
The experience contributed to his views about Mexicans as an exploited class in the United States, views that guided him as an activist for the rest of his life.Corona envisioned Mexican labor as a potentially powerful political force, and he believed that grass-roots organizing would achieve that end.
Through his union involve¬ ment, he became active in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and he became a leader in several groups that were allied with the CIO: the Congress of Spanish- Speaking Peoples, the Mexican-American Movement, and the Associacion Nacional Mexicano Americano. All three groups fought for the rights of Mexican American workers.
Corona believed that undocumented Mexican workers v/ere the most heavily exploited of all workers, and although labor unions were hostile to them, he championed their cause. He later formed the Centro de Accion Social Autonomo (CASA) to fight for the rights of immigrants. Corona worked with Cesar Chavez (see no. 47) in fighting for the rights of farmwork¬ ers.
The two men called for an end to the bracero program, which brought Mexican workers into the United States to work on farms. These workers were subjected to harsh living conditions and were paid extremely low wages. Corona also sought to organize the bracero workers, which later led to a rift with Chavez, when growers tried to use undocumented workers to undermine Chavez’s fledgling United harm Workers Union (ULW).
Chavez and the ULW later adopted a policy of organizing all workers.Later, Corona became involved in party pol¬ itics. In 1959, he co-founded the Mexican American Political Association. He was the California co-chair for the presidential cam¬ paigns of Lyndon Johnson (1964) and Robert Kennedy (1968), and he was involved in the founding of the La Raza Unida Party in 1970.
As perhaps his greatest legacy, Corona founded the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (HMN) in 1951. This nonprofit organization, which aids Latino immigrants in the United States, eventually grew to more than thirty thousand member families. Corona served as national director and executive director of the organization until his death.