Local Man Shares Chicano Movement History
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
San Diegan Herman Baca was at the center of it all when the Chicano Movement for Latino rights was taking off in the 1960s. Not only did Baca play a key role in the marches and protests, but he also saved photographs, news clippings and more that carefully document this important era in Mexican-American history. As correspondent Laura Castaneda tells us, Baca's archives of the Chicano movement have a new home at UCSD.
Herman Baca was born and raised in a small rural town called Los Lentes, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque. When he was a teenager his family headed west and settled in another small community, National City, California.
Herman Baca, Chicano Activist : National City reminds me of my hometown, families, old friendships, I've developed over many, many years.Baca attended Sweetwater High, where he described himself as a history buff. But Baca soon discovered history about his own Chicano community was nowhere to be found.
Baca : We didn't even exist to the politicians, sociologists, or the policy makers in this country.But that was about to change. Herman quickly got swept up in the Movimiento, or the Chicano movement of the 60's.
Baca : There was frustration, a lot of activity, demand for change spilled into every community in this country.Latino organizations joined forces, creating the CCR, or the Committee on Chicano Rights. Carlos Vasquez was one of the original members.
Carlos Vasquez, Committee on Chicano Rights : People were angry, you could see it. You had the brown berets, you had other groups who were doing other activity, I won't say violent, but getting in people's face yelling, screaming.By then Herman Baca had become a printer by trade. His small shop became the headquarters of the CCR. Members planned their pickets, marches, and protests.
Norma Cazares, Chicana Activist: Certainly it was a time of empowerment for us as Chicanos. We were all engaged in that we were actually doing something.During the 1970's the CCR took on local and national issues like the fight for Chicano Park, police brutality, zoning, farm workers rights, the KKK, and even President Jimmy Carter's immigration plan.
With the organization behind him, an outspoken Herman Baca was thrust into the forefront as the CCR spokesperson. But that role often led to threats and violence.
Baca: You don't get in the boxing ring and not expect to get hit. You don't' get on the football field and not expect to be tackled, so that was part of trying to bring about change.That change came with a personal price.
Nadine Baca, Herman's Wife: Yeah. He packed me up and sent me to L.A. so I wasn't around. I worried about him, but he'd call to let me know he was okay. Plus he had Charlie and bunch of guys.Charlie Vasquez handled security for the CCR.
Vasquez : On Herman's garage, calling up to the office, leaving phone messages saying we're gonna bomb your place.As the years went by, Herman and the other CCR members made headlines. Herman, with the help of family and friends, started clipping newspapers and collecting photos from different events.
Mark Baca, Herman's Son : Okay I need you to clip this, this and this out. Then I'd mark it. We spent long hours with scissors clipping out those articles, but we enjoyed it.Thirty-eight years and 138 boxes later, Norma Cazares formed a special committee to help Herman find a permanent home for the important bits of history.
Cazares: Finally we were going to have documentation of a struggle where before there was not really that much available for young people and students to do research of San Diego's Chicano movement.Out of all the universities, it was UCSD's Mandeville special collections which showed strong interest, offering $25,000 for Herman's materials.
Lynda Claussen, UCSD Library : Special collections has a rare unique structure, we have a new ethnic studies and history region. We were looking for movements and people who've had an effect on San Diego, so Herman's papers are perfect for this collection.Kimberly Schwenk, an assistant in special collections, spent a year carefully logging each piece of paper. She spent hours with Herman identifying people captured in the photos with the CCR. People like Corky Conzales, Cesar Chavez, and even Walter Mondale.
Kimberly Schwenk, UCSD Library: It was an honor to be able to speak with him and get the history of his whole life from him actually speaking about it.Once everything was sorted, dated and cataloged, it was carefully placed in a secure, well-lit and very chilly room, chilly to prevent mold from ruining the contents.
Schwenk: In this collection it's very rich with not only Herman Baca's life, but National City newspaper clippings, CCR correspondence, press releases, drafts, articles, and even board meeting minutes.There are also rows and rows of magazines and newsletters in English and Spanish, many of which are out of print.
But believe it or not UCSD was not the first choice of the archive committee. There were ongoing concerns about the lack of communication between the Chicano community in San Diego and the University at large.
Professor Jorge Mariscal heads the Chicano studies department at UCSD.
Jorge Mariscal, UCSD Chicano Studies: As important as the Baca archives are, that's not enough. There is only an 8 percent Latino population here, and there should be many, many more students here.Still, many activists are optimistic about the future.
Norma Baca: I think this is the beginning of a better relationship and I'm hopeful that it will grow.All sides agree it's a win-win situation.
Baca: I'm very impressed. They've done a good job. Besides, the alternative is rats having a feast with our people's history.
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