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San Diego’s DNA: Mexican-American Stories

Title graphic from San Diego's DNA: Mexican-American Stories, which explores ...

Credit: David Streib- KPBS

Above: Title graphic from San Diego's DNA: Mexican-American Stories, which explores the region's history through the stories and personal artifacts of remarkable San Diegans.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: San Diego's DNA: Mexican-American Stories, a 30-minute documentary exploring the region's history through the stories and personal artifacts of seven remarkable San Diegans.

San Diego's DNA Mexican-American Stories explores the region's history through the stories and personal artifacts of remarkable San Diegans. The 30-minute documentary features vignettes of seven men and women whose personal accounts create a unique narrative. Photographs, articles, recipes, archival film and audio recordings will give viewers a glimpse into the past.

Add Your Stories

You can add to the narrative by sharing your own family story by commenting (below) and check back to read the oral histories of other San Diegans.

Juan Lopez


Chunky Sanchez sings with farm workers from the United Farm Workers organization.


Juan “Johnny” Lopez was born and raised in Logan Heights. In 1955, he was part of the Los Chicanos youth club, which was sponsored by the Neighborhood House Association. Los Chicanos started with about 20 high school boys and celebrated its 50th anniversary with 70 members in 2005. Lopez became a campus organizer while attending City College of San Diego and was involved with the United Farm Workers and its boycotting movement while at the University of California, San Diego. After graduating from UCSD, he began working for the UFW for five dollars a week from 1972-1974. He documented his work with the UFW, photographing Cesar Chavez and other Chicano Movement leaders at various fundraisers for the organization. His extensive archive of photos captures the work of laborers in the lettuces fields in the Imperial Valley as well as during UFW strikes in Central and Southern California.

Rita Sanchez

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: Silent 16mm film footage from the Chicano Movement in San Diego. Scenes include groundbreaking of Chicano Park, civil rights discussions on the San Diego State University campus and United Farm Worker (UFW) protests.

Rita Sanchez is a professor of Chicano Studies at San Diego Mesa College. She has a journalism degree from San Jose State University a masters in literature from Stanford, as well as a Ph.D. in literature at the University of California, San Diego. She taught in the Mexican American Studies Department at San Diego State University in 1974 and, during that time, developed and edited a student journal called Visión – a celebration of Chicana Latina women. She is currently semi-retired from San Diego Mesa College, where she has been teaching since 1990.

David Martinez

David Martinez is the youngest of 10 children. His mother, Clara Silvas, died just after he was born and he was adopted by the Martinez family. His family lineage includes Spanish, Native American and Mexican ancestry. Martinez' ancestor, Jose Miguel Silvas, escorted the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza to San Diego in 1784. His ancestors built the Machado y Silvas Adobe in 1843 while Mexico held possession of San Diego. The adobe is still standing today in Old Town San Diego and is maintained by the descendents of the Silvas family and other original San Diego family descendants. Martinez enlisted in the Army during World War II and worked as an airplane mechanic. He served in Japan and the Philippines during the war and says he would have stayed in the military for longer if not for the discrimination he felt. He later went on to become a used-car mechanic at the Ford Agency, established and hosted the first Spanish-language radio program on KOWN radio in Escondido and was executive director of the North County Centro de Informacion, a program of the Chicano Federation and the United Way. In 1976 he was the first Hispanic serving on the San Diego County Civil Service Commission, a watchdog group that regulated employment in the County. In 1980 he began working to establish the first Spanish-language radio station in San Diego County. He overcame challenges, including racism and threats, and after 12 years of work and an arrangement with KSON radio, the first day on the air was Novemeber 12, 1992. He later sold the station to ClearChannel. In 1984, he established the BECA Scholarship for San Diego County Latino youth. In the 25 years since the scholarship was established more than 630 students have received college scholarships amounting to more than $1.7 million in funds awarded.

Ramón Ruiz

Ramón Eduardo Ruiz graduated from San Diego State College (now University), received his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School, and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He served in the Pacific as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Ruiz began his teaching career in 1955 at the University of Oregon at Eugene and has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Smith College. In 1970, he joined the University of California and in 1991 became professor emeritus. There, he has worked to build a strong Hispanic studies program. Ruiz has held visiting professorships at numerous colleges and universities in the United States and Mexico and is a National Humanities Medalist.

Maria Antonieta Flores

Maria Antonieta "Toni" Flores was born in San Diego in 1939. Her family came to San Diego to escape violence surrounding the Mexican Revolution. On her mother’s side. she is related to Porfirio Díaz – President of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and from 1884 to 1911, and one of the most controversial figures of the country. Toni’s aunt, Alejandrina "Ales" Hasty married a Naval Officer, which allowed her to bring many of her family members to San Diego to live, including Toni’s mother, Maria de La Luz. Toni’s father, Joseph Flores also came to Southern California after escaping the Mexican Revolution. He was a laborer in the Imperial Valley and later became a barber. He owned a shop on Market street in downtown San Diego. He also served in the Army during World War II and was stationed in Japan.

Shelley Hayes Caron

Shelley Hayes Caron is a fifth-generation San Diegan. She is a descendant of the Marron and Hayes families, founders of San Diego. Seven generations of her family have lived in the Marron Adobe, which sits above Buena Vista Creek in Oceanside and dates back to the Mexican land grand period in 1842. Caron opens her home up to the public for tours. She works to preserve her family history and the land, archaeological sites and wildlife corridor surrounding her home from development.

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