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Aztec Printing Owner Shares His Memories Of The Chicano Movement

Video by Marielena Castellanos

Audio

As Aztec Printing closes its doors, the pictures on its walls tell a story of struggles, protests and victories in the Chicano Movement in San Diego.

The faded pictures on the walls inside Aztec Printing tell the story — the story of struggles, protests and victories in the Chicano Movement in San Diego.

Herman Baca, owner of Aztec Printing, was at the vanguard of the movement. He was in the company of people like Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and Pete Chacon, who was the first Latino from San Diego to get elected to the state Assembly.

“Customers would come and see 40-50 people milling around because there was an issue going on and they would kind of shake their heads, but as long as (customers) got their business cards printed there was no problem,” Baca said.

Photo caption: Photos and posters are shown hanging across the walls of Aztec Printing in Na...

Photo credit: Marielena Castellanos

Photos and posters are shown hanging across the walls of Aztec Printing in National City on Jan. 30, 2015.

After 45 years the photos are coming down. The digital age has forced Baca to shut the presses down.

Closing the doors means more to him than just shutting down a business because for the past four decades the little building near the corner of Highland Avenue and East 3rd Street in National City has been a hub for Chicanos. A hub, which became a headquarters for social service organizations like the Committee on Chicano Rights, the Mexican American Political Association, and the San Diego County chapter of La Raza Unida Party.

“There were people that were very active. They were there every day, and they worked there," Baca said. "They gave of their time. They sacrificed trying to address community issues, with no pay. At the time there was social political conciencia.”

Baca started his business in a garage in the late 1960s with a printing press he bought from his old boss.

“People started coming over. Pretty soon it was half business and half movement politics — sort of a community meeting place," he said.

Tony Millan was one of those people who walked through the print shop’s doors looking for help with a discrimination case. Baca, who never charged him anything, got Millan an attorney and helped him win the case.

“I believe in him because he does it from his heart," Millan said. “What he does here in National City, it’s not just for him — it’s the whole community."

At the time, Baca recalled there were few places where Chicanos could meet and discuss issues affecting the community.

“We always worked on the principle that if there was a need for an organization, then we should be there,” Baca said.

Inside the shop, Baca and others would meet to talk about how they could improve economic and political conditions for all Latinos.

Their efforts included fighting for farm workers rights, working to register Chicanos and Latinos to vote, organizing political campaigns, marches on immigrations, boycotts, and protests against police brutality.

Those efforts earned Baca a reputation as a Chicano rights activist, organizer, historian and leader. The shop got a reputation as a gathering place for political activists.

“I guess printing presses attract politically inclined people,” he said. “The anti-Vietnam movement was going on at the time, the youth movement was going on at the time, the grape boycott by Cesar Chavez was going. Chicanos — because the doors were opening, because of the civil rights struggle out there — they were starting to get involved.”

Jerry Apodaca is a member of the Committee on Chicano Rights, an organization founded by Baca. During the last days of Aztec Printing, he helped put away the photos and posters of historical Mexican figures like Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, which were constant reminders of the struggles.

His days with Aztec Printing began at Mesa College when it first offered a Chicano Studies class in the early 1970s. Apodaca helped register people to vote. He said the shop served an important role.

“It gave the community a voice. First of all, a place to come for the disenfranchised, a place to come and be heard because the politicians even to this day aren’t listening to what the people are saying,” Apodaca said.

These were times when there wasn't the Internet or Facebook. Posters, papers and leaflets were the way to spread the word on issues discussed in the shop.

Amid the political and social struggles Baca fought for, he recalled threats were made all the time. One time someone broke all the windows in front of his shop. A police investigation listed the incident as a hate crime, but it didn’t stop Baca or those involved with the movement.

Carlos Vasquez, a member of the Committee on Chicano Rights, has known Baca since kindergarten. He said the committee evolved from different issues of the 1960s such as the Vietnam war, and issues where Chicanos experienced discrimination or lacked political representation. He recalled when the print shop opened and a lot of things started happening.

“In our opinion, we were making changes because a lot of things we got involved in made changes," Vasquez said. "The National City police chief was fired because of us, the chief of police of San Diego (Ray) Hoobler got let go because of us, the sheriff’s department changed some of their patterns."

A photograph of a historic mural by legendary Sal Barajas hung on the wall of Aztec Printing. It’s a mural in Chicano Park showing leaders and activists from the Chicano movement. Baca said of all the people painted in the mural, only two are still alive today, he and Dolores Huerta.

“Everyone else is gone, that’s why I keep saying an era is slowly, but surely coming to an end," Baca said.

He said he spent more of the past 45 years on political causes than on printing.

“It was always, yes, it was a print shop, and no, it was not a print shop," he said. "You can’t do both and be successful in business. I survived 45 years, I don’t know how, but I did.”

What’s next? History.

Baca said he’ll focus his efforts on finishing a project he started in 2006: A collection of documents, news clippings, posters, and photos of San Diego’s Chicano movement, which he donated and is now housed at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Special Collections Library.

“There’s an old saying, if you want a solution to a problem you have to understand history and that will tell you why things are the way they are," Baca said. "It’s a problem that started before we were born. It’s a problem in front of us.”

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