March 24, 2006

Herman Baca: A life dedicated to la causa

UCSD honors the local activist as part of tribute to Cesar Chavez

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Herman Baca and Cesar Chavez first met in 1972, at a worker strike in San Ysidro. From then on, both leaders developed a strong political relationship that lasted until Chavez’s death, in 1993.

Baca’s admiration for Chavez continues to this day.

“Cesar’s great contribution was that before he came we (Chicanos, Mexicanos) didn’t exist,” Baca said. “He gave our people a national, even international, stature.”

On April 6, Baca will receive a recognition from University of California, San Diego, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, as part of the university’s month-long tribute to commemorate Chavez’s legacy.

Herman Baca (left) and César Chávez, St. Anthony’s Hall, Old Town National City, CA, YES on “14” Rally - 1976. Photo Credit: Herman Baca Archives.

“(The award) is proof that the Movement is alive and well,” Baca said from his printshop in National City. “People are still looking for answers in people who struggled, like Chavez. This award is not only for Herman Baca: It is for all people who have struggled.”

Baca is the founder and prime mover of the Committee on Chicano Rights (CCR), an organization active in the South Bay and throughout California for the last 36 years.

Baca has been at the forefront of organizing efforts in underserved communities in National City, San Diego County, the U.S. Southwest and the U.S.-Mexico border regions, and worked closely with many of the leading figures of the Chicano movement during the Vietnam War era, including Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Rodolfo Corky Gonzales and others.

Last year, UCSD Libraries acquired, for an undisclosed amount of money, Baca’s and the CCR’s archives, containing numerous documents, photographs and original graphics from the Chicano Movement.

“The archives were just lying around in the CCR office. The rats were having a nice feast,” Baca said. He added that he wanted to organize the archives and secure them for future generations.

“So now students and future generations will have access to all these documents. They can look at the details of the struggles from the past to use them in the present and future,” he said.

UCSD University Librarian Brian E.C. Schottlaender said that the acquisition by the Mandeville Special Collections Library of Baca’s archives is the first archival collection of Chicano materials acquired by UCSD.

“We at UCSD place a great significance on these materials and their importance in illustrating the contributions of the Chicano community to San Diego, to California, and to our nation,” he said.

Jorge Mariscal, director of UCSD’s Chicano/a – Latino/a Arts and Humanities Program, said that “without exaggerating its potential impact, I feel confident that the collection will have a number of positive consequences for improving real diversity at UCSD.”

Baca said that the archives will officially open to the public this July.

“I have attempted to leave for posterity a historical record of the Chicano and Mexicano people’s struggle,” Baca said, “a struggle rooted in the principle of self-determination.”

Indeed, self-determination for Chicanos and Mexicanos is what has inspired Baca throughout the 40 years he’s been a civil rights activist.

After witnessing the fatal shooting of Luis “Tato” Roberto Rivera in the back by a National City police officer, Baca’s life was changed.

“I became involved out of anger, but anger only gets you so far, then you have to start explaining yourself. You have to tell people what you are protesting for and make them understand,” he said. “In order to resolve a problem, you have to know that there is one. You have to learn your history. You have to learn what has happened.”

Baca was part of the Chicano Movement during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He was there to protest police brutality. He was there to protest the unhumane conditions of farmworkers in the California fields. He was there to protest the deaths at the border.

But most of all, he was there to organize and help the community help itself.

“We’re the problem, we have to be the solution. That’s the basis of self-determination. Our problems will not be resolved by anybody else but ourselves.”

Unfortunately, Baca said that the original ideals of the Chicano Movement changed – in a negative way. He said that after the ‘70s, the Chicano Movement was replaced by what he calls the “Hispanic Movement.”

“Chicanos are worst than in 1970. Now I see that there’s less conciencia in our community: Less political conciencia, less social conciencia,” he said. “For the most part, the Chicano Movement only benefited individuals. Line up all your Hispanic politicians for me to buy and I wouldn’t give you five pesos.”

But just like in 1970, some of the most important issues that Chicanos and Mexicanos in the U.S. are facing are immigration, police brutality, and political representation, Baca said.

“Today we have different times, different technology, different perspectives,” he said. “Every generation brings something new to the struggle.”

Baca said that it is time for Chicanos and Mexicanos to retake the ideals of the Chicano Movement and apply them to today’s world.

“Very little, if anything, has changed. But one thing nobody can’t deny is that the demographics have changed. We’re not longer the silent, invisible minority. We’re now a 10,000 pound gorilla walking around neighborhoods.”

The struggle, Baca said, continues.

“As long as there are problems in our community, there will be a Movimiento.”

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