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¡Viva la Causa!: Herman Baca Collection reveals 50 years of Chicano community activism in San Diego


By Sherri Berger, CDL and Marlayna Christensen, UC San Diego

Approximately 40,000 pages of textual and visual material documenting Chicano community activism in San Diego are now freely available on the Online Archive of California (OAC) and Calisphere. The material was digitized from the Herman Baca Papers (1964-2006), a large and important collection held by Mandeville Special Collections at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

Herman Baca: prolific activist and collector

Herman Baca is a San Diego-based Chicano activist known for grassroots community organizing. A key figure in the Chicago Civil Rights Movement, since the 1960s he has led and participated in countless activities on a range of issues including immigration, human rights, education, and the development of a shared Chicano history. Baca is also the founder of the Committee on Chicano Rights and owner of Aztec Printing, a print shop in National City, California.

Over the last several decades, Baca has amassed an impressive collection of materials documenting the many organizations, causes, and people with which he has been involved. A self-described “history buff,” Baca was inspired to record the history of the Chicano movement and the people’s efforts to make their voices heard. The resulting collection contains a diverse array of organizational records, video recordings, photographs, artworks, newspapers, letters, and much more—the total of which span over 40 linear feet.



Collection highlights

UC San Diego has extended Baca’s vision for access by digitizing almost all of the collection and making it available online. Although a search on the OAC and Calisphere will retrieve about 800 items, many of these are multi-page PDFs, with tens and even hundreds of pages of material in each one. This method allowed UCSD to put more materials online faster.

Some of the most compelling materials in the online collection include drawings used in newsletters, fliers, and other ephemera. Many of them intentionally provoke, with the goal of rallying people around a cause. For example, the drawing above right by David Avalos presents a clear opinion of then-President Jimmy Carter’s immigration policies.

Other  items of note include a 1976 photograph of Baca and Cesar Chavez, a close ally; documents and photographs from the Chicano National Immigration Tribunal and the National Chicano Moratorium; photos from the Safeway – United Farm Workers Grape Boycott; and photos and articles related to the Carter Immigration Plan (“Carter Curtain”) and protest march.

At the celebration for the opening of his papers for research at UCSD, Baca stated he “wanted to leave it to the community…to learn what was done right and what was done wrong in trying to franchise our people” (source). Now that the collection is available on the OAC and Calisphere, it will be seen by even more researchers ready to take on that charge.

Images, top-to-bottom/left-to-right: Herman Baca speaking at the National Protest March Against the Carter Curtain; “Viva La Huelga, Viva La Cuasa” poster; protesters at the Safeway – United Farm Worker’s Grape Boycott, National CityCCR newsletter cover from Carter Immigration Plan correspondence and research materials. All images courtesy UC San Diego Mandeville Special Collections.
Digitization of this collection was possible with grant funding from the National historical Records and Publications Commission.