Creating a Legacy of Oral Histories in San Diego

By  | 

Welcome to the Mix is an oral history documentation project as well as a real-time community engagement platform being undertaken by the San Diego History Center. The goal is sharing diverse San Diego stories, leaving a representative legacy for tomorrow.

The San Diego History Center’s oral history program began in 1956 to document the people and events that define the region. At its inception, recording oral histories was seen as an efficient way to capture the historically important recollections of a fast-disappearing group of local residents. Today, the collection houses San Diego County’s largest and oldest assemblage of oral histories comprised of more than 1,800 interviews, recording memories reaching back to the late 1800s. It provides a fascinating insight into our social, cultural, and political history—including eyewitness accounts of people, events, and lifestyles.

Now, Welcome to the Mix has captured dozens of more stories. Meet some of the incredible people whose oral histories are now recorded in the San Diego History Center archives as well as being currently displayed in a temporary exhibit at the History Center:

Guillermo Aranda 

Best known as the muralist who helped paint some of the first murals at Chicano Park, Guillermo Aranda also created the Triptico mural at the San Diego State University Aztec Center, and the mural inside the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. Born in Morenci, Arizona, Guillermo moved with his mother to Logan Heights and later National City where she worked at the packing houses and tuna canneries. Guillermo entered the Air Force and returned to San Diego after four years, working as a mechanic. Within a few years he went back to school and became a studio art major, during the height of the Chicano Movement when students looked to artists to create political and activist artwork. Guillermo became one of the better-known muralists to help with the effort. 

Roberta Alexander 

Longtime San Diego City College professor Roberta Alexander was born in Berkeley, California in 1946. On her father’s side she is the granddaughter of a freed slave who found a home amongst Midwestern Native American tribes, and on her mother’s side is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants who left the Polish-Russian border (present-day Lithuania) after the 1905 Russian Revolution. Ms. Alexander credits her diverse family background and experiences as the daughter of a labor union organizer as the foundation for a life dedicated to social justice, education, and cultural enrichment. 

Herman Baca 

Herman Baca is a renowned Chicano activist who launched many protests during the 1970s and 1980s to address the racism and discrimination of Latinos. A print shop owner, Herman established the Ad Hoc Committee on Chicano Rights (CCR), which still exists today, and is a confederation of 32 Chicano organizations. In 1977 and 1979 he organized the protests at the border against Carter’s “Tortilla Curtain,” and against the tour Border Patrol gave to KKK members David Duke and Tom Metzger. Herman also worked with renowned activists, such as Bert Corona and Cesar Chavez. His work led to National City becoming an epicenter of the Chicano Movement for a time. His outspoken views against US immigration policies led him to be a victim of a hate crime in the 1990s. 

Norma Cazares

Born in Barrio Logan, Norma’s mother experienced the repatriations of Mexican-American families during the 1930s. Her parents were both of Mexican descent, and during the 1960s the family moved to Southeast San Diego where Norma attended Lincoln High School. In 1969, as a senior in high school, Norma was one of the key organizers of the walkouts that demanded better educational opportunities for students. Her activism as a Chicana then continued when she became a student at San Diego State University where she became involved with MEChA. Norma participated in the grape strikes and the takeover of Chicano Park. Notably, Norma volunteered at Casa Justicia, an organization located in National City that sought to help people with their immigration issues. While a mother and working full time, including as a counselor for Southwestern College, she was instrumental in creating South Bay Forum, an organization devoted to helping political candidates hold fundraisers and advocating for important issues within South Bay, San Diego communities. 

Roger Cazares

Roger Cazares is best known for having been the Executive Director of the MAAC (Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Anti-Poverty) project in National City. His father, Roger explains, was one of the first organizers, holding strikes in the copper mines of Mexico during the 1930s. Roger was very involved with the Chicano Movement, including working for Casa Justicia for a time, an organization located in National City that sought to help people with their immigration issues. As a MAAC Project employee, he spent over three decades focused on helping Latinos within the local community find employment and housing. 

Victor Contreras 

Tracing his ancestors back to the original Spanish soldiers who came to San Diego during the 1700s, Victor was raised in Chula Vista. His grandfather owned a ranch in Baja California that had been passed down for many generations, so Victor spent much of his life with “one foot on both sides,” meaning both sides of the border. During the week he attended schools in Chula Vista and on the weekends he would go with his parents to the ranch where he learned the art of cattle ranching. Victor became a theater major and has been a professional actor for over 40 years, notably a member of the Screen Actors Guild. He is a member of the Descendants of Early San Diego and he is also involved in the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park where he plays historic characters of the 1800s, including Old Town’s annual TwainFest. 

Farrell Foreman

Award-winning playwright and poet, Farrell Foreman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1950. Now a veteran San Diego City College English instructor, Mr. Foreman’s continued passion for literature, theater, and student engagement is what keeps him returning to the classroom. He was first taken by theater after unexpectedly landing the lead role in a high school play. In college, after winning a student writing award for a poem published in Atlantic Monthly (1971), Mr. Foreman wrote his first play, launching what would become a long career in theater, writing, and teaching. Mr. Foreman arrived in San Diego in 1979 from DeKalb, Illinois to attend graduate school at UCSD. He returned to San Diego again in 1996 and began teaching. At City College, Mr. Foreman coordinates the Festival of New Plays, a contest that culminates in the production of student-driven 10-minute plays. He continues to write and has been living in Spring Valley with his wife, Sandra, since 2000. 

Patrick Germany 

Patrick Germany was born in San Diego in 1959. As the son of San Diego Black Panther party members, he was introduced to the realities of racial injustice and social activism at an early age. Mr. Germany describes how these experiences, along with his spiritual faith, have given him the ability to empathize with and assist with the pain and struggles of others. Today, he works as a substance abuse counselor and continues to advocate for social justice in San Diego as an active member of the current Black Panther Party for Community Empowerment. He is dedicated to educating people on the history of the organization. Mr. Germany has lived in Spring Valley for the past three years. 

Randal (Randy) Hawley 

Randal Hawley, first park ranger for the City of San Diego—a job which he stayed at for eight years—grew up in Ventura County, California. Randal is proud of being one of the few registered conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War that was drafted and honorably discharged. Randy was pivotal in creating Mission Trails Regional Park, and vividly describes the process of transforming the area. His badge number,1, was retired at the conclusion of his service. 

Steve Padilla 

Chula Vista City Councilmember Stephen Padilla is best known for having come out as an LGBTQ+ person in 2005 while holding the office of Mayor. At that time, Chula Vista became the largest city in the United States with an openly gay mayor. He received national attention with some letters of support, but also death threats, notably when a man came into City Hall with a firearm hidden in a cereal box. Steve was raised in Chula Vista and experienced tragedy at a young age when his father, Carlos Esteban, died in an auto accident. He was one of the first families who lived across from the newly constructed Southwestern College during a time when cattle grazed nearby. After high school, he became a police officer and then a detective. Steve grew up talking politics around the dinner table and so already in his twenties he served on the Chula Vista Board of Ethics and later served on the Safety Commission. In 1994 he made his first run for Chula Vista City Council and won at the age of 26. Four years later he was re-elected. Steve was the first person of color ever elected to the Chula Vista City Council, although the city was incorporated in 1911. 

Michelle Stansbury is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer. Feel free to reach out to her at [email protected] with story ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *