The population is about 60,000. Sixty-five percent of the people are Hispanic. The median household income is about $37,000 and media outlets, when they cover National City at all, generally focus on crime.
Growing up in the Bay Area, one of my favorite things to do as a youth was visit the Mission District in San Francisco and Valencia Street. That’s where real life met paradise. The music, the murals, the excellent and exotic food. National City reminds me a lot of the Mission.
National City is also the second oldest city in the county. History buffs can drive by old Victorian homes peppered throughout the city and visit the carefully preserved Brick Row. BUT, I would argue that if you’re an off-the-beaten-track traveler or local explorer, the very first place you should visit in all of San Diego County is Herman Baca’s Aztec Print Shop.
This was once THE HUB of the Chicano Rights Movement.
Herman Baca still runs the print shop, so make sure to go to him with your printing needs as well. Once you are inside, you’ll see an amazing array of posters and pictures on the wall, which include his time working with Cesar Chavez and his printing of CCR (Committee on Chicano Rights) newsletters.
Who Is Herman Baca?
Herman Baca was born in New Mexico and moved to National City with his family at the age of eleven. Baca then went to the Sweetwater Union School District during the 1950’s. He experienced racism first hand during these years and explained to me that if he had been hanging around E 3rd Street (the location of his print shop today) as a young man, he would have been stopped by police and told to get back to the Mexican side of the city.
After high school, Baca learned the printing trade and worked for several other shops until he opened his own private business, Aztec Printing, in 1969. The shop was originally located on 1837 Highland Avenue. He rented that space from 1969-1986:
Today, that location is a Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant. In 1986 Baca moved his shop down to 710 E 3rd Street where it remains.
Chicano was a term meant to replace the labels of “Hispanic” or “Latino” in order to bring attention to the lack of civil rights for those with a Spanish-speaking background.
Herman Baca became politically active in 1968 when he started out as block captain for the Richard Nixon presidential campaign.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Baca said while talking with me at his print shop.
He went on to organize the National City chapter of the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA). He campaigned for many Chicano political candidates and in 1970 he organized the San Diego County chapter of La Raza Unida, a national third-party meant to increase political participation within the Chicano community. In 1975 he also organized the Committee on Chicano Rights (CCR), which held meetings at his Aztec Printing shop.
Herman Baca also organized many marches and protests. In 1973 he helped farm workers strike against Ghio Farms in Imperial Beach. He was particularly concerned about police violence against Chicanos and organized marches to protest police brutality in 1974 when Tato Rivera was shot in National City and in 1979 when police officer Dan Cole killed Efren Reyes and wounded of Benito Rincon.
When KKK member David Duke alongside Tom Metzinger from Fallbrook got a tour by Border Patrol in 1977, Baca helped organize a 10,000 person protest at the border speaking out against the KKK. In 1979 he organized a memorial march of 4,000 community members from downtown San Diego to the U.S.-Mexico border to bring attention to the Chicano National Immigration issues.
All this just scratches the surface of his decades long work. In 2006 UCSD bought Baca’s collection of newsletters, papers and pictures for $25,000 and now anyone can read about him by surfing a comprehensive digital collection. But watch out! Librarians note that his materials stretch out to over 40 feet long.
Baca and The Chicano Movement Today
Herman Baca, alongside his wife of 40 years Nadine, still work at Aztec Printing. Baca is also still active with the CCR and in local politics.
When I asked him about Chicano civil rights today, he explained that the more things change the more they stay the same. Chicanos still don’t necessarily know who their representatives are. They still don’t have enough voices in government.
Accessible, kind and — and as his wife notes — a walking encyclopedia, Herman Baca handed me the latest CCR newsletter before I left his print shop. It included a “Bill of Rights for the Undocumented Worker.”
He said, “I leave you with this. Is the immigration issue actually about immigration or about labor?”
With that, his wife gave him a kiss and left to run an errand while he returned to his printing press inside.