By Raymond R. Beltrán
Kimberly Schwenk often spends her time dwelling on the past, at times, in an almost 60 degree temperature warehouse, with big metal hand wheels that open into vault-like corridors leading to a library of files, where anyone could imagine being close to the secret behind JFK’s assassination or Jimmy Hoffa’s dissappearance. Although here, Schwenk’s cloaked in documents of recent history, because, in actuality, it’s her job.
She is an Archives and Manuscripts Processor at UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library, spending her time organizing a web of historical documentation for people as prolific as San Diego journalist Neil Morgan. But this past year, she’s delved into a historical four decades of a more underserved community in taking on the recently purchased archives from long time Chicano activist Herman Baca.
On a complexity scale of one to ten, this University of Purdue grad gives Baca’s archives a solid nine.
“Nothing I’ve done has taken this long (one year)… Herman didn’t have an administrator. He organized everything the way he’d know how to find things,” says Schwenk, who spent days with Baca sifting through piles of disarrayed photos, notes, and news clippings at his business, Aztec Printing in National City, where Baca stored al of his collection.
Baca’s role in political activism, reflected in the archive, dates back to the mid-60s during the birth of the Chicano movement. He co-organized and chaired local chapters of prominent political organizations like MAPA (Mexican American Political Administration), La Raza Unida Party, and the CCR (Committee on Chicano Rights). He attended rallies with some of the most prominent figures in the Chicano community like Bert Corona and Corky Gonzales.
His history also intermingles with the roots of contemporary groups like MAAC Project (formerly the Mexican American Advisory Committee), and on his journey, he collected any and everything he got his hands on, hence, the archive.
“Really, it was a seniority thing I guess,” says Schwenk about taking on the collection, “I had the most experience dealing with the complexity of the archive, but I have my own personal interest for progressive politics too. I think they (UCSD) knew that.”
As opposed to chronological order, Schwenk prepared the collection in groups of series, or topics. Included in the total fifteen series, to be released July 15, is biographical material on the Baca family, meeting minutes, correspondence, and membership materials for La Raza Unida Party, a political party engaging Chicano participation, and an art series containing original ink prints by painters David Avalos and Victor Orozco Ochoa as well as Chicano Park Day posters dating back to 1981.
Baca says, in jest, that some collected pieces are just a product of bad habits, specifically, decades-old newspaper clippings, crammed into his cabinets, about immigration, police brutality, and racism from journals like The San Diego Union Tribune, The Star News, and La Prensa San Diego. But in reality, it was a way for him to reference documented issues in order to be an accurate and effective combatant of social injustice.
Just two years ago, National City almost elected Police Officer Craig Short as chief. Baca got wind of it and referenced a 1975 Star News clip, now part of the archive’s fourteenth series, pinpointing Short as the officer who recklessly shot a twenty year old Luis “Tato” Rivera, killing him. He began an email campaign, calling attention to the outrage, which ultimately changed the city’s decision.
“These papers are enriched because they’re written by people in the community … the source, and they’re not in print,” says Schwenk, as she points out browning corners of 1970s journals like El Grito, Zeta, El Mexicano, Nuestra Lucha, and Sin Fronteras.
The archives were purchased by UCSD for $25,000, and Baca said the decision was made for two reasons, mice and the weather. It was only a matter of time before the papers would disappear due to one or the other.
“We also wanted to leave it to the community, historians, scholars and students, to learn what was done right and what was done wrong in trying to franchise our people. None of us walk on water,” he says.
When asked what the most crucial information within the collection is, he honestly states that even he doesn’t remember what’s in the archive, but as an entire entity relating to social justice, it’s all relevant.
For the Herman Baca Archive Committee, a community organization that helped in the sale of the collection, a major concern is what the scope of accessibility will be.
Currently, the library is working on an internet register for the archives on the library’s online search engine, Roger, which is similar to Google. The school will also be conducting interviews with Baca this summer for an audio documentary in addition to the collection.
“We don’t collect things with the intention of throwing them away ten years later, they’re staying here,” says Lynda Claassen, Director of Special Collections at UCSD who prides the collection for being an addition to the Chicano Studies Program and Ethnic Studies Department.
Chairwoman of the archive committee, Norma Cazares, says, “We also want to encourage institutions of education to look at other parts of our communities … our struggle in education, our parts in the wars and the military, and the gay and lesbian community. It’s those kinds of histories that enrich San Diego’s history.”
All involved also agree. Schwenk is currently archiving documents from the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S. Mexico Border Chapter, and Baca says it’s time to begin writing a book about his experience in the Chicano struggle.
It’s the particular moments in the movement, he says, that get erased most of all, parts he’d like to write about, the parts that build camaraderie and make experiences much more personal, like …
Four Chicanos attend a 1977 rally, protesting Ku Klux Klan operations along the border. As they stand on a hill looking down at the crowd, Armando Navarro asks Corky Gonzales, “How many people do you think are down there?” Corky says, “Maybe five-thousand,” and tosses the question back. “Ten-thousand,” Navarro replies. They look at Baca and ask, “What do you think?” He responds with “fifteen-thousand.” They all ultimately look at Bert Corona for the final tally, and he answers, “Hell, since we’re all lying, why don’t we go ahead and make it fifty-thousand.”
The Herman Baca Archive Committee is currently organizing a July 15 celebration commemorating the public release of the archives at the UCSD Price Center Plaza.