Carlos (“Charlie”) Vasquez was born 1944 and grew up at 420 West 21st Street in Old Town National City. He had seven siblings: Eusebio, Peter, Umberto, Martha, Andrew, David and William.
His father was Eusebio Hernandez Vasquez (b. 1900 in Veracruz, Mexico) and his mother was Rosa “Nelly” Manuela Garcia Huerta (b. 1914 in Mexicali, Baja California). Eusebio’s family probably stemmed from Spain, while Rosa’s ancestors were both Mexican and Yaqui Indian.
As a child, Eusebio lived in Veracruz, Mexico City and Tijuana. He came to National City around 1920 because he had family in the United States. In particular, he had two sisters who were born in America.
Nelly lived in Mexicali, but she would often cross the border in order to go dancing. This is where Eusebio & Nelly met. They married in 1934, but before then Nelly actually was deported at one time for not having the proper paperwork.
Both Charlie’s parents worked at the tuna cannery on Harbor Drive and Crosby. They also worked at a vegetable packing plant in Palm City from 4am-7am. Often Charlie’s grandmother came from Tijuana to babysit them. Charlie remembers growing up fully bilingual, speaking Spanish in the home. He also recalled crossing the border to Tijuana often in order to visit family, especially his grandmother.
Charlie Growing Up in National City
Charlie went to Kimball Elementary, National City Junior High (now called National Middle) and then Sweetwater High School. He graduated in 1962. Charlie remembers that Kimball Elementary was predominantly Mexican-American. He also remembers that he lived in Old Town National City, which was almost exclusively a Mexican-American neighborhood, stretching approximately from 24th and Wilson to 13th Street and from Cleveland Avenue on the West side to 18th Street on the Eastside.
After high school, Charlie attended Southwestern College. In 1962 the college was located in Chula Vista High School campus because they were still building the campus. During that time, Charlie became President of MeCha. He took over that position from another well-known National City Chicano activist, Augie Bareño.
However, Charlie’s brothers were draft in the 1960s. They went went to Vietnam. His parents, who had worked at the local tuna cannery for many years, lost their jobs. Charlie had to quit school and work to support himself and his family. For a short time he worked at the Mayfair Market, a grocery store, at a job he initially started in 1957 as a teenager when he was looking for extra work.
After two years, he resumed his studies. From Southwestern College, he went on to SDSU where he studied “Police Science” (now called “Criminal Justice”). He was inspired toward this career because as a sophomore in high school his friend’s father worked as a U.S. Customs Agent and encouraged Charlie to go in that direction. After receiving his Bachelors he spent time working at the County of San Diego working at the Mexican-American Community Affairs Office. The year was 1972.
In 1990 he married the daughter of Dan Muñoz, the man who established the Chula Vista-based Chicano newspaper La Prensa-San Diego.
Chicano Activism and Casa Justicia
Charlie graduated in 1972. While in college he became very involved in the Chicano Movement and in 1968 he became a member of MAPA, the CCR and La Raza Unida. By 1973 he was actively involved in signing Mexican Americans up to vote.
Through these organizations, Charlie became friends with Bert Corona and Corky Gonzalez. He also helped with security when César Chávez came to San Diego and National City.
Charlie became the director of Casa Justicia, an office focused on assisting Mexicans and Mexican Americans in immigrating their families. He worked alongside a group of other activists, including Herman Baca, Augie Bareño, Nick Inzunza, Norma Cazares, Roger Cazares and Gloria Jean Nieto.
From about 1973-1976 Charlie helped many with immigration issues, which began to extend to police brutality, hospital issues and rent issues. The problems, he explains, were enormous in the 1970s.
In 1976 Casa Justicia shut down and Charlie was hired at the Legal Aid Society. He worked with them from 1976-1986 as an immigration specialist. He became certified to practice administrative law and represented numerous people on issues of immigration. Sometimes he would go down to the American Consulate in Tijuana and fight for those who were denied immigrant visas. He would also assure officials that his clients would not go on welfare once in the U.S. (a common, although false, stereotype that white anglos had at that time about immigrants from Mexico).
“Chicano means change. We no longer felt like peons. Because if you ever see movies, you always have the Mexican Peon walking in with the hat in his hand asking the owner for something. And that’s how we were treated for the longest time.”
In 1988, Charlie was offered a position with the San Diego Public Defenders Office as an Investigator Level II. He was assigned to the South Bay Office from 1988 to 1992 and then was promoted as a Team Supervisor Level III. Within a few years, the Chief Investigator left the post and he was assigned as the Temporary Chief Investigator.
In 1994, he was appointed as the full time Chief Investigator, responsible for five offices and approximately 40 investigators. After 22 years with the Public Defenders, he retired at the age of 65. In 2009, he obtained my Private Investigators License and began working at the Federal Level conducting investigations. Charlie is currently working with numerous private attorneys handling federal cases.