Herman’s father was Nicholas Baca (b. 1924 in Albuquerque, New Mexico) and his mother was Eloisa Carrasco Baca (b. 1916, Los Lentes, New Mexico). Herman’s family on his father’s side dated back to New Mexico during the 1600’s when his ancestors came with the Oñate Expedition. Nicholas also fought in WWII (1940-45) landing in Normandy on D-Day and scaling the hills of Pointe De Hoc. He later became a POW at the Battle of the Bulge.
Herman spent the first few years of his life in the town of Los Lentes, New Mexico. The town was predominantly Spanish speaking, so he grew up speaking Spanish in the home. At the age of eleven, he moved to National City with his family and his father became a construction worker while his mother raised six children on McKinley Avenue.
As a young man growing up in the neighborhood known as ‘Old Town National City,’ Herman recalled that if he stepped into the “White Anglo” part of town, police would immediately stop him and tell him to get back to the “Mexican” side. This made such an impression on Herman that he would grow up to become a Chicano activist. After high school, he first learned the printing trade. He then became politically active, starting out as a block captain for the Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968. Herman recalled those days, saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
In 1970 he opened his own business – Aztec Printing – on 1837 Highland Avenue and very soon the print shop became a hub for Chicano activism. His work would span several decades. In 1971 he established the Ad Hoc Committee on Chicano Rights (CCR) “with the general principle of protecting the civil and constitutional rights of the Chicano community.” Next door to Aztec Printing, he and other Chicano activists established “Casa Justicia,” an organization that provided legal support to immigrants. He also founded the San Diego County Chapter of La Raza Unida and established the National City Chapter of the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA).
Herman collaborated with many other Chicano activists and explained that his mentors were Bert Corona, who organized Chicanos starting in the 1930s, as well as Abe Tapia, both of whom served as Presidents of MAPA, and also worked with the “four horsemen” of the movement: César Chávez, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (from Denver, Colorado), Jose Angel Gutierrez (founder of La Raza Unida) and Reies Lopez Tijerina from Texas who pressed for the restoration of land grants in New Mexico to descendants of the original owners, citing the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Herman organized protests, attended Chicano political conferences throughout the Southwest, wrote constant letters to political representatives (local, national and federal), spoke at City Council meetings and penned many articles for newspapers, including the San Diego Union Tribune and La Prensa San Diego.
A brief list of his activities include:
- Helping to organize the Ghio-Egger farm strike (1973),
- Filing a lawsuit against the unlawful searches of undocumented persons by local law-enforcement agencies (1974),
- Participating in the student walkout at Southwest Junior High to demand bilingual staff and more cultural sensitivity toward students of Spanish speaking descent (1974),
- Organizing protests against the police shooting of Luis “Tato” Rivera and then launching a recall effort against the National City Council (1975),
- Organizing protests in Old Town National City against zoning for light industrial in a residential neighbor (1974),
- Organizing the protest at the San Ysidro border against the KKK (1977),
- Organizing the protest at the San Ysidro border against Carter’s “Tortilla Curtain.” (1979),
- Organizing protests against police sweeps of lowriders in National City (1979),
- Organizing protests against the U.S. Congress’ Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill – which called for tripling the U.S. Border Patrol, among other things, from San Diego to the U.S.-Mexico border (1983).
For all his work, the San Diego Police Department attempted to infiltrate his groups. Baca also came under surveillance by the FBI and in 1978 through the Freedom of Information Act he obtained the documents of their spying activities.
Herman was also the target of hate crimes. The day of his protest against the KKK in 1977, his home was vandalized with words such as “Go Back Home Wetback.” Then in 1995 two large rocks were thrown against the building at Aztec printers and the two main windows were later smashed. Baca received ‘hate calls’ the following afternoon from a man saying he hated “Mexican Greasers.”
In 2006, UCSD purchased Baca’s Chicano documents, which included over 40,000 documents and can now be viewed on-line. In 2015, Herman closed his print shop. He continues to be the President of the CCR and still resides in National City.