Roger Cazares

Rogelio “Roger” Cazares was born 1940 in San Francisco del Oro, Chihuahua, Mexico.

His mother, Norberta Amaya Cazares, was born 1908 in La Perla, Sonora. Her father was a well-off cattle rancher who also owned a hardware store.

Roger’s father, Carlos Borboa Cazares, was born 1901 in Trinidad, Sonora. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, his family ended up living north of the border, ending up in what became Douglas, Arizona. This is where Carlos started school. However, after the 4th grade he left school in order to start working at the copper mines.

Carlos married Norberta and they had eleven children total. Carlos found work at a copper mine owned by the Dutch in San Francisco del Oro. During that time, the whole village was mostly Tarahumara Indians as well as families of the copper mine owners. This is where Roger was born in 1940.

Carlos Borboa Cazares, Organizer at the Dutch Copper Mine

Roger recalls his father telling the story that while the Dutch copper mine owners provided parks and other amenities for their own families, not one doctor existed for the indigenous and Mexican workers. As a consequence, Roger’s father began to organize the workers for a strike. When the Dutch cooper mine owners agreed to provide the workers with a doctor, Roger’s father and the other workers realized they needed to make additional demands, such as higher wages.

Carlos knew that foreign companies took the riches from Mexico and only cared about their profits. He traveled down to Mexico City and stayed three months until he was able to meet with then-President Cárdenas. At that time, he requested that the copper mine become nationalized. While this demand was met, Carlos then came under suspicion by the government for his organizing activities. Feeling threatened, the entire family had to pack up and flee to Tijuana in 1942.

Within a year, Carlos found work as a machinist at NASCO while his family lived in Tijuana. Carlos was successful enough to buy some land in Mexico, however, the entire family soon sought to move to the United States. In 1944 Carlos gave all his land to an Customs & Immigration Officer in exchange for passage through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The family briefly lived in San Ysidro and then moved to Frontier Homes, a large government housing project with about 1,000 units in Old Town San Diego.

Roger Cazares Growing Up

Roger started at Midway Elementary school until his family bought a home in Shell Town, San Diego and from K-6 he attended Balboa Elementary School. He then went to Memorial Junior High School and graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1960. Within a year he was drafted into the army. Roger was deployed to Bamberg, Germany and at some point also guarded the Czechoslovakia border as armored intelligence specialist.

In 1962 Roger received an honorable discharge and returned to San Diego. At first unemployed, he was told about a new college being established — Southwestern. This is when Roger experienced racism first hand, his counselor telling him he needed to take remedial math and English courses. Once enrolled in an English course, the teacher gave him an F, insisting that he plagiarized a paper. Only when he wrote at the same caliber while in class did she realize he had written the paper himself and gave him an A. She told Roger that he was actually well-qualified to begin college courses.

From Southwestern College, Roger went on to get a degree in social sciences at San Diego State University. To get himself through university, he also landed a night job working at a bank. His strong work-ethic meant he was promoted to supervisor while still going to college. He thought accounting might be his path, especially when the company put him on an executive track, but in 1969 he took a leave-of-absence because a new opportunity emerged: working for MAAC Project.

MAAC (Mexican American Advisory Committee)

MAAC (Mexican American Advisory Committee) Project began in 1965 under the War on Poverty Act initiated under the Johnson Administration. In 1969 Roger began as a Job Developer at MAAC’s office in National City. His task was to train and find people jobs. However, the funding ran out and Roger became unemployed in 1971. This is when he began to volunteer at Casa Justicia in National City and his organizing activities began to ramp up. He became a Chicano who protested the Vietnam War and engaged in the civil rights movement. When asked when the Chicano movement began, Roger explains, “The Chicano movement began with our parents.”

At Casa Justicia his wife, Norma Cazares (whom he married in 1974), as well as other renown South Bay Chicano activists including Augie Bareño, Charlie Vasquez and Herman Baca worked to provide legal help for immigrants. However, Roger had to provide for a family and so he returned to work at MAAC Project as Planning Director. In 1975 he was named Executive Director of the program. He later became the President and CEO, holding that title for 29 years.

During his time at MAAC, he created a vast number of social services for the community. MAAC continues to exist today, with headquarters in Chula Vista. Their stated mission is “to promote self-sufficiency for low and moderate income families and communities in Southern California through advocacy for, and delivery of, social, educational, housing and employment services.”

During Roger’s first years at MAAC, the organization had a $230,000 budget with fewer than ten employees; the organization’s budget is now $19 million annually and employs a staff of 380. Before Roger’s retirement, a newspaper article outlined much of his work. He spearheaded services for early childhood education, including leading the expansion of MAAC’s North San Diego County Head Start Child Development schools from 4 to 17 centers. He implemented the establishment of two residential care facilities for recovering drug and alcohol dependent individuals housed as Casa de Milagros, for women, and Nosotros, for men. In partnership with the Private Industry Council, he ensured MAAC’s annual summer employment for over 1,000 South Bay youth. He helped MAAC provide English as a second language and government classes to over 12,000 adults in San Diego County through the Immigration Reform Control Act of 1986. In 1991 he established the Housing and Community Development Department (HCD), which over the last 10 years has developed over 1,000 rental units of affordable housing and 12 single family homes. He also served on numerous boards, including the Mayor of San Diego’s Latino Advisory Committee.

Roger and his wife Norma’s work have been so well-regarded, numerous media outlets have written about him over the years. What’s more, students at the Media Arts Center San Diego’s Teen Producers Project created a movie about him:

Roger Cazares: Justice, Passion & Community:

(Interview: May 18, 2016)