By Maria E. Garcia
Norma and Roger Cazares are known for their political activism which began while they were both young. They first met each other on a picket line during the Grape Boycott. Chicano politics brought them together and love soon followed.
Last month’s introduction to the activist lives of Norma and Roger provides insight into how they have changed the civic landscape of San Diego. This concluding article fills in more of the details of their commitment to their community and each other.
In the early 1970s Norma and Roger become involved with Casa de Justicia, located in National City. This was a volunteer organization. Its services included helping clients to fill out forms and making them aware of laws and some of the opportunities available to them. These services were free– a great contrast to the notarios publicos who were basically over charging for the same services.
The FBI infiltrated the Casa de Justicia and the Raza Unida Party while Roger and Norma were working with these organizations.
Roger said one of the infiltrators was a San Diego Police officer named Iglesias. They were running the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) in those days. Iglesias asked why he wasn’t given an assignment because he paid his dues and none of us had money to pay ours.
Herman Baca who owned Aztec Printing right next door to Casa de Justicia, suggested that the suspected infiltrator become a registrar and assist with registering voters for the Raza Unida Party. Iglesias agreed to this and started filling out the form that would allow him to register others.
On the form he used two different names, his real name on the signature and his undercover name on at the top of the form. Nick Inzunsa had received a traffic ticket from Iglesias and recognized him as a San Diego Police Officer.
Norma says at Casa de Justicia they were also able to provide labor certification. Once the FBI tried to entrap them by sending a young girl with a cockney accent. It happened that Roger was working the day this woman came in. They didn’t get paid for that service. They had a coffee can where people could donate whatever they could afford.
This woman explained that she had overstayed her VISA and was looking for a U.S. citizen to marry in order to be allowed to remain here. Roger took out the law books and told her that is called a marriage of convenience and that his advice was not to do it. As she left she took twenty dollars and put it in the coffee can.
When the Freedom of Information Act allowed them to send for their records they took advantage and requested them. When the forms arrived most of the information had been blacked out.
Bert Corona had arranged for them to be trained when they worked at Casa de Justicia. They became VISTA volunteers. The VISTA volunteers were Augie Bareño, Gloria Jean Nieto, Nick Inzunsa senior and Roger and Norma. Most of the Vista volunteers that were in San Diego came from Ivy League schools. This group, however, was home grown and worked in a community they knew well.
Norma was pregnant from a previous relationship that was now a past relationship. After the baby girl was born Roger and Norma continued to date. Norma says seeing Roger carry the diaper bag convinced her that “this guy is a keeper.” They were married on March 30, 1973.
The wedding took place at St. Jude’s Church with Father Juan Hurtado performing the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony Father Hurtado raised his arm in the Chicano Power symbol.
Roger said that one of his biggest accomplishments at MAAC where he was working at the time were housing and residential recovery homes. The recovery homes had regulations that were required by the state. MAAC ran one of the first substance abuse houses in San Diego county.
Casa de Milagros is a recovery home for women that has been run by MAAC for the past 30 years. In addition to substance abuse recovery they offer career pathways, as well as health and education. MAAC is also responsible for the Mercado Apartments which consists of 144 apartments. He is also very proud of the North County Head Start Program.
MAAC also sponsors a charter school. The many successful programs sponsored by MAAC can directly be attributed to Roger’s vision and determination to make changes in the lives of underrepresented populations.
There was a time when MAAC sent teachers into the fields to teach children of farm workers. The successful programs were often ground breaking programs that service providers had not focused on in the past.
Roger has been a board member of the National Council of La Raza. He is also a founding member of the Neighborhood National Bank, a bank that focuses on under served communities.
It took Norma a longer time to complete her college education. As she puts it “Life got in the way,” life being marriage and three children. She has earned her Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration. In 1988 she received her Masters of Science in Counseling.
Her employment with the State of California Employment Development Department had placed her on the Southwestern campus. She soon left her employment with EDD and accepted an assignment with Southwestern College. Her counseling responsibilities have included coordinator and counseling of transfer students. She has also worked as a Puente Counselor.
Norma is a strong believer that one person can make a difference. While she recognizes that there is power in numbers, she says there is also the “power of one.” She gave an example. When their son Javier was in elementary school he came home with a homework assignment that had derogatory questions regarding Native Americans. One question was “Why do Indians smell so bad?”
It happened that one of Javier’s best friends and classmate was half Native American. Norma went directly to the school to complain about the assignment. She was told by school personnel that there were not any culturally relevant books available. Norma went on a mission, returning a few weeks later with her arms full of books and dropped them on the table, proving that such books were available. This led to the school district asking her to serve on various advisory boards and committees.
Norma was one of a group of people that formed South Bay Forum (SBF). South Bay Forum is a PAC (Political Action Committee). The purpose of SBF is to address the political needs of the Latino community. Norma served as President of SBF and was constantly involved in educating community members on a variety of issues. Their events provide a platform to discuss concerns, forums, candidates, community issues and propositions. The group registered with the State of California in 1998.
Roger and Norma have opened their home to a variety of fund-raising events. They have also hosted book signing events at their home. Jim Estrada, one of the men who had gone to Lincoln High School in 1969 to recruit Norma, authored a book “The ABC and Ñ of American Cultural Evolution”.
Together they continue to work together to support Chicanos and to educate the public on the importance of voting.
Norma has been a constant supporter of many of the programs at Southwestern in her role as counselor. She has helped young people in the greater South Bay community. One of her biggest concerns and one issue she has been very vocal about has been the lack of students from Southwestern College that have been accepted as transfer students at UCSD. Norma has a plethora of awards for her many community involvements not only with Chicanos but with women’s issues.
Roger retired from MAAC, the organization he nourished and grew for 34 years, in 2002. Norma left Southwestern College less than two months ago. Like other retirees, they are going through boxes, organizing their papers and tossing out unnecessary items. Norma is so pleased that she got Roger to part with about 50 caps, assuring me that he still has at least 35 left.
When Roger retired, a lot of his day was spent babysitting their two grandsons Jacob and Joaquin. Today, both grandsons are in school so he no longer has daily grandpa duty. He says since Norma retired his naps are a thing of the past.
Individually, both Roger and Norma have made differences in the Chicano community. Together, they have had an impact on social, educational and political issues. They started as activists advocating for Chicanos. In retirement this will continue. They also plan to travel and spend more time with family and friends. Our community owes both of them a huge thank you for making things better.
Photos courtesy of Norma and Roger Cazares
The Latinos in San Diego series here.