By Maria E. Garcia
On March 31, 1942, Roy Cazares was born in San Francisco del Oro, Chihuahua, Mexico. Roy Cazares is one of ten children born to Carlos and Norberta Cazares. When Roy was two years old, his family moved to San Diego and lived in Frontier Housing, located in Pacific Beach. His father Carlos had taken a job as a mechanical engineer in wartime San Diego. Roy was much too young to remember living in Mexico; however, he does remember that, while living in Frontier Housing, he and his brothers collected aluminum and rubber tires for war-focused San Diego.
There was a terrible accident and a ship’s engine fell on his father’s chest. This resulted in Mr. Cazares being placed in an iron lung for several months and the family spending a great deal of time at the Navy Hospital.
After moving with his family to Shelltown, Roy attended Balboa Elementary. In the sixth grade he was elected president of the Associated Student Body (ASB). He says one of his duties as ASB president was to get the kids to quiet down during school assemblies.
When he reached Memorial Junior High, however, Roy describes himself as a total goof-off. He did not study and he got into fights. He says he spent a lot of time in the “goon room.” The goon room was where you were sent while the well-behaved students attended assemblies. Roy emphasizes that he was not a good student.
By the time he reached Sweetwater High School, the family had moved to Rachel Street in National City. He once again describes himself as a “screw-up.” He remembers that he was directed by counselors towards vocational schools and not towards college. He dropped out of high school in order to drive his family to Mexico. Like many Chicanos, the lack of direction and the lack of support to consider a college education also contributed to his dropping out. When he returned from the trip to Mexico, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Roy received his GED before going into the Army. He had scored very high on the army’s IQ test and, as a result, was sent to German Language School at the University of Maryland.
Roy was sent to Munich, and his assignment in Germany was as a forward observer. Later he would learn that this job was usually assigned to a second lieutenant. Roy did not receive the same pay as a second lieutenant, but he says one of the perks was a personal driver. His duties were to review maneuver claims. For example, if a truck hit and killed a pig, or a tank hit a house, he reviewed the claim and determined what the cost to the U.S. government would be. He was earning ninety-eight dollars a month for his services. Roy describes himself as a good soldier who received excellent reviews.
Roy says the army was a good experience. At this point he shared that all seven of the brothers have served in the military over the years. Carlos and Rene served in Korea; Louie, Roger, and Roy served in Germany. Hector served in Vietnam and Allen in Panama.
In 1963, Roy returned to San Diego and attended Southwestern College. He took general education courses and favored anthropology and writing. He adds that he was not very good at math. While attending evening classes at Southwestern, he worked as assistant director of the MAAC Project. He then transferred to San Diego State College. While at State, he earned very good grades. It was at State that he became involved in the Chicano Movement, and Roy became entrenched in many of the social issues of the day.
At that time, canned goods were being collected to donate to the United Farm workers. Roy remembers Delia Cacho (Talamantez) had borrowed a truck from one of her brothers and they took a truckload of food to Delano. He believes this was the first time he met Cesar Chavez.
In 1969, Roy graduated from San Diego State with distinguished honors. A Chicano recruiter came by the college and soon Roy had applied and was accepted at Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Harvard. Roy decided to attend Harvard. One of the main reasons for choosing Harvard was that he wanted to get away from the Chicano Movement. He knew he was spending too much time involved in various aspects of the Movement and needed to concentrate on his studies. He was the first Chicano ever from State to attend Harvard Law School.
While at San Diego State, Roy was considering a career in law enforcement. He credits two people with inspiring him to seek a career in law: Carlos, his brother, who was a lawyer and would later become the first judge in the Cazares family, and the late Bill Lopez, his brother-in-law. He says Bill told him, “Why don’t you go to law school? You don’t want to distribute street justice law.”
Roy describes Harvard as a lesson in culture shock, and he felt he was in over his head. He says the weather was miserable and that culturally it was not for him. But the man who went to Harvard to get away from the Chicano Movement once again became involved. He became the first president of the Harvard Chicano Law Student Association.
Roy was part of a student debate at Harvard on the pros and cons of heroin. At one point, Roy said to one of the speakers, “You’re full of shit. You not only screw yourself up, but a heroin addict also screws up his whole family.” Later that evening, he would hear a knock at his dorm door and there stood Jerry Lopez, who would become Roy’s long time friend and future law partner. Jerry said he wanted to congratulate him for taking that jerk on.
Roy had another friend who was part of the Levi Strauss family. He says this man was very nice and lived on “Professor Row.” This man invited Roy to his home and picked him up in a brand-new BMW. When they arrived, there was a woman cooking who was not his friend’s mother and the house itself was very large. It became more than culture shock to the young man from National City. It was a totally different world.
While still at Harvard, Roy wrote a paper on the Second Amendment that focused on gun control, and his argument was that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to bear arms. The paper was hailed as an excellent argument about the Second Amendment and would be relevant today. Later he would loan the paper to a friend, who proceeded to lose it.
In 1975, when Roy graduated from Harvard, he did not participate in graduation nor did any of his family members attend. None of them had the financial resources to pay for the trip to Boston or to participate in the graduation activities.
Roy says that, in order to prepare for the California Bar Exam, he locked himself in a room for three months to study. That effort paid off and he passed the California Bar on his first attempt. He went to work for the Public Defender’s office.
When Roy returned to San Diego, he was greeted with a welcome home party at the house of his sister Yolanda. At that party was a young woman named Maria Sanchez. Maria was originally from Brawley, California, and was a Chicana activist at San Diego State. Roy says that Maria’s activism was what attracted him to her. The fact that she was a beautiful redhead did not go unnoticed.
Maria says that she was attracted to Roy because he was so giving and he had a sense of humor. He was the life of the party and came from a large family, in addition to being handsome. Within a week after the party Roy called Maria for a date. In April of 1975 they were married in Presidio Park. Their children jokingly refer to the ceremony as a “hippie wedding.” At the time of their marriage, Maria was a teacher. Later, she would become a principal.
Maria brought her daughter Mixim to the marriage. They now have a total of four daughters. Roy describes their daughters: Mixim thinks things through and is very intelligent. Andrea has a smile that lights up a room and is very open and verbal. Erica is very giving and empathetic to others and definitely a counselor. Their youngest daughter, Lisandra, says what’s on her mind and has a quick wit. He adds that they wanted Lisandra to go into medicine, but she decided to become a teacher. These four girls have given Maria and Roy thirteen grandchildren.
In 1975, Roy went into law practice with Nap Jones, Tom Adler, and Jerry Lopez. Their office was located at the Central Federal Building downtown. In 1982, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Roy as a municipal judge. Ramon Castro approached him and asked him if he was interested in a judgeship. At first, Roy was reluctant to give up his law practice for a judgeship. He spoke to his doctor, who suggested that he consider if he wanted to be a rich dead man or a healthy, not so wealthy man.
Roy called Ramon and told him he did want to be considered for a judgeship. Governor Brown was followed by Governor Deukmejian. Roy says his timing was bad, since with Deukmejian in office he would not be considered for the California Superior Court.
Roy was also known for a case where a man who was on probation made a very foolish mistake. Roy had given the man a sentence of thirty days. While in session, the defendant called the female police officer involved a “bitch.” Roy responded with something like, “Did I say thirty days? I meant ninety days and that my man is a bitch.”
In 2000, Roy retired from the bench as a Superior Court Judge. After retiring, he and Maria traveled with family and friends. He is an avid reader, but lately his glaucoma has affected his ability to read.
In addition to his immediate family he is very proud of his brothers and sister. Every year the Cazares family has a reunion in Palm Springs. The first reunion took place over fifty years ago and was held at what Roy describes as a “Mom and Pop motel” in Palm Springs. Today, that “small” family reunion occupies several floors of the Marriott Hotel.
Roy and Maria live in Eastlake. His next-door neighbors are his sister Yolanda and brother-in-law Richard. Today his life is about family and enjoying their thirteen grandchildren. The kid from Shelltown did very well.
Editor Correction: It was originally stated in error that Roy Cazares retired as a Supreme Court judge. He retired as a Superior Court Judge.