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Leonard Fierro Papers

Identifier: MS-0439

Scope and Contents

The Leonard Fierro Papers (1927-1995) document Fierro's work as an educator, activist and advocate for bilingual education. The majority of the material dates from the early 1960's through 1970's, with very sparse documentation of the 1950's. These files illustrate Fierro's development of bilingual education teaching materials for San Diego County. His papers include reports, correspondence, teaching supplements, newspaper clippings, and audio cassettes. Highlights include materials relating to the efforts of the National Origin Desegregation Assistance Center (NODAC or Lau Center) in the Institute for Cultural Pluralism and personal correspondence during his military service through WWII. The collection consists of four series: Professional Files (1964-1992), Personal Files (1935-1995), News Clippings (1950's-1995), and Book Project Files (1927-1995).

The Professional Files (1964-1992) are divided into two sub-series, Education (1964-1990) and Organizations (1964-1992). These files document Fierro's work as an advocate for bilingual education primarily in San Diego during the 1960's and 1970's, and his membership and association with multiple educational and community organizations. The Education sub-series, alphabetically arranged, includes teaching supplements as well as reports and publications documenting his work and  research concerning the development and implementation of a language-sensitive curriculum for English-learning students. These materials include bilingual lesson plans for Spanish-speaking preschool students as well as school integration reports from across the country from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Also alphabetically arranged, the Organizations series documents Fierro's affiliation and participation with local and national groups that shared his outlook on bilingual education. Among these groups are the Chicano Federation and Association of Mexican-American Educators. This sub-series includes correspondence, memorandums, and reports released by the various organizations.

The Personal Files (1935-1995), document Fierro's time in the military and his family life. A large portion of the material dates from the 1990's, after Fierro's retirement, and focuses on membership materials to the San Diego Historical Society and National Timberwolf Association, "an association of World War II Veterans of the 104th Infantry Division, U.S. Army." The series also contains alphabetically arranged correspondence, resumes, and photographs of Tolteca Athletic Association reunions. The majority of correspondence are letters Fierro exchanged with family and friends while serving in the Army during WWII. Letters were addressed to Fierro while in Camp Roberts, California in 1944 and to Luxembourg and Belgium in 1945. Also, included is an order from general headquarters for his award of a Purple Heart for wounds while in Germany.

The News Clippings (1950's-1995) series exhibit Fierro's research interests especially in education, local politics and racial discrimination. They are arranged alphabetically by subject and include articles from the San Diego Union Tribune, L.A. Times, The New Mexican, San Diego Free Press, and other newspapers documenting varied issues from local student enrollment statistics to the murder of local Black Panther Party member Sylvester Bell in 1969. The majority of the files date between the late 1980's and early 1990's with particularly few clippings from the 1970's.

The Book Project Files (1927-1995) document Fierro's research for an unfinished manuscript that would highlight local Latino activists. The series consists of audio cassettes, notes, articles, interview questionnaires, and photographs, all of which are alphabetically arranged. The records cover topics such as Camp Oliver, Neighborhood House, the Tolteca Athletic Association, and the post-WWII period. The cassette tapes contain interviews of individuals such as David and Mary Naranjo, Natalie Coronado, Raul Almera, and Totleca founder Frank Peñuelas.


  • Creation: 1927-1995
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1966-1995


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Biographical Note

Leonard Fierro was born in El Paso, Texas in 1918 but spent 72 years of his life as an educator and activist in San Diego, California. He attended San Diego High School and in 1941 graduated from San Diego State College with a bachelor's degree in history. During his college years he was a founding member of the Tolteca Athletic Association, also known as Tolteca Fraternity, "a Hispanic social organization that would become a powerful force in city athletics and politics." After graduating, Fierro served in the Army during World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart in January of 1945 for wounds received in Germany. However he, as well as many returning soldiers with varying cultural backgrounds, was surprised when he arrived back home. "We'd just fought a war for liberty and justice, and when we came home we found that we didn't have it in our own city," Fierro said. After the war, Fierro returned to San Diego State earning his master's degree in history in 1956. He began his teaching career at Kearny High School and transferred to Clairemont High in 1959 where he taught history and government.

In 1967, Fierro served as coordinator and then director for the English as a Second Language (ESL) Bilingual-Bicultural Demonstration Center for San Diego County, where he stayed until 1970. Over these years, he developed resource materials for teachers and students and worked to award college credit for bilingual education summer programs in conjunction with local colleges. He also provided consultant services to schools and produced a nation-wide newsletter on ESL bilingual education. In 1970, Fierro became director of project Curriculum Adaptation Network for Bilingual Bicultural Education (CANBBE) Far West Region, where he conceptualized, planned and developed culturally relevant supplementary materials for grades 1-3 which included readers, coloring books, and games that he field-tested and approved for nation-wide distribution. In 1975, he served as Co-director for the San Diego State University Bilingual Bicultural Resource Center which would later become the National Origin Desegregation Assistance Center (NODAC or Lau Center) in the Institute for Cultural Pluralism. The Center provided consulting services to schools across California and coordinated with federal as well as state and local agencies to help develop and implement comprehensible educational plans to meet the needs of language minority students.

Aside from his professional achievements, Fierro was an active community organizer. He helped to establish the Association of Mexican-American Educators (AMAE) and played a critical role in founding the San Diego County Chicano Federation as well as the Mexican-American Advisory Committee (MAAC), a San Diego County anti-poverty organization. After his retirement in 1987, he began work on a book about local Latino activists, some of which he interviewed, but never finished. Leonard Fierro passed away on November 20, 1995.


9.76 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian

Arrangement Note

I. Professional, 1964-1992

     1. Education, 1964-1990

     2. Organizations, 1964-1992

II. Personal, 1939-1995

III. News Clippings, 1950's-1995

IV. Book Project Files, 1927-1995


2008-010, 2008-012

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Chicano Federation of San Diego County Records, 1968-1980

Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Records, 1968-2003

MANA of San Diego County Records, 1986-2002

Enriqueta Chavez Papers, 1955-2000

Leonard Fierro Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US