Charley Trujillo was born in Hanford, California, and was raised in Corcoran until he was 18 years old. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Silao Guanajuato, Mexico, to the United States in 1908. His maternal family has been in Texas before it became part of the U.S. in 1848. His father is a World War II veteran.
Two weeks after graduating from high school, Trujillo enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in Germany as an infantryman in 1969. From there he volunteered for Vietnam. He served there as a sergeant in the infantry, earning both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal. He received his B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. from San Jose State University. He has taught college courses in ethnic and Chicano studies, and the Vietnam War, and is the publisher of Chusma House Publications, one of the country's few independent Chicano publishing houses. His book "Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam" won the 1991 American Book Award. He is also the author of the novel "Dogs from Illusion." He lives in San Jose, California.