Last week I met with Dr. David Garcia about a joint research project on the history of the Oxnard School District and the practice of segregation. Being both educated in the city’s public schools, we shared stories growing up in Chiques and situated the school desegregation case of Soria v. Oxnard School District Board (1971) with that of Mendez v. Westminster (1946) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
I mentioned how when I was an adolescent, whether riding my Frankenstein bike or walking, I felt an unexplained unease when I ventured north of Fifth Street. Residents between C Street and Ventura Road and north of Fifth, during the 1970s, were solidly middle class and predominantly of European ethnic ancestry—Italian, German, Irish, French, etc—and Catholic. When I attended catechism classes at a craftsman style home on F Street, in what is now the city’s “historic” district, I was in awe and thought to myself, “I am in the house of rich people.” As I rode my bike home each week, I wondered how it was like to live in a spacious two story home like the ones in this neighborhood, instead of the south side one story two bedroom ticky-tacky residences in the blue collar Bartolo Square.
After meeting with David, I studied the 1974 Soria opinion of Judge Harry Pregerson of the 9th Circuit Court. In this document Pregerson cited Oxnard School Board minutes and stated:
To implement the "principle of segregation," the minutes for November 1936 to June 1939 show how Oxnard's School Board not only established and maintained segregated schools, but also established and maintained segregated classrooms within a school. Where segregated classrooms existed within a school, the Board had the additional problem of keeping children of different ethnic groups from playing together. In addressing this problem, the Board debated the feasibility of staggered playground periods and release times. Feasibility also dictated some exceptions to the Board's general principle of segregation. . . . . (Minutes for September 13, December 12, and December 21, 1938.)
Interesting. Then my eyes locked on to the computer screen as I read that in a 1937 board meeting Trustee J.H. Burfeind called for all “‘Mexican’ children living south of Fifth Street to attend the Haydock School, leaving all white and oriental children living south of Fifth Street in the Roosevelt and Wilson schools [in the north side of town]. The moving of Oriental children living south of Fifth Street to the Haydock School will be taken into consideration in case of future emergency, and no further shifting of pupils is intended.” The goal then was to carry out this crass segregation plan “with as little fuss as possible.”
Amazing. The apartheid-like feeling I internalized as a child crossing north of the Fifth Street twilight zone was not a figment of my imagination; it was de jure policy in the city of Oxnard. This is going to be a rich project. Stay tuned.