Saturday, February 20, 2010

Never say never because . . .

I recall that when I was at Fresno State History Professor John W. Bohnstedt (a WWII refugee from Nazi Germany; his mother was Jewish) stated to the class that in history you avoid saying “‘never’ because ‘never’ is a long time.” In other words, change is constant. So when I read that both my retirement systems, Cal PERS and STRS, are underwater with regards to their long term sustainability, I remembered my professor as I once thought my financial golden years were never in jeopardy as a public employee.

But nothing is a sure thing in these current times when we have witnessed the overnight burning to ashes of the likes of corporate giants Lehman Brothers, GM, Toyota, and Tiger. Oh, well. I still got Social Security.


BTW: I loved the way Professor Bohnstedt pronounced my name with a German accent. Fronk

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Fifth Street Twilight Zone

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.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Continuity and Change

A boyhood recollection consists of the fragrance of my grandpa’s hair brilliantined with Tres Flores (Three Flowers). When he was at work at the lemon packinghouse, I would open my grandparent’s medicine cabinet to take a whiff of the Tres Flores bottle or jar—similar to what I did with Vicks, regularly. The perfume was soothing and culturally linked in my memory with what I closely associated as an aspect of what it was to grow up Mexican. As I entered junior high school and flirted with being a cholo-molo wannabe, as a husky adolescent I straightened my curly-brown hair with Tres Flores as though it would make an impression with the cholitas. It didn’t. I envied the slim and slick boys with straight, jet-black coiffures.

As I have balded over time, I no longer have a reason to lubricate my hands and head with this oil or jell. In an effort to vicariously relive my youth and continue this tradition in toiletry, I purchased a small jar of Tres Flores for my son. He too found the scent captivating. But he has quickly forsaken this hair oil. As historians know, change is the only thing that is continuous. Among Latino youth, I have been told, it is no longer fashionable to grease one’s hair with the old Three Flowers. What is now “in” is not so suave, at least in name. The new popular hair jell is called moco de GORILA.

Go figure. Any lingering doubt of my being a middle-aged, nerdy dad is now gone.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

That Smell

Great Oxnard ambrosia this morning. A hybrid fragance of a dairy, garbage dump, chicken ranch, and burning trash. Mi tierra natal. I love it. Kind of like what Duval's Colonel Kilgore character stated in Apocalyse Now, ". . .that gasoline smell. . . It smelled like. . . . victory. Someday this war is gonna end.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Old Gringo

True story. I went to visit my old man a couple of weeks ago at his laundry mat in Chiques. I walked up to him wearing a cap before saying, “Hey, dad! How’s it going?” He responded with a bit of relief in his voice, “Oh, it’s you mijo. I was wondering as you were walking up, ‘what does this tall gringo want from me?’” Wow. I still don’t know what to make of this comment, from my dad even, as I don’t identify with being white, much less tall at 5'11 and shrinking. Well, this does contradict the view of Gustavo Arellano (the Mexican) who contends that, “. . . Mexicans don’t call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos ‘gabachos.’” Then again my dad is a Mexican American and does often refer to Caucasians as both gabachos and gringos. So now I wonder (as a middle-aged man) if I should start viewing myself as an old gringo.