Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A LatinoLA Reader Response

I posted my blog essay on the one year anniversary demonstration of the Oxnard police killing of Alfonso Limon Jr on İLATINO LA! and received the email below from "Frankie Firme" who was raised in the San Gabriel Valley.

I read with distinct interest your article in LatinoLA about the youth killed in Oxnard by police, and the family’s endeavor to find justice.

For many years, I myself have supported community causes in search of justice, and I now support yours.

Many times as a youth growing up in the San Gabriel Valley neighborhood of Bassett, I was harassed along with my friends for daring to cruise into West Covina
during the late 1960’s & early 1970’s when it was primarily white. We were always pulled over for DWB ( Driving While Brown) and harassed, frisked, and forced to sit
on a curb facing traffic & the public, while our cars were searched, and back seats pulled completely out of the car and thrown to the curb.

Police would just laugh and tell us to “ Leave West Covina and go back to your side of town or Tijauna” , and follow us to the edge of town.

In 1971, 2 Chicanas, Kathy Zozaya & Rosalyn Macias, both 14 years old, were run over and killed by a white drunk driver in La Puente who had a previous DUI record .
Court was held in West Covina, in front of a white judge, and he was given probation. When the community protested, the media painted us all as “trouble makers”.

Justice was never served. I never forgot that….never will.

My compliments & respects.

Frank “Frankie Firme” A.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Past as Present: Community Protest and the Police

Over 150 people spoke on Sunday, October 13, at Camino Del Sol Park in Oxnard, some serenely and others with strong demands for justice, in observance of the one year anniversary of the police killing of Alfonso Limon Jr. As I observed the Limon family distribute t-shirts before the event with the image of Alfonso on the front and the names of nine Oxnard Police Department officers on the back, a woman approached me to ask I was Professor Barajas. I said I was. She informed me that her name was Rebecca Limon, the sister of Alfonso, and that she was a student of mine at California State University Channel Islands.

Rebecca expressed interest in my presence. I said that as a historian I periodically document the actions of the Chicano community by writing op-ed essays to situate current events within in a historical frame. I then asked if her family considered a request to the California Office of the Attorney General to investigate the killing of her brother. With grace Rebecca explained that the process first entailed an investigation from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and an inquiry by Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, the Limon family will continue to seek answers and the timely prosecution of justice.

Rebecca’s sisters echoed this message in a circle of unity before the commencement of a peaceful protest march through the streets of La Colonia and Oxnard Boulevard.

As I listened to the words of the Limon family and members of Todo Poder Al Pueblo and observed a prayer service conducted by Aztec dancers, I panned the audience of community elders, youth, college professors, parents, infants in strollers, and students and alumni of my institution, CSU Channel Islands. Their presence mirrored moments of the recent and not so distant past when the Mexican community of Ventura County protested the perceived and real oppressive actions of law enforcement.

For example, in 1900 leaders of the Mexican community summoned the Mexican consul in Los Angeles to investigate the fiery death of two Mexican nationals in an Oxnard jail. Forty-five years later, the Mexican community of Oxnard protested the police use of batons and tear gas to break up a peaceful outdoor celebration along the boulevard.

When Police Chief George Pryor was confronted by members of the community he responded, “The tear gas wasn’t much good, anyway. . . We had it for a long time, and it gets weaker as it gets older. Why, it didn’t make’em cry very much. . . .”

In 1956, the OPD again fired tear gas as they stormed a crowd that enjoyed the festivities of a Cristo Rey Church bazaar in La Colonia after a reported disturbance. Tony Del Buono, Vera Gonzales, John Soria, and other activists formed the Oxnard Civic Improvement Association to collectively protest such abuse of power. Two years later in 1958, the OCIA converted itself to the Community Service Organization of Ventura County with Cesar E. Chavez as its director. A central concern of the CSO was police brutality.

Police relations in La Colonia had become strained to the point that many residents, particularly its youth, viewed law enforcement as not their protectors but as an agency that violated their rights with impunity. This expressed itself in 1958 when police officers responded to a boy being struck by a car in La Colonia. As they arrived at the scene, they found themselves pelted by rocks and bottles launched by neighborhood youths.

In my research of the Chicano Movement in Ventura County, long-time civically engaged citizens have shared stories how the police stopped African American and Mexican origin residents that dared to venture into white neighborhoods. In April of 1972 Mexican origin youth demonstrated against this sort of harassment by the Santa Paula Police. One Santa Paula police officer in particular was infamous for pulling over Chicanos who cruised the town to throw their car keys into an adjacent orchard.

It is this history and similar contemporary experiences generally not reported in the media that is absent from the public’s mind when considering peaceful yet militant demonstrations such at those organized by Todo Poder and the families who have lost loved ones to police violence.

As heartbreaking as the killing of Alfonso is, the Limon family is patient and determined to obtain answers to why and how he died at the hands of Oxnard Police Department. With the support of people in Ventura County and many others outside the area, they will wait for the legal process of justice to take its course.

Con Safos

A version of this post was published in the Ventura County Star.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Preoccupying Observation

Image: Los Angeles Times

Twice, on my way home from the gym last winter, around 6:15am, I noticed a tractor in a strawberry field that surrounds Oxnard High School. The headlights cut through the dark, the tanks contained some chemical, and its extended arms sprayed a mist. The driver donned a full protective suit.

As I drove by on Gonzales Road both times, I considered how the aerosol of the fumigant would affect, immediately or deferred, high schoolers that walked to campus within the next hour.

And as I started my morning constitutional around the perimeter of my workplace, California State University Channel Islands, this past week another tractor blanketed the crops (perhaps cabbage, who knows) off Potrero Road with some substance. This time, the driver did not wear a white panoply or respirator. So I worried about this person’s well-being, the students that resided in the dorms across the street and mine as I walked away faster.

The scene of crop spraying is common on the Oxnard Plain that encompasses the communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Somis, and Camarillo. In this rurban (not completely rural or urban) corridor, the business of agribusiness is in open view. Petrochemicals are part of the air we breathe, especially for fieldworkers. They are the most vulnerable. That is a central reason why strawberry pickers are covered and masked in clothing from head to toe, even during the hottest of days.

This leads me to ask, what is being sprayed on our food? How do such chemicals affect the health and well-being of farmworkers? Can such spraying take place earlier in the morning or later in evening so that farmworkers and our children will not be as exposed? Perhaps, non-profit, private, and government agencies can effectively provide the public with answers?

Con Safos

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Imperial Agriculture: A Curious Unions Talk

Image: Los Angeles Public Library

I will give a talk based on my book Curious Unions this Saturday, May 11th, at the Ventura E.P. Foster Library starting at 6pm.

A focus of the presentation will be on the history of farm worker housing on the Oxnard Plain.

As I have done previously, I will contextualize the creation of my book in how it challenges the Jeffersonian myth (the alloy of agricultural fact, fiction, distortion, and the omission of historical truths). In this regard, I have referenced in previous presentations this year’s Dodge Ram Super Bowl XLVII “Farmer” commercial.

To compare the Dodge Ram Midwestern perspective of the “Farmer,” here is Salvador Barajas’s “The Idea of Farmers”, a more inclusive photographic interpretation of the Paul Harvey verse.

See you at the E.P. Foster Library.

Con Safos