Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tall Dark & Chicano

There are people of Mexican origins who speak of Chicanas and Chicanos as though they have gone the way of dinosaurs—no longer around, if not extinct. For others, the image of Chicanas and Chicanos is frozen in the time of 1960s street protestors with raised fists. But as Chicanas and Chicanos still take to the streets when necessary, they have also infiltrated board rooms (political and, some, corporate I imagine), the faculty and administrations of academe, and other institutions. As I write, I am reminded of the ending of Luis Valdez’s Los Vendidos (The Sellouts) play in which Mexican characters representing stereotypes map out the infiltration of Chicanos throughout the nation, even Rumford, Maine.

The label of Chicana/Chicano is well alive. Last night I enjoyed George Lopez’s Tall Dark & Chicano show. Lopez stood before yet another sold out show at the 7,000 seat Nokia Theatre L.A. Live. It was very funny as well as affirming of the syncretic culture that is Chicana/o. Similar to previous tours, Lopez’s comedic stories contrasted his late baby boom upbringing in the San Fernando Valley with that of today’s adolescents. Toward the end of the show, Lopez repeatedly implored audience members in their mid-twenties and thirties to savor their youth. His admonition reminded me of George Bernard Shaw’s adage, “Youth is wasted on the young.” (I thought it was Mark Twain but a quick Google tells me otherwise).

Unlike his 2005 show at the Universal Gibson Amphitheatre, Lopez was also more political in that he took jabs at the outgoing W and the Terminator. He also condemned the creation of a wall along the US-Mexico border. He compared the creation of a nativist inspired wall like putting on a condom after having sex since some 45 million Latinos already live in the US. He also characterized the social-political present as “our time.” Lopez meant that a cultural-demographic shift was presently taking place. As I listened, I thought of a host of issues that our society needs to address in this regard, mainly having to do with education.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasons Creatings: Carey McWilliams

As a fanatic of Peter Richardson’s “Stray Thoughts on California Culture” blog, I have been intrigued, but not surprised, by the promotion of Carey McWilliams’ books by Gustavo Arellano and D.J. Waldie. McWilliams influenced the careers of many writers and academics, as Peter has said—particularly those in Chicana/o Studies. Brown University historian Matt Garcia (and Claremont Graduate School classmate), for example, wrote his dissertation and first book on the Padua Players of Claremont. McWilliams first wrote on the Padua Institute that sponsored the Players within North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States (1948). In fact, the title of Matt’s 2001 book (A World of Its Own) is taken from McWilliams’ discussion of the Southern California citrus belt within Southern California: An Island on the Land (1946). I also suspect that McWilliams’ “The Forty Blonde Babies” within North From Mexico inspired Linda Gordon to write The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (1999). In my own work, I have tentatively titled my manuscript A Curious Union in reference to McWilliams’ observation within North From Mexico regarding how unique it was for sugar refining magnates to partner with family owned farms to advance the growing of sugar beets in the West. This, in fact, was one “curious union” among many that took place in the Southern California coastal city of Oxnard which my manuscript centers. First, the city was founded by the New York Oxnard brothers who owned the American Beet Sugar Company and recruited local landowners to grow sugar beets. Second, the Oxnard Plain was a site where Japanese and Mexican betabeleros (sugar beet workers) and labor contractors curiously united in 1903 to combat a fifty percent wage cut at the hands of the Western Agricultural Contracting Company. And third, many cross-cultural alliances developed in relation to leisure, labor, and community during the first-half of the twentieth century, one involving Cesar Chavez. Hence, I find it fitting that the concept of “curious unions” be the thesis of my book. Will see.

To further ground my obra within the existing body of scholarly literature on the region, I have been studying Kevin Starr’s magisterial Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s. Today I read on the importance of the Automobile Club of Southern California in relation to its publication of Touring Topics beginning in 1909 and renamed in 1934 Westways. Starr states that Touring Topics was “a serious, well-edited journal of travel, history, cultural commentary, and informed promotionalism. Touring Topics was the Overland Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly even of Southern California. . . .” And low and behold, as a 24 year member of the Automobile Club I found in my mail this very day the Special Centennial Edition of Westways. Within in it, Kevin Starr writes a tribute to Carey McWilliams as McWilliams authored a monthly column for the Automobile Clup magazine titled “Tides West” from 1934 to 1939. In this piece, Starr credits McWilliams as “the finest nonfiction writer California has ever produced, and the leading interpreter of the state up to the mid-20th century.” I am left wondering, however, who Starr recognizes as the leading interpreter of the region since the 1950s, especially with McWilliams varied credentials as a journalist, historian, civil rights activist, and cultural critic. None come readily to mind, as Peter Richardson has pondered.

In closing, there is no one book of Carey McWilliams that I would suggest for you to purchase. They are all great, so just pick one depending on your current interest and need. But I am confident in saying that you will mostly likely find three books within arms reach of many scholars of Chicana/o history and they are: Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers, depending on her or his baptismal year into Chicana/o Studies an edition of Rudy Acuña’s Occupied America, and McWilliams’ North from Mexico.

Happy holidays,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Alinsky Connection

It has been some time since my last post. But here is an essay that was printed today in the Ventura County Star. A dear friend in Texas also emailed me stating that the San Benito News also published this essay. Peter Richardson provided feedback on earlier drafts of this piece. Thanks Queta and Peter.


Ventura County Star November 2, 2008

The Alinsky, Chavez, Obama connection
Sunday, November 2, 2008

If recent polling holds true, a former community organizer from Chicago will be America's next president. Barack Obama's success thus far has been largely attributed to his efficient grass-roots voter-registration campaign and pensive eloquence. Meanwhile, detractors like Fox News and author Jerome Corsi have sought to discredit Obama by linking him to Saul Alinsky.

Before John McCain, Corsi, on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes," accused the Obama campaign of seeking to redistribute wealth and creating a "cult of personality" similar to that of Cesar Chavez "borrowed directly from the organization of the farm workers going back four decades."

According to Corsi, Obama must be feared for his promotion of economic justice and empowering the near powerless — two core principles of Alinsky.

Cesar Chavez I know, but who is Saul Alinsky? I asked the same question 10 years ago after attending a Teatro Campesino production in Orange County. The theater company was inspired by Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s, and after the show, UFW activists led a series of call-and-response cheers: "Que viva Cesar Chavez! Que viva! Que viva Dolores Huerta! Que viva!"

Paeans to other Chicano icons followed. Then came a less-familiar blast: "Que viva Saul Alinsky!" The crowd roared its answer, but I was stumped. Alinsky wasn't a surname I had heard during my Chicano upbringing. Saul, yes. But not Alinsky! As a history professor at Cypress College, I was too embarrassed to ask anyone in the crowd that day.

Later, I learned that Alinsky founded the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation, which sent battle-tested organizers to train and develop local leaders on issues related to voting, discrimination and police brutality. In his classic treatise, "Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals," Alinsky showed how working-class blacks and white ethnics could work together to end employer discrimination and municipal neglect.

For example, to influence elites holding power to make concessions, "Rules for Radicals" proposed the tactic of threatening to have community activists purchase 100 seats for a symphony performance in Rochester, N.Y. Beforehand, the attendees would enjoy bowls of baked beans with subsequent "obvious consequences" as they sat in their concert seats.

To persuade an upscale department store to change its discriminatory hiring practices, Alinsky suggested that protesters order all items in sight, have them shipped C.O.D., and then refuse delivery later. These two tactics signaled that long-standing privileges would be threatened if a community withheld basic rights from its most disadvantaged residents.

One of Alinsky's disciples, Fred Ross, founded Community Service Organization chapters throughout California after World War II. In Los Angeles, the CSO worked with Chicano activists to promote English and citizenship classes, voter-registration drives, and get-out-the vote campaigns. To aid Edward R. Roybal's election to the Los Angeles City Council in 1949, the CSO registered 12,000 new voters. Roybal became the first Mexican-American to sit on the City Council since the 1880s, and he later represented Los Angeles in Congress for 30 years.

One of Ross' protégés was Cesar Chavez. Like his mentor, Chavez traveled the state developing CSO chapters and leaders. After asking community members to invite neighbors, co-workers and family to a house meeting, Chavez listened to their problems and organized them to demand redresses to their grievances. His success led Alinsky and Ralph Helstein, president of the United Packinghouse Workers of America, to summon Ross and Chavez to San Francisco in 1958 to discuss the creation of a CSO chapter in Ventura County. Helstein believed that a CSO there could buttress the UPWA's efforts to combat the citrus industry's exploitation of bracero guest workers.

Impact on Ventura County
So, with a hefty budget worth about $144,000 now, Chavez listened to community complaints in house meetings, tapped into the energies of activists and assisted Mexican residents with their everyday problems. From a long series of house and community meetings, the Ventura County CSO increased enrollments in English language classes, guided longtime Mexican residents through the naturalization process and registered citizens for the 1958 election. On Election Day, CSO organizers worked tirelessly to get out the vote. In the Oxnard barrio community of La Colonia, turnout was an impressive 82 percent. The CSO had convinced residents that showing up to the polls could bring about social change.

Months later, Chavez would use the apparatus of the 1958 election to organize Ventura County domestic farm workers to combat the Goliath-like might of the agricultural industry. Indeed, short-lived successes in this struggle inspired Chavez to leave the CSO a few years later to start his own national farmer workers union in Delano. It was here that Chavez used the strategy of organizing one true believer, one household, one community at a time to bring about hope for the future.

So, in the midst of an economic recession in 1958, disciples of Alinsky used his rules of radicalism to empower men, women and children to believe in themselves.

And today Obama's ground game of true believers is getting out the vote in highly contested states such as Florida, Missouri and Ohio. Similar to the diligent work of Chicago's Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and California's CSO, the Obama campaign has inspired a new generation of citizens to participate actively in our democracy and this is good, no matter what Fox News and Corsi would want you to believe. Que viva Saul Alinsky!

— Frank P. Barajas is an associate professor of history at California State University Channel Islands. Barajas is writing a book on labor and community in Ventura County titled, "A Curious Union: Activism and Community to the Rise of Cesar Chavez."

©2008 Ventura County Star

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beijing Olympic Freestyle Champion: Henry Cejudo

Twenty-one year old Henry Cejudo won the gold medal in the 55-kilogram (121 lbs) weight class today against Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga.

Congratulations, Henry!

The Petro Bandito

Yesterday, a reader of my blog gifted me the latest copy of The Milken Institute Review: A Journal of Economic Policy, not necessarily for the article (one of several) within it by Laurence Kerr titled, “Whither Mexico?” but to share with me yet another stereotype depicting Mexicans trapped in the early twentieth century. The cover of this issue of TMIR imagines a Mexican bandit (He could be a revolutionario. Who knows? They are the same to many) panoplied with bandoliers, a gruff countenance, PEMEX safety helmet substituting for a sombrero, and instead of holding a 30/30 carabina this oil vandal passively holds a gas nozzle, all the while sitting on top of a dreary looking caballo.

I realize that many publications, even serious ones like the TMIR, find it necessary to caricature subjects on their covers to catch the attention of readers but it is interesting how entrenched stereotypes are updated, and in the process reinforce popular views of groups. Instead of the Frito Bandito we have today in the TMIR’s cover the petro bandito. Past covers of the TMIR similarly fantasize stereotypical depictions of national symbols (like Uncle Sam being a jocular, elder Anglo Saxon), groups, and a number of eroticized women ( ).

The problem with stereotypes, however, is that they drastically limit how we view reality, and ultimately how we act as a result. I wonder how many PEMEX executives, or company employees for that matter, of today actually ride around oil fields, calculate profits, or distribute gasoline atop of horses, complete with 30/30 ammo?

BTW: Kerr, a former minister-counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, writes a succinct, yet insightful, economic critique of the policies of Mexican presidential administrations since the 1930s. I am left to wonder what stereotypes of Kerr and his peer group floats within the minds of the people at TMIR?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A New Program in Chicana/o Studies

With the start of the fall 2008 semester approaching, California State University Channel Islands will inaugurate its Chicana/o Studies: Transborder Communities BA degree ( ). To assist in leading the implementation of this new and innovative program in Chicana/o Studies, CSUCI successfully recruited Associate Professor José M. Alamillo from Washington State University. Professor Alamillo is the author of the well received book "Making Lemonade Out of Lemons, Mexican American Labor and Leisure in a California Town, 1880-1960." The core argument of this groundbreaking study contends that Mexican men and women in the lemon industry company town of Corona (in Riverside County) tapped into the inner-workings of leisure sites for organized political action.

The son of parents who labored in the packinghouses and citrus orchards of Ventura County, Professor Alamillo is returning home. He is also the product of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Education Opportunity Program (EOP). His participation in the programming of EOP began when he was in middle school as it implemented strategies to capture the imagination of K-12 students historically underserved and underrepresented in academe. After earning a BA degree in Sociology and Communication Studies, Professor Alamillo went onto the University of California at Irvine to obtain his doctorate in Comparative Cultures.

For the fall semester, Professor Alamillo will teach courses in Chicana/o History and Culture, Chicanas/os in Contemporary Society, and Chicana/o Studies Service Learning and Civic engagement. The service learning course will focus on capturing the oral histories of people who directly participated in or who were associated with the Bracero Program. These oral testimonies will then be contributed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History to be apart of its permanent collection in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Old and New Mexicans

On the way to the Santa Monica Promenade and pier yesterday, I drove by a Malibu restaurant with a giant statute of a supposed Mexican stoically serving food. What meanings exist behind such images that market food? Paradoxically, icons advertizing for two Mexican food restaurants in Southern California portray Mexican men as gargantuan and “super” while being frozen in time and indolent.

Although many stereotypes continue to define Mexicans and Chicanas/os, my muse is grounded in the memory of the Frito Bandito commercials of the late 1960s and ‘70s. (Frito Bandito Song) Should these updated stereotypes be a concern?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Crossing the Line

“Frankie, vete a la tienda y compra (go to the store and buy) . . . . . “Un carton de leche” (a half-gallon carton of milk), sour cream, unas papas (potatoes), “a pound of carne molida, extra lean” (hamburger). Vivid in my memory is the day I crossed the United Farm Workers’ union picket line boycotting a South Oxnard market in the early 1970s. I must have been 10 years old. As I approached a crowd, made larger in their holding intrepid red and white flags with a defiant black eagle at the center, I was struck by the drama of activism by a people, my people, that I never witnessed demonstrate in such a way. I did not want to enter the small neighborhood market for I felt, almost instinctively, sympathetic to their protest; at the same time I feared the wrath of mom for not fulfilling “mi mandado” (my errand). As I gazed at the brown faces of the picketers I considered “grandpa” and “grandma”, long time citizens, one by birth the other naturalized, on dad’s side and abuelita (grandmother) on my mother’s who picked and packed lemons, lettuce, plums, and other crops throughout California for much of the 20th century. Nonetheless I crossed the line.

Although I never picked a fruit or vegetable for a living, as a Chicano born and raised in Ventura County I lived in a cross-cultural community of agricultural workers. I remember visiting the homes of Filipino, Japanese, and Mexican families and viewing mud-caked trucks and boots in the driveway of homes. My family regularly received bounties of delicious strawberries, lemons, and celery gratis from our friends and neighbors; what could not be consumed we redistributed. The exchange of free produce strengthened communal bonds. I also eavesdropped on adult conversations sharing the experiences of work in the packing sheds and canneries, peppered with the word la union (the union).

While in graduate school I interviewed my grandmothers about their lives. They recounted the challenges they faced as women, workers, and mothers. Grandma talked about the freedom employment at the Oxnard Seaboard packinghouse afforded her in regards to escaping the isolated confines of the home; grandpa allowed her to work after my aunts and uncles left the nest. Mi abuelita explained how she migrated to the US as a 45 year old single mother while toeing three young daughters from Chihuahua, Mexico. A family friend, married to a Filipino, assisted my abuelita’s entrance into the land of sun and money—more sun than money. Although mi abuelita never returned to Chihuahua she referred to it as mi tierra natal (my homeland), along with the heroics of Pancho Villa. Both grandma and abuelita also spoke of la union.

Grandma related the family’s eviction from Rancho Sespe during the countywide citrus strike of 1941. Pickers and packers of the Agricultural and Citrus Workers Union (ACWU) desired union recognition, a ten cent raise in hourly pay from 30 to 40 cents (adjusted for inflation translating to $5.75), and compensation for la hora mojada or wet time—the idle morning period crews spent in the orchards waiting for fruit to dry before its harvest. Being that grandpa was a union organizer, the Barajas family, like many other families who for generations lived in the company housing of Rancho Sespe, suddenly found themselves homeless. Fortunately, Franklin Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration established tent cities (nicknamed Teaguevilles after the Limoneira owner Charles Teague) for displaced citrus workers. Meanwhile, los missourees, Dust Bowl migrants, took over their homes and jobs. In this story, ACWU leader “Pedro” Pete Petersen’s name is in an important figure in this family’s story of labor activism.

Abuelita’s historical deposition, on the other hand, expressed the sense of empowerment Cesar Chavez instilled in her. In fact, abuelita also became a UFW organizer while working on a Japanese owned farm. With tears in her eyes, her daughter expressed the sense of humiliation when growers required strawberry pickers to constantly blow whistles to prevent them from eating the fruit as they worked. At one point, abuelita fired back at an overseer at one ranch in stating that she was a human being, not an animal. When I spoke to abuelita about Cesar Chavez she spoke of him with the same reverence as when she talked about Pancho Villa—a person who championed the cause of the underdog.

The history of farm workers struggling for dignity in the form of a living wage and humane working condition is long and highlighted by UFW campaigns in the Southwest. And although the five year long farm worker strike in Delano dominates the state’s memory, lesser known rebellions took place throughout the state. Indeed, in 1974 the UFW launched a 4 month long strike against the strawberry growers of Ventura County. The collusion of local public agencies with agribusiness evidenced itself when sheriff’s department helicopters attempted to disperse UFW picket lines by hovering directly above protestors; in fact, one drifted so low a UFW protester retaliated by hurling rocks at it. This, however, only afforded law enforcement the pretext they needed to aggressively arrest him and others who came to his defense. Protest has a price.

As I drive by the fields of the Oxnard Plain on my way to work every day, I muse upon the challenges of men and women who labor in them today and ask myself: Do their families enjoy improved opportunities than those of my grandparents? Do they earn a living wage? Are they adequately protected from the effects of pesticides? Can they form a union without the terror of being fired or deported? I do not know the answer to some of these questions; but I am sure of one thing. If a UFW picket line forms at my grocery store I will not cross the line. I will join it.


Friday, March 14, 2008

(Chicana/o) History Matters

Image: Rodolfo Acuña©2008, Harry Gamboa Jr.

On the evening of March 11, R.F. Acuña lectured on his new book Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933. A timely monograph in relation to the current debate on immigration from Mexico, the argument of Corridors attests that since the 17th century Mexicans existed within a tierra natal (homeland), if you will, in the current US Southwest. Indeed, migrant Mexican families from Chihuahua and Sonora in northern Mexico hop scotched from one industrial region to another, and in the process recreated tierra natals in places such as Los Angeles and Arvin in the San Joaquin Valley and monikered their adopted communities Chihuahuitas after the state from which they came. In short, R.F. Acuña historically demonstrated that Mexicans of the past and present are anything but uninvited, immigrant aliens. In fact, their current presence is part of long tradition of labor recruitment and migration in what is today the United States.

As part of his W.P. Whitsett lecture at CSU Northridge, R.F. Acuña began his talk by crediting Carey McWilliams—the prodigious and prescient author of many books, one being North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States—and his longtime CSU Northridge colleague historian Leonard Pitt—author of the California history classic Decline of the California’s: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890—for modeling the intrinsic force of cogent writing. And during an academic craze for cultural studies and all that is post-modern, R.F. Acuña emphasized the historian’s importance in creating new narratives on the foundation of extant primary evidence. In this regard, he stated that he never read an endnote he didn’t love.

In the process of his story telling, R.F. Acuña integrated descriptions of his methodology, humor (that expressed an affinity for British historians with their catchy abbreviated names such as E.P. Thompson, E.J. Hobsbawm, and A.J.P. Taylor), and answering questions from a captivated audience of 100.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Salud Carbajal is No Santa Barbara Fantasy

Oxnard’s adopted native son, Salud Carbajal, will have an easy time in his reelection to the prodigiously affluent 1st District seat of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. The Santa Barbara Independent attributed Carbajal’s talent to politically fund raise over $395,000 by the January filling period coupled with an affable disposition as central reasons in staving off a challenge to his seat.

BTW: Salud is an Oxnard High School alum of the class of 1983 and my compadre. His determination to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara out of high school inspired many of his classmates (me included) to enroll in college preparatory courses in the ultimate pursuit of baccalaureate degrees. This is particularly significant when one considers that over 50% of our peers dropped out of school, some as early as the ninth grade.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Smithsonian Institution Bracero History Project Town Hall

Last Tuesday evening, on March 26, approximately 150 persons answered the call of the Smithsonian Institution, in partnership with California State University Channel Islands, to participate in the Bracero History Project that seeks to preserve the memories and artifacts of former braceros who worked the farm factories of the United States from 1942 to 1964. Indeed, daughters, sons, and grandchildren accompanied braceros to Oxnard’s cultural center of Chicana/o art and community, the Café on A, to document their narratives to the nation’s history. In all, forty braceros volunteered their names to CSUCI students to participate in this important oral history project.

The stories of former braceros, and those who lived and worked with them, are of particular significance today as national leaders of the United States and Mexico reference the Bracero Program as a template to formulate a comprehensive immigration reform policy. The shortcomings of the Bracero Program of the past must be given special attention, however, as to protect the interests of workers and their families on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Documented by Ernesto Galarza as early as the late 1940s and Cesar Chavez the following decade, endemic problems with the Bracero Program entailed braceros working under the continuous threat of deportation if they complained about working conditions, the depression of the existing wage rate of resident agricultural workers, and collusion between state and federal agencies with agricultural associations in the subsidized acquisition and control of braceros. In fact, Carey McWilliams characterized the government’s transfer of the supervision of the Bracero Program from the diligent Farm Security Administration to the War Food Administration in 1943 as “tantamount to turning the whole program over to the farm associations.” Furthermore, the industry's leaders steadily employed braceros in an expanding array of jobs displacing resident workers.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Bracero History Project, in partnership with students throughout the nation like those at California State University Channel Islands, will surely promote a more complete appreciation of this labor program.

For interesting images visit:
The one above is titled: Bracero workers being fumigated (with DDT)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Op.Ed. Ventura County Star

I received a holiday card this year with a special surprise from Sylvia Mendez. It was a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating the precedent-setting Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County et al. (1946). As a graduate student in the early 1990s, I had the privilege of interviewing Sylvia and her mother, Felicitas, in their Fullerton home. Felicitas and her husband, Gonzalo, were the lead plaintiffs in a suit challenging their children's segregation in "Mexican schools."

The case demonstrated that systematic discrimination in the United States was not limited to African-Americans in the South but also targeted blacks, Asian Americans and Chicanos throughout the Southwest.

The Mendez decision held that separate-but-equal practices violated the constitutional rights of Chicano schoolchildren. Thurgood Marshall, lawyer for the NAACP and future U.S. Supreme Court justice, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Mendez plaintiffs. The following year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, but school boards throughout the state resisted desegregation remedies for decades.

In 1954, when Marshall successfully challenged the separate-but-equal doctrine as it applied to African-American children in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education, he cited the Mendez ruling.

Studying the Mendez case led me to wonder about historically high dropout rates among Chicanos. Over the years, I've asked Chicano parents, grandparents and great-grandparents throughout Ventura County about their schooling. The elders I spoke with described Mexican schools in Ventura, Santa Paula and Fillmore that were both separate from, and unequal to, those attended by white children.

And where budgets precluded the creation of Mexican schools, districts established segregated spaces within the schools. At the Woodrow Wilson School in Oxnard, for example, officials physically separated students of African, Asian and Mexican ancestry from their white peers, both in the classrooms and the playground. One person I interviewed said that Chicano children often relieved themselves behind trees because the nearest restroom was on the side of the playground designated for white students.

The same senior citizens also recalled the corporal punishment meted out to children who spoke Spanish at school. One Fullerton College counselor lamented the tight-lipped confusion he and his classmates endured. Unable to answer his teachers in English, and prohibited from speaking Spanish, he mostly remained silent while attending a Mexican school in Orange County. Chicano students who survived elementary and middle school were often tracked away from college preparatory courses and toward vocational and home economic classes.

Alienated and marginalized, 50 percent of Chicano youths dropped out — some contend they were pushed out — and then had to overcome educational handicaps to compete in the job market.

Southern California school districts weren't always quick to implement school desegregation. Before the Mendez and Brown decisions, Oxnard built neighborhood elementary schools (Juanita and Ramona) yards away from each other to prevent Chicano children of La Colonia from venturing outside their barrio for their education. In 1974, almost three decades after Mendez, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Pregerson used, in Debbie and Doreen Soria et al., Plaintiffs, v. Oxnard School District Board of Trustees, school board minutes from 1934 to show the "explicit intent to racially segregate its elementary school students." He ordered the Oxnard School District to implement a desegregation plan.

Desegregation was usually slow when it came at all, and recent studies show that American communities — and schools — are resegregating rapidly. The Mendez case reminds us that the problems of social equity now facing our children may be complex, but they're not wholly unprecedented. Income based on the education that persons received in previous generations now plays a large role in determining what neighborhoods their progeny live and where they send or do not send their children to school. This is the new face of segregation. If there is one thing that history reminds us it is that the struggle for social justice continues. Thank you for the stamp, Sylvia Mendez.
Ventura County Star

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

An Invading Army: A Civil Gang Injunction in A Southern California Chicana/o Community

During my six years of probationary status as an assistant professor at California State University Channel Islands, I learned that self promotion is an important attribute in advancing one’s career in academe. With this in mind, I announce that my latest peer-reviewed journal publication in Latino Studies is now out. The essay explores the dramatic institution of a civil gang injunction in the city of Oxnard. To obtain a free copy visit: