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Newsletter: A new history of Chicanos in Ventura County

The cover of a book is shown.
A copy of “Mexican Americans With Moxie” by Cal State Channel Islands professor Frank P. Barajas
(Gustavo Arellano / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 27. I’m Gustavo Arellano.

Cal State Channel Islands history professor Frank P. Barajas is living the barrio nerd dream.

Born and raised in Oxnard, he attended Moorpark College before embarking on an academic career across California. But Barajas came back home in 2001, as one of the founding faculty members of Channel Islands, the most recent Cal State campus to open. Since then, he has taught a generation of students about American history, California history, Chicano history — and the many intersections between the three.

In his off time, Barajas has devoted himself to writing essays and books about the history of Chicanos in Ventura County. His first book, “Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961" came out in 2012 and took readers from the earliest days of Mexicans in Ventura County to a young Cesar Chavez, whose time organizing in Ventura County made him describe it years later as “the most vicious” place where his United Farm Workers had tried to organize.

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Now, Barajas has published “Mexican Americans With Moxie: A Transgenerational History of El Movimiento Chicano in Ventura County, California, 1945-1975.” It’s a weighty title, but Barajas wisely doesn’t allow academic jargon to get in the way of great stories the rest of Southern California should learn — because, you know, Ventura County is part of Southern California.

Barajas answered a couple of questions I sent him. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What drives you to cover all this? The history of Mexican Americans in Ventura County seems like such a niche topic for folks who aren’t from there.

I find it critical that colonized people write their own history, as Chinua Achebe charged in his relaying of “Until the lions have their historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” proverb. That is why I quote him at the start of “Mexicans Americans With Moxie.” Because if we don’t write our own histories, outsiders will, and we may not like how we are portrayed.

For the rest of Southern California, Ventura County is usually thought of in stereotypes. Conservative eastern suburbs, super-rich Ojai, blue-collar Oxnard, Ventucky and a bunch of farmland. How does your book go past this facile understanding?

Conservatism, socioeconomic fault lines around race and ethnicity were normalized and experienced in my development. But Oxnard, the city where I was born and raised, ran this gamut with folk on its beaches and northside and its working-class barrios. Ethnic Mexicans in positions of power and authority were few. In “Mexican Americans With Moxie,” I wanted to tell the story of how people — my people — struggled and strived to live their lives with dignity at work and in their communities.

Who’s one activist in your book that people should know about as an unsung hero or shero of Southern California?

That’s a tough question because there are two must “really know about” heroes/sheroes for me. And that is Roberto Flores [father of noted musician Quetzal Flores] and Rachel Murguia Wong.

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As a UCLA student in the late 1960s, Flores championed the cause of agricultural workers and demanded educational justice for Chicanas/os. He did this as a founder of the Brown Berets in Oxnard and as an organizer for the UFW. Flores’ selfless community activism lives to the present as he continues at the Eastside Café in El Sereno and is part of the reclamation of unoccupied houses owned by Caltrans to place families in affordable homes.

As a married, middle-class mother of four children during the Chicano movement, Murguia Wong served on several college and community advisory boards, and volunteered her time widely. As an employee and later a board member of the Oxnard School District, she worked indefatigably to ensure equity in the delivery of an equitable education to all schoolchildren. Ultimately, Rachel, as a school board trustee, fought to make sure that the district fully complied with federal Judge Harry Pregerson ruling to desegregate its schools, classrooms and provide a culturally relevant instruction to children delivered by a diverse faculty and staff.

This is your second book on Ventura County Mexican American history. Any plans for a third volume that takes us to the present day?

There is this idea that el movimiento Chicana-Chicano dissipated into oblivion with the 1980s and many ethnic Mexicans of the Chicana/o generation selling out to become Hispanics. However, in the conclusion of “Mexican Americans With Moxie,” I proposed the research and writing of how women and men of el moviemento went on to careers in education, housing, law and healthcare, and the world of nonprofits to serve people in the agricultural communities of Ventura County. After a bit of rest and the regaining of my footing from the pandemic, I am going embark on this [next] project with a new sense of urgency and anger, as time is of the essence and people, especially youth, must know this history for the continuation of positive social change.

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

California Democrats urge Biden to “send us Afghan evacuees”: And this was before a suicide attack near the Kabul airport killed dozens, including 13 U.S. military members. Los Angeles Times

California’s top court declines to overhaul death penalty. This despite the wishes of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who wanted to overturn scores of death penalty convictions. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

“Visually incantatory and deeply affecting”: Loyola Marymount University professor Anna Harrison reviews “Rebel Hearts,” the recently released documentary about the Los Angeles congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns who antagonized the Archdiocese of Los Angeles hierarchy during the 1960s for their fervent championing of Matthew 5:5 by fighting for “better working conditions, including smaller class sizes and greater institutional support.” Commonweal

Gentefication vs. Gentrification: Montebello’s new “Blvd Market” container food hall is now open. But don’t dismiss it as a mere hipster magnet — there’s purpose here (shoutout to author Sean Vukan, my former student at Orange Coast College). L.A. Taco

Two former Chicano arts centers in Highland Park become historic landmarks: Speaking of Chicano history, Centro de Arte Publico and the Mechicano Art Center get some support in the beyond-gentrified neighborhood. Eastsider L.A.

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Coronavirus cases are spiking in the LAPD as officials finalize vaccination mandate and others push back: Brings a whole new meaning to “blue flu.” Los Angeles Times

California homicide rise becomes recall rallying cry, but experts question Newsom’s role: I’m just surprised the anti-Newsom folks haven’t blamed the Lakers’ post-season flameout on him ... yet. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Attacks on transgender women expose MS-13 gang’s grip on MacArthur Park: Every day, people who do business in the legendary greenspace must pay for a commodity those in more affluent neighborhoods do not even know exists — the right to be left alone by a gang. Los Angeles Times

How a Black prosecutor called out racism in the D.A.'s office: Writing under the alias Spooky Brown Esq., Adewale Oduye wrote a series of searing essays last year blasting the administration of then-L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. Los Angeles Times

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Scandal-plagued Chabad of Poway returns to family control as independent board steps down: Former Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein pleaded guilty last year to tax fraud in a case that has roiled the Jewish community of San Diego County. The Forward

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The ecology of good weed: A dispatch from an organic marijuana farm in the Emerald Triangle region of Northern California. Nautilus

When COVID-19 hit the indigenous communities in L.A., this group stepped in: My colleagues and I have written many times about the efforts of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) and Executive Director Odilia Romero, but it’s great to see them profiled in a fancy fashion magazine! Vogue

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

An afternoon with La Jolla surf legend Woody Ekstrom: Magic always happens when you stop by Captain Keno’s in Encinitas. La Jolla Light

Crear Studio hopes to give O.C. artists of color a home in Santa Ana: It’s the latest project of the chingona author and literary activist Sarah Rafael Garcia. TimesOC

“Living that mullet lifestyle”: Southern Humboldt man leads in championship hair event. Jesse McKee is one of the top 25 finalists in the USA Mullet Championship. Godspeed, good man, and let’s rock Queensrÿche in your Pontiac ‘79 Trans Am when you’re down here in SoCal. Times-Standard

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