Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murgia of the Past and Present

Francisco Romero charges the Oxnard Police Department with retaliatory intimidation as he contests five citations for his participation in a march against police brutality on October 13, 2013.

An obscure 1975 California Supreme Court case, Murgia v. Municipal Court, serves as the basis for his complaint. In this decision, the justices unanimously found that the Kern County Sheriff's Department violated the equal protection clauses of the US and state constitutions against selective enforcement.

In its ruling, the court recognized the context of the case in which Jose Guadalupe Murguia [spelled correctly], an organizer, and his fellow United Farm Workers unionists, had been invidiously (unjustifiably) targeted by law enforcement. But when Teamsters—who agreed to sweetheart contracts with growers—and private agents of the agricultural industry violated the law, sheriff deputies chose not to take action.

As in Murgia, circumstantial evidence validates Romero's claim.

For example, as a member of Toda Poder Al Pueblo (All Power to the People), a grass roots civil rights organization in Ventura County, Romero previously participated in demonstrations against police brutality.

Prior to the October 13 protest for which the OPD cited Romero, a larger event occurred the year before on October 22, 2012 as part of a protest titled A National Day of Action Against Police Brutality.

About a week before this event, OPD officers killed Alfonso Limon in the barrio community of La Colonia. He was an innocent bystander who walked into a confrontation between police officers and an armed suspect.

Limon's death horrified a constituency within Ventura County already heated by the OPD killings of Robert Ramirez in June of 2012 and Michael Mahoney that August.

These tragedies and a history of tension with the police prompted close to, if not over, 1,000 people to join the National Day of Action in Oxnard.

These protestors assembled at a park in La Colonia, and then marched to the site where police officers inflicted 21 distinct gunshots at Limon. After a stop at this scene, the demonstrators continued their march to the OPD station.

On the way, the demonstrators clogged traffic on the city's main boulevard.

Once at OPD headquarters, half the crowd expressed its fury at the front of the building. The others jeered officers through the south-side gate of the station's parking lot.

Subsequently, residents in dialogue with the OPD leadership commended Police Chief Jeri Williams for the control she commanded over anxious officers, many outfitted with helmets and batons, while the station was under siege.

While the OPD publicly recognized the right of people to peacefully demonstrate, it also communicated its intention to protect the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

This is the context of Romero's case.

In an unsuccessful Murgia motion by Romero to have the citations dismissed, Commissioner Anthony Sabo ruled that the OPD did not issue the jaywalking citations with invidious discrimination as there ". . . was no showing the Defendant was targeted for prosecution for any reason other than, to the Defendant's misfortune, officers were able to identify him and observe his actions on video."

This is an intriguing ruling as the audio in the OPD surveillance video obtained by Romero's attorney, James P. Segall-Gutierrez, under a Murgia discovery motion, evidences the police identifying Romero by name as well as other protesters in the October 13 march who were not cited.

Supporters of Romero feel that the OPD would have overlooked his minor offense if he had not been a prominent critic of its conduct.

Furthermore, several of those identified in this demonstration previously and regularly denounced the OPD at the televised meetings of the Oxnard City Council, often in the presence of the police chief and her staff.

Even family members who had lost loved ones at the hands of OPD officers openly participated in all of the aforementioned demonstrations and city council meetings. But they were not cited.

The selective enforcement argument of Romero seems to have been enhanced recently as Elliott Gabriel, also a member of Todo Poder Al Pueblo, received two citations for impeding traffic as he rode a bicycle alongside an April 11, 2015 march of 100 people protesting an OPD officer's killing of Meagan Hockaday, 26, during a domestic violence call on March 28, 2015.

Gabriel claims that he was only person cited in this demonstration.

Moving forward in a trial scheduled to begin in August, Romero's attorney will argue that the OPD entrapped his client because an unlawful assembly was not declared. Segall-Gutierrez will also contend that Romero violated vehicle codes for which he was cited out of necessity and for the safety of the participants in the protest.

If the trial is not decided in Romero's favor, he vows to appeal the case under the Murgia motion against selective enforcement to the highest court of the land if necessary.


Ventura County Star; Amigos 805; LatinoLA

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Got Mine!

Eavesdrop long enough to their conversations where they meet and eventually you will hear students lament over the mountain of college debt they are accruing each school year.

The loans they will have to start making payment on six months after they graduate are enormous. They can range from $40-$100 thousand or more and will take most graduates decades to eliminate.

Hence, they are more than student loans; they are college mortgages.

Meanwhile, elected officials of California issue bromides on the importance of educating a workforce to meet an anticipated economic shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025.

Besides the rhetoric, the politicians do little.

State legislators propose faint-hearted remedies to students on how to “manage” debt or propose abstemious relief that would restore a couple hundred million dollars to California’s public systems of higher education that suffered a combined $2 billion in cuts since the Great Recession of 2007.

In other words, Sacramento legislators do not propose any bold action that stresses a re-investment in California’s human capital. Even executives of the California State University and University of California rationalize the rising cost to attend college by stating it is still a bargain compared to other states.

Surely this assuages the financial worries of students and their parents.

Ironically, many Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and public higher education executives are of the Baby Boom generation who received UC and CSU degrees almost completely subsidized by the state of California.

For example, in 1980 a CSU student paid annual fees of $202. Adjusted for inflation this translates to $575 today. At the UC, it was $750 this same year; adjusted for inflation this is about $2,140.

Today resident CSU and UC students respectively shell out approximately $6,500 and $14,000 in fees annually.

So Sacramento legislators are essentially saying to current and future college students and their working-class parents, “I Got Mine. You’re Out of Luck!”

This message is clear as California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown hurriedly grant tax “incentives” to aerospace, entertainment, and gas and oil corporations.

In 2014, Governor Brown and his fellow Democrats in the state capitol approved a $400 million tax break to aerospace manufacturers and another $300 million in tax credits and subsidies to Hollywood moguls.

Furthermore, with supermajorities in the senate and assembly able to stave off defeat from “anti-public-anything” Republicans, the governor last summer refused to use the bully pulpit of his office to rally his party to supporting SB 1017.

Similar to laws in Alaska and Texas, this bill, courageously created by then state senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), called for the institution of a 9.5% severance tax on oil and gas production.

Fifty percent of the projected $1-$2 billion in annual revenue raised from this tax would have been deposited into a Higher Education fund to reduce community college, CSU, and UC tuition costs. The Democrats in Sacramento allowed SB 1017 to die in the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

This golden opportunity is no more as the Democrats lost their supermajority in Sacramento last November.

The timidity of Sacramento pols is hardly surprising as Democrats and moderate Republicans dread to offend pressure groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, Californians Against Higher Taxes, and other bodies closely allied with the industries of gas and oil.

Furthermore, politicians and UC and CSU executives of working-class provenance have their egos stroked as they fraternize with corporate leaders at conferences and summits while they plead for donations for their reelection campaigns and institutions.

In exchange, the super wealthy buy their silence on taxing the most able to make higher education affordable once again for working-class families.

As this takes place, increasingly college graduates caught up in this insidious system are unable to realize the American dream of homeownership as their debt-to-income ratios are off kilter before receiving their diplomas.

This is unfortunate to say the least, as the college debt crisis is a significant factor behind the state’s anemic housing market recovery.

According to a 2014 study completed by the Southern California firm John Burns Consulting, reported in the Los Angeles Times, over 400,000 potential home sales (valued at $83 billion annually) have been lost due to the national question of student debt that stands at $1 trillion.

If more CSU or UC students graduated with modest to zero college debt, they would be poised to purchase residences and all the accoutrements that follow this rite of passage into the middle class.

To make their houses homes, these recent college graduates would go on to buy durable goods and other amenities. In addition, these new homeowners would pay property taxes to fund public services that hire people and private contractors.

You would think the California Chambers of Commerce and other anti-tax scolds would enthusiastically support such a strong stimulus to the economy.

But Instead of making this a reality, today’s elected officials and public university executives carry the water of the Chamber and their corporate donors while expressing to our young adults by their actions, “We will not invest in you to any meaningful degree as others did for us. Take out a loan.”

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian, ¡LatinoLA!, and the Ventura County Star.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Affordable for All?

Last fall semester, I shared a bus ride from campus with a California State University Channel Islands student. I will call her Cora.

Cora is a bright young person from the San Fernando Valley with the dream of international travel before her pursuit of a post-baccalaureate degree to become a teacher.

After expressing her plans, her sanguine demeanor suddenly transformed to sadness. With one more year to go before she graduates, to date she has accumulated $30,000 in student loans.

As she considered how she would pay back this debt, her eyes welled up and she became silent. I was flummoxed. What could I say but encourage her to complete her schooling? A growing $30,000 debt is a daunting figure for virtually all, especially a first-generation university student.

Regrettably, in my use of public transit I occasionally overhear CI students approaching graduation commiserate about their debts that range in the tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, $30,000 is the national average.

The extreme cost of a public higher education in California is particularly unfathomable as my generation (the baby boom, born between 1946 and 1964) enjoyed virtually free college education opportunities. Indeed, in 1983, my first year at Moorpark College, there was no enrollment fee. It would not be until the next year that a fee was introduced. It entailed $50 (the equivalent of $114 today adjusted for inflation) for 12 or more semester units.

When I transferred to CSU Fresno two years later, my working-class parents paid $720 (adjusted for inflation $1,600) a year in fees.

In talking to mentors and colleagues who went to public universities during the 1960s, the deal was even sweeter. A composite of their stories goes like this:

"Frank, back when I was going to school at San Jose State, I paid $36 ($275 adjusted for inflation) a semester and worked a summer job at a utilities company that covered my fees, books and living expenses for the entire school year."

Today the price is $46 a unit or $552 for 12-plus semester units at a community college. For CSU students, the estimated fees and totals for an academic year (fall and spring terms) based on full-time enrollment (6.1 units or more per term) is $6,506. The 2014-2015 Estimated Cost of Attendance for Undergraduate & Transfer Students Living Off-Campus is $24,338.

Consequently, the likely total price for a CSU baccalaureate degree can be well over $100,000 since a majority of students take longer than four years to graduate.

I am not aware of a summer job currently that will significantly offset this expense.

Some elected officials and university administrators dismiss this problem by pointing out that a CSU education is a bargain comparable to other states. I am sure this is of great relief to parents with two or more children in or facing college, especially those with a household income that exceeds the ceiling to qualify for federal or state grants.

In the end, the pursuit of a higher education should not relegate students and their families to an intergenerational existence of a new form of debt peonage. So what is the solution?

A good start would be for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to restore the $1 billion in cuts to the CSU budget between 2008 and 2012. This would significantly lower the costs that parents and students face as well as open up room for a burgeoning demand for admission as the CSU rejected 30,000 applicants this past year.

Fortunately, some elected officials recognize the severity of this condition. In this regard, Asssemblymember Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, my representative in the Legislature, worked successfully with his colleagues to infuse $30 million in last year's budget for the Cal Grant and the Middle Class Scholarship programs. He also co-authored AB 1476, which passed the Legislature and would have appropriated $100 million of increased funding for the systems of the CSU and UC to split evenly. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill.

The governor's veto is regrettable as it hamstrings California's economic recovery. College graduates who are relatively debt-free translate to them being more able to realize the dream of homeownership. This would stimulate a lethargic housing market and concomitant industries.

Furthermore, for every dollar the state invests in the CSU a multiplier effect of $5 is infused into California's overall economy.

So how do we make going to college truly affordable for all? A good start is for parents, grandparents, college students and all eligible to vote to contact the governor and their representatives in the Legislature demanding that they reinvest in public higher education so that college students like Cora can realize the California dream.

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian and Ventura County Star.

Con Safos

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chicana/o Cheek: The Farm Worker Movement in Ventura County, a chapter introduction

Image by Adam Klamser of the Ventura County Star Free Press, May 1974. Ventura County Deputy arrest United Farm Worker picketer at an east Oxnard strawberry field.

Why wait 5 to 10 years for a work in progress to be shared. What follows is a draft of an introduction of a chapter on farmworker activism for my current book project tentatively titled, Curious Insurgencies: The Chicana/o Movement in Ventura County, California, 1961-1975.

Introduction: Rita Duarte Piñon Medrano

Rita Duarte Piñon Medrano ventured from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico to California circa 1961 with four young daughters in tow. To sustain her family, Rita and the girls traveled the migrant route of agricultural workers of California. They ultimately made Ventura County their home in the City of Oxnard. Working often from dawn to dusk, it was here that Doña Rita witnessed the exploitation of Braceros as the last two hours of the day, from 4pm to 6, she and her co-workers toiled without pay. Growers also refused to provide port-a-johns in the fields and orchards. Hence, men, women, and children were left with no choice but to urinate or defecate in the rows of fruit and vegetables. Field workers were also not provided potable water to drink and soap to wash their hands before eating food during their breaks. Such unsanitary conditions threatened the public health of not only workers but also consumers with cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. If these modern-day helots complained, they risked being fired and returned to Mexico.

Rita Medrano’s life was like the lives of many Mexican immigrant families as they chain migrated to the United States by way of Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelia, Oaxaca, Tobasco, Zacatecas, and other states of Mexico to the border towns such as Mexicali and Tijuana to realize a better future for their daughters and sons by way of personal sacrifice, feudal-like stoop labor, and instilling in their children the prominence of education for the liberation of their progeny from such an experience. But to provide for their families, farmworkers required a living wage. They also demanded respect in a system that viewed farmworkers, largely, as pathetic human cogs in the production of lucrative commercial crops—citrus (lemons and oranges), broccoli, cabbage, celery, spinach strawberries, tomatoes, and others. When asked why she joined the United Farm Workers (UFW) union of César Chávez, Doña Rita stated, “for respect.” “La union” offered farmworkers the opportunity to be treated as humans.

So Doña Rita was one of many farmworkers that cooperated with labor organizers, eventually to became one herself as she recruited co-workers to join la unión and volunteered her time after long workdays at the UFW office running a mimeograph machine to create and distribute leaflets and flyers. Her daughters recall their mother having inked-stained hands from this after work work.

The link between participants of the Chicana and Chicano movement to that of the farmworkers movement of César Chávez’s UFW was that the former consisted of a mixed lot of individuals that toiled in the fields and orchards alongside mothers, fathers, abuelitos (grandparents) and tios y tias (aunts and uncles) as well as with other families of their barrios and colonias. The youngest chicanitos (Mexican origin grade schoolers socialized in the US) too young to toil diverted themselves by playing with each other as their elders labored under the brutal heat, bitter cold, and/or rain of Southern California. Chicanitos also witnessed heads of family bear the verbal abuse of immediate overseers who were of Mexican origin themselves. Others old enough to carry a sack or tray worked alongside the rest.

Then there were Chicanas and Chicanas that were a generation away from the performance of fieldwork. But they lived in the same barrios and colonias of Ventura County agricultural workers. Chicanas and Chicanos coming of age lay in bed semi-comatose as the sounds of local Spanish-language radio stations traveled the house as family members and neighbors arose before the break of dawn to prepare for their quotidian slog. The Chicana and Chicano generation also observed the return of their peers from this grind with clothing stained by the essences of the crops they harvested and footwear caked with desiccated mud.

The cars, trucks, and buses that transported these workers were also laden with the soil of the orchards and fields. And these workers were not just people of Mexican origin; others included Japanese American land owners and field managers as well as Filipino men, many los maridos of mexicanas (the husbands of Mexican origin women).

Hence, the experience and witness moments impacted the gestalt of the Chicana/o generation before their awakening. A Chicana/o cheek if you will, girded by frustration and a tradition of resistance that demanded dignity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pacific Historical Review Book Review excerpt

Here are excerpts within an early Pacific Historical Review book review of Curious Unions by Colorado College Historian Douglas Monroy:

“This is a large book about a small place. Curious Unions tells the complex story of the agricultural community of Oxnard, a town just north of Los Angeles.”

“Indeed, while they are too often referred to as marginal workers and a people apart from the mainstream, Barajas shows how the people from whom he comes have been integral to the functioning of the entire region’s economy and how they have participated, albeit usually with varying degrees of separateness (what the author calls ‘segregated integration’ in chapter 3), in American life in Southern California.”

“This exhaustively researched and detailed book is a tour de force of local history, but also a history with a much broader significance.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Than 25

On Saturday, July 12, starting at 2pm, people from within and outside of Ventura County assembled at a parking lot adjacent to the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard. I was among them.

It was a peaceful expression of frustration in response to the Office of the Ventura County District Attorney deciding that the killing of Alfonso Limon, Jr. by Oxnard Police Department officers was a justifiable homicide. It was also a vigil in memory of Robert Ramirez, Michael Mahoney, and Juan Zavala. On separate occasions, all three also died during the course of their contact with the OPD.

At about 3 o’clock approximately 80 participants—men, women, children, and teens—formed a unity circle to observe an Aztec dance ceremony. They held placards with the slogans: “No Justice No Peace,” “Killer Cops Off the Street,” “I hope you sleep fine at night knowing that the police stopped and fined skaters,” “Welcome to the Police State: We are Watching you,” “Take Away Their Badges, “No Killer Cops,” “We Want Justice,” and “OPD Don’t Shoot.”

Between dances synchronized to the beat of a drum, the leader of the Aztec group paid homage to the animistic spirits of the earth and prayed for peace and harmony in the face of challenges in the Oxnard community. This was followed by Todo Poder Al Pueblo organizers expressing their rejection of the District Attorney’s July 9, 2014 “Report ON THE OCTOBER 13, 2012, SHOOTINGS OF ALFONSO LIMON, JR., JUSTIN VILLA, AND JOSE ZEPEDA, JR., BY OFFICERS OF THE OXNARD POLICE DEPARTMENT.”

Todo Poder also detailed the circumstances that back dropped the June 28th death of Juan Zavala.

In addition to the deaths in question, the protestors are concerned about the broad authority of law enforcement with ostensibly little accountability to the public. In this regard, the demand for a citizens police review board was made.

From the parking lot, the group marched to Plaza Park before venturing to Oxnard Boulevard. As the protest queued northward on the boulevard, stopped periodically on street corners, then continued westward on Second Street, the number of participants grew to over a 100. Well above the 20 to 25 reported in the Sunday, July 13, edition of the VC Star.

Throughout the procession and in front of the Oxnard Police Department, where the march concluded, people of diverse races and ethnicities blasted their automobile horns, shouted, and gestured, some emphatically, their support for the group’s cause as they drove by.

When I have been in contact with law enforcement in and out of Ventura County, under varying circumstances, I have been treated in a professional manner. The demeanor of the officers ranged from being good-natured, considerate, and tolerant. On one occasion a police officer was gruff but professional.

However, in my conversations with family, close friends, members of the community, retired peace officers, and from my work as an academic, I recognize that there are police that abuse their power and exercise excessive force. This is particularly the experience of the poor, people of color, and those on parole or probation.

For example, in 1997, an OPD officer shot a man of Mexican origin five times, leaving him blind in one eye and paralyzed in both legs. Controversy mounted as information surfaced that an OPD supervisor obstructed hospital emergency room treatment to interrogate the person shot.

In 2001, OPD shootings involved persons with mental illness, one resulted in the death of a 23-year-old African American man. Shortly after this, an African American family driving to church found themselves pulled over by an OPD officer. Subsequently, the police placed the father, face down on the pavement. During the course of the detention, 12 OPD officers drew their guns on the family.

In the end, the family was released; the OPD held that the incident was a case of mistaken identity.

Michelle Alexander, in her highly acclaimed book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010), also documents how law enforcement arbitrarily exercises its authority against the poor and, especially, African American men. Such scenarios are brought to life in the theater of Facebook.

Even John Crombach, upon reflection as Chief of the Oxnard Police Department in 2006, characterized the 2004 implementation of a civil gang injunction in the following manner, “We [the OPD] became an invading army in the community. . . That’s incredibly expensive and not the way we want to do business.’’

It is my hope that the OPD’s review of its policies and procedures results in a new way of conducting its business—for the good of all in our community.


A version of this post was published in the Sunday July 20, 2014 edition of the Ventura County Star.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Entitlements of Different Sorts: An Applied Book Review

People initiate political acts in varying ways. One may entail the regular junta of diverse groups at sites such as avenues or armories in the case of cruising lowriders and dances. Another might involve people of different races formulating a band to create music influenced by the multicultural traditions of rhythm and blues and Latin American sounds. When historically subordinated groups, such as Blacks and Chicanas/os, did so in Southern California during the post-WWII period, they claimed spatial and sonic entitlements. Black Studies Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson makes this argument in her sagacious book, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles (2013).

Johnson examines the practice of such entitlements, or rights, in the form of the geographic, aural, and imagined. The last act is defined as the “discursive” throughout the book which, depending on the context analyzed, serves as a synonym for the: adaptive, ideological, subjective, stylized, or symbolic assertion of power. The concept of the “discursive” is an elusive definition commonly used by acolytes of post-modern theorists. Further obscuring the understanding of this idea are non sequitur explanations in dictionaries. But if the general reader substitutes her or his own fitting adjective for the abstract, a clearer grasp for the author’s claim will be made.

Nonetheless, the a priori of Black and Brown entitlements lay in the racist dispossession and segregation of communities during the 1950s onward: at Chavez Ravine that resulted in the eventual establishment of Dodger Stadium, the dislocation of minority communities with the construction of five freeway systems (the 5, 10, 60, 405, and 710), as well as the containment of people of color, many displaced by the aforementioned projects, to the enclaves of East and South Central Los Angeles.

To guarantee the concentration of people of color within these geographic camps, municipal, state, and federal agencies conspired with free enterprise institutions of banking, developers, and real estate to isolate Blacks and Mexican-origin communities. The emplacement of racially restrictive real estate covenants, development plans, and the lending poliices of federally subsidized private lenders consummated this apartheid.

As a capstone, aerospace industries emerged adjacent to the exclusive suburbs of Southern California while automobile related manufacturing relocated abroad. As a result, people in the suburbs enjoyed federally financed housing and employment as those contained within the inner-city found themselves with shrinking opportunities to pursue trans-generational happiness. In this regard, Johnson poignantly writes:

This channeled money away from communities of color and toward whites, who could in turn secure the assets that build trans-generational wealth. . . Thus, while whites received subsidies to acquire assets that appreciate in value and can be passed down across generations, African Americans and Mexican Americans received only access to means-tested [i.e., public] housing in segregated areas (58-59).

The bequeathment of wealth is the privilege that masks the legacy of institutionalized racism. Families that lived in middle-class suburbs (because of the federally subsidized contracts granted to McDonald Douglas, Boeing, or Northrup) enjoyed superior schooling and equity appreciation. On the other hand, Black and Brown families trapped in the ghettoes and barrios of Los Angeles did not benefit equally to their counterparts in suburbia.

But this system was not without its cracks; cultural and social miscegenation occurred nonetheless. Simultaneously, youths made spatial, sonic, and discursive entitlements. Asian, Black, Mexican-origin and White youth of the post-WWII era, ironically, commuted on the freeways that enabled social fragmentation to unite at dance venues in East Los Angeles and buy R&B music in South Central. Youths also traveled from different parts of Southern California to cruise Whittier Boulevard as they blared on the fresh technology of car radios the syncretic sounds of MOTOWN and regional artists of the likes of The Mixtures (originally from Oxnard), Thee Midniters, El Chicano, and WAR.

An important contribution, among several, of Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity is how it reveals how segregation in all its manifestations (in terms of demography, schools, health, the trans-generational transfer of wealth or not) impacted the life chances of groups. Indeed, Johnson dismantles the popular idea that segregation developed purely out of custom and social mobility depended on people reaching for their bootstraps when the oppressed were largely forbidden to wear boots.

As in Los Angeles, Ventura County neighborhoods, public space, schools, and employment were segregated concurrently by de facto and de jure forces. In relation to education and the life chances advanced or diminished by it, this was highlighted in the early 1970s with the Soria v. Oxnard Elementary School District Board of Trustees case. During the course of the trial and school district’s appeal of federal Judge Harry Pregerson’s decision to desegregate by mandatory busing, the machinations of racism were exposed. Board minutes dating back to the 1930s revealed how school trustees and their superintendents bowed to the demands of pressure groups to segregate Mexican and Black students.

As legal decisions of the Post-WWII era dismantled de jure segregation—starting with the Mendez v. Westminster case of 1945 and Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas nine years later—Ventura County youth claimed spatial and sonic entitlements of their own to challenge remnant de facto oppression. This was particularly underscored by Chicana and Chicano students at the high schools and community colleges during the late 1960s and ’70s.

Inspired and awakened, or awakened and inspired, by the movements for Black Civil Rights, farmworkers, and their peers in East Los Angeles, Ventura County Chicana and Chicano students formulated El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) clubs in high schools and community colleges to demand the discursive, or moral, entitlement of Mexican American faculty as well as support services to recruit, retain, and graduate students in their communities with college degrees.

At Ventura College, MEChA and Black Student Union (BSU) clubs demanded the spatial entitlement to have a Minority Student Center to provide advising, tutoring, and financial aid services by Black and Chicano counselors: the first two being Isaiah Brown and Ray Reyes.

With the support of culturally sensitive faculty from a variety of backgrounds (Anglo, Black, Jewish, and others) at Moorpark College and Ventura College, Mechistas exacted both spacial and sonic entitlements in the sponsorship of Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre (Mexican Independence Day) celebrations.

The quads of these schools were taken over during the course of a week. Mechistas at Moorpark and Ventura College emceed the performances of Mariachi Grupo Mexicano de Santa Paula, Teatro Queztzalcoatl, and Ballet Folklorico de Moorpark. On other days, Chicana and Chicano movement people spoke to diverse audiences made up of students, faculty, administrators as well as chicanitas and chicanitos invited, in the spirit of El Plan de Santa Barbara, from pre and grade schools in the surrounding areas.

College students were also politicized by the messages of Sal Castro of the East L.A. student walkouts, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez of the Crusade for Justice, comedian Dick Gregory, Dolores Huerta vice-president of the United Farmworkers union, Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem, and Reies Lopez Tijerina, leader of the La Alianza Federal de Mercedes in New Mexico.

The planning and funding of these events exposed Mechistas to the bureaucracy of academe. It also enhanced their connection to their respective campuses as well as enlightened them to the relevancy of their higher education. A discursive entitlement if you will that instilled in them a sense of triumph and moxie.

Although many recently graduated high school students and Vietnam veterans of the Oxnard Plain commuted to Ventura and and Moorpark College via the “barrio bus,” Chicanas and Chicano who traveled to Moorpark, particularly, during the early 1970s exercised their spatial entitlement to attend the district’s newest campus. It was here that the Brown Berets and Mechistas successfully demanded the discursive entitlement of a Chicano Studies curriculum, Mexican American faculty, and services specific to the needs of first generation students.

And by the mid-1970s, Ventura College MEChA had become a dominant political force. In the spring of 1975, it ran a slate of Mechistas in the Associated Students executive board election. The club’s organization enabled it to attain the discursive entitlement of winning all four seats on the executive board—the presidency, vice-presidency, secretary, and Office of Finance. With this power, the MEChA controlled board reformed the AS constitution to permit a broader representation of student leaders from other clubs in the affairs of AS.

As in the case of student athletes, the spatial and discursive entitlement of MEChA clubs throughout Ventura County afforded students unconditional acceptance to realize their scholastic potential and leadership not only on campus but also in their communities. Many Mechistas, inspired by the community work of the Brown Berets, volunteered their time tutoring elementary students. Others who went on to attend UCLA or UCSB returned to Ventura County to visit high schools and community colleges to encourage others to obtain university degrees.

In the planning of cultural events and seeking permission to work in K-12 schools, high school and college Mechistas interfaced as equals with administrators, faculty and staff. All this entitled them to remain in school in their journey to becoming, in different spatial and contested settings, the attorneys, educators, entrepreneurs, healthcare professional, peace officers, and engaged citizens for the remainder of the 1970s to the present.

Frank P. Barajas