Thursday, May 16, 2013
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?
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
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.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
When I was an undergraduate at California State University, Fresno my mentor Dr. Chang commented that UC Berkeley professors are generally not addressed as Dr. This remark was in response to the insistence of specific colleagues of his to be called doctor. At Berkeley, it was a given that the professors were PHDs. In fact, even the department secretaries there had PHDs, he stated facetiously.
Nonetheless, I called my professor Dr. Chang out of respect for his position. Especially being that he was one of a few historically underrepresented faculty at Fresno State. It also had a nice ring. Sort of like Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Dr. King, Dr. George I. Sanchez, etc.
When I recognize ethnic and racial minority academics or professional doctors with the Dr. handle it is not out of a fascination with elitism (well maybe a little) but to acknowledge their exceptional accomplishment in a society of unequal educational opportunity. I, myself, do not insist on being called Dr., but if I am I will not object. I do, however, feel uneasy being recognized as such in the case that there were a medical emergency where I may find myself and someone pleading, “IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?!” I could perform the Heimlich maneuver in the case of a person choking or cpr for a cardiac arrest—btw: is it 5 chest compressions per breath or 7?
I participate in the graduation ceremonies at California State University Channel Islands to serve as an example to students, particularly Chicanas/os, of the possible. I gladly pose with graduates as I imagine many never before viewed a Chicano in doctoral regalia.
When I graduated from Fresno State, I was impressed by the pomp and circumstance of the faculty procession into Bulldog stadium. I knew then that I wanted some day to be a part of that parade. Now I am and realize how actually few people of color are in such painted pageants.
As I was struggling to complete my dissertation, I posted a picture of the Claremont Graduate University’s doctoral regalia for inspiration. The pursuit of a PHD was not based on potty intentions but the desire to serve as a presumed voice of authority in my community when needed. Nor did I feel that being an academic was a professional career that would separate me from my working-class roots. As long as I depend on a wage, I will always be of the proletariat in solidarity with other workers, many with no degrees who make far more than I will ever realize.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Ventura County recently lost a person who provided a media voice to the Latino community since the 1960s. He was Javier R. Santana — journalist, civic activist, mentor and, as one of his longtime friends characterized him, a "true revolutionary" for the cause of the people.
When Oxnard High School student Nelly Medrano called his Santa Paula KPSA radio show in 1964 expressing interest in a career in broadcasting, Santana offered to assist her. As her mentor, he taught her public communications and helped her get accepted to UCLA.
In the tradition of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, Santana believed that an informed citizenry led to the creation of a better future. Therefore, at a time when Latinos were virtually nonexistent on college campuses, Santana championed higher education opportunities on his radio show so the next generation of Latinos could tackle issues of the day.
He also supported young Chicano movement activists who charged the Oxnard Police with harassment and the brutalization of La Colonia barrio residents.
In 1968, when sagacious Brown Berets appealed to the City Council to redress their grievances — they demanded a Police Department investigation by the state attorney general and the creation of a community review board — Santana recognized that this cadre of young men and women was the leadership of the future and urged the Ventura County Community Service Organization to support them.
Santana was prescient as many Brown Berets and other students he mentored and supported graduated from college on their way to becoming pillars of the community as social workers, educators, peace officers, elected officials and entrepreneurs.
As a radio commentator at KOXR "La Mexicana," from 1965 to 1993, Santana hosted a live program titled, "El Pueblo Opina (The People's Opinion)." It was on this evening show that Spanish-speaking community members discussed issues of school segregation, César Chávez and the United Farm Workers union, the county's labor history, politics, immigration, poverty, public health and discrimination.
As the Latino community was, and continues to be, diverse related to time of residency, class status and education, parents, guests and callers engaged in debates, often heated, as Santana moderated his radio show.
In one instance, Santana helped United Farm Workers organizers convince the KOXR ownership to provide airtime to create a program titled "La Hora del Campesino (The Farmworker Hour)." The show helped the UFW organize for a strawberry strike in 1974.
During this labor protest, the Sheriff's Department flew a helicopter closely above a UFW picket line in El Rio. When the protesters responded in their defense they were arrested. A public outcry combined with the coverage by Chicano journalist Frank Del Olmo of the Los Angeles Times, support from county Supervisor John Flynn and Santana's actions in and out of the radio booth, influenced the sheriff's department to cease such acts.
This was the type of news English-language media generally did not cover. And if they did report such stories, it was not from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking community.
Santana also understood the importance of culturally affirming events to inspire positive change. He partnered with restaurateurs such as the Casa Tropical to feature an amateur hour talent contest that he emceed. Winners went on to perform live on his radio program.
One contestant was Alicia Lopez Juarez, who went on to produce 21 albums, star in nine movies and, on top of performing for Latin American presidents, married the legendary mariachi singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez.
Santana joined the movement for greater minority representation in an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Oxnard City Council in 1974. He did not win, but three years later the council appointed him to the Community Relations Commission. As a candidate, commissioner and radio personality, Santana made sure that the interests of the Latino community were heard.
During the 1990s, Santana continued to give voice to the underserved on the bilingual television program "Santana En Vivo/Santana Live." The show aired throughout Southern California and discussed topics he had covered since 1965 in "El Pueblo Opina."
As he did from the start of his broadcast journalist career, Santana promised callers and guests the opportunity to voice their perspectives, irrespective of their language fluency or political ideology.
He leaves a legacy that many who knew and heard of him will seek to continue.
Javier Santana, with his passionate and golden voice of hope and defender of justice, will forever remain "The Voice for the Latino Community."
Frank P. Barajas
Image provided by Jess Gutierrez
This essay was published by Amigos805 and the Ventura County STAR.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
The project of getting our kids prepared for a university of their choice involves reading time together. The first book completed in this endeavor this summer was E.B. White’s 1952 classic, Charlotte’s Web. Immediately thereafter, we started Jack Gantos’s 2012 Newbery Award winning Dead End In Norvelt. The story is situated in the Cold War era of the 1950s and makes frequent reference to the New Deal. In fact, the name of the Midwestern town of Norvelt is a derivation of Eleanor Roosevelt who promoted the creation of affordable housing for the working class. Miss Volker, a nurse and devotee of Roosevelt, promised to write an obituary for each of the original residents before leaving.
Gantos embeds historical commentary related not only to the New Deal and the McCarthy Era but also the New Immigration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and World War II, at home and abroad. In reading the story to my traviesos (mischievous children), I restrained myself from explaining the historical landscape detailed by the author in order not to interrupt the flow of the narrative.
Like White’s Charlotte’s Web, Gantos adroitly complements the personalities of the characters to amplify the forces at work. For example, Jack Gantos, who is also the name of the main character, is a nosebleed prone adolescent in search of purpose, and comes to appreciate the power of the written word, history, and ideas. He learn this during his assignment to assist the valetudinarian Miss Volker stricken with arthritis and unable to write the obituaries accompanied by “this day in history” analects.
Jack’s father, a WWII veteran who served in the Pacific theater, views the world through a Manichean lens of the Cold War. Dad prepares a bomb shelter for his family to survive an inevitable nuclear Armageddon. He also refers to Miss Volker as a Commie for her devotion to the New Deal. Public employees are also Commies in his eyes. In many ways, Jack’s father is a Babbitt of the variety within the writings of Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and H.L. Mencken.
The dying town of Norvelt is also a largely white community. White residents denied the Jeffersonian, middle-class dream of homeownership to black migrants. It was only when the Roosevelts were moved by the appeal of one black family that an accommodation was made. Mrs. White, the wife and mother of the only black family in town, advanced the naming of the town founded during the Great Depression in tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt.
In finishing the book, Jack Gantos validated my belief that the line between fact and fiction can be artificial. Many places like Norvelt exist that are, in the words of Gantos, off-kilter “where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.”
Saturday, August 11, 2012
To graduate from Marine Corps Recruit Training, prospective Marines must pass a swim/survival test. In the summer of 1985, I failed it twice before qualifying. The second time my lungs filled with water and flowed out of my mouth as I lay prostrate on the side of the pool deck unassisted. As I coughed up the remaining liquid from the pit of my stomach, the swim instructor barked that I had fifteen minutes to get back in the water. The third try was the charm. I passed. But as I looked over to the far side of the pool, I saw a distinct class for recruits who could not pass after the third try. The overwhelming majority of them were Chicano/Latinos and African Americans. In a New York Times opinion essay, Martha Southgate provides an informative perspective as to the reasons why high proportions of people in poverty and of color, especially African Americans, tragically don’t know how to swim.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
For my study of the Chicano Movement in Ventura County, I learned that before Oxnard College’s opening in 1975, Vietnam veterans and newly minted high school graduates from the Oxnard Plain rode buses to Moorpark College because the largest city in Ventura County did not have a community college.
After their transfer to and graduation from San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University at Northridge), the University of California at Santa Barbara, or other universities, they entered careers as educators, entrepreneurs, public servants, and healthcare and law enforcement professionals.
The spirit of the Chicano Movement also inspired the filing of the Soria, et. al. v. Oxnard School District Board of Trustees case in which federal Judge Harry Pregerson issued a 1971 summary judgment that ordered the district to develop a plan of desegregation.
An appeal of Judge Pregerson’s ruling uncovered additional evidence that proved that since the early twentieth century the school district obsessed over the creation of policies to segregate students of Mexican origin.
The remedy mandated busing. The school board and parents bitterly resisted the order. Many white parents moved their families out of Oxnard to avoid having their children bussed to schools in the barrio community of La Colonia. Oxnard College could have benefited from the political clout that left with them.
The development of Oxnard College was further stunted by the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, the property tax initiative that shrunk the coffers of public institutions.
As a result of Proposition 13 and our recent great recession, the vision of the California Master Plan of Higher Education has faded to near oblivion. Students are again traversing roads to attend community colleges with remnant academic and vocational programs in their pursuit of a middle class life.
Even before Proposition 13, Oxnard College’s growth as a startup depended on the decisions of a district board that found itself in the position of having to divide funds three ways. Understandably, the presidents of Moorpark and Ventura College advocated strongly on behalf of their campuses.
After graduating from Oxnard High School in 1983 I carpooled to Moorpark College since Oxnard College did not have a wrestling program. In fact, many Oxnard Union High School District graduates also traveled to Moorpark or Ventura due to Oxnard College not enjoying a comprehensive athletics program.
This disadvantaged Oxnard College’s development and benefited the other two campuses as funding is based on the number of Full Time Equivalent Students (FTES) registered for 12 or more units of coursework.
Along with a tacit anti-Mexican sentiment in the county, the above explains why Oxnard College’s support services, academic programs, and the aesthetics of its facilities were inferior to the campuses of Moorpark and Ventura.
Until the passage of Measure S in 2002, some five buildings, surrounded by desolate fields, defined Oxnard College. Its curb appeal alone was enough to turn away students.
When the board deliberated on the apportionment of some $356 million from the Measure S bond, the initial plan was to allocate Oxnard College only $60 million. The rationale was the institution’s smaller student population. Consequently, it deserved a lesser cut.
Hence, the conundrum: a smaller campus with the highest proportion of students of African, Filipino, and Mexican origins deserved disparate support, precluding the expansion of course offerings that translated to students of the Oxnard Plain commuting to Moorpark and Ventura.
When Area 5 Ventura County Community College District Trustee Arturo Hernandez demanded that Measure S funds be allotted equitably the board reconsidered its original distribution.
This is the history that backdrops the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges reports.
In resisting the further evisceration of programs, Trustee Hernandez has been castigated by the commission for his advocacy on behalf of all students, including those at Oxnard College. This is ironic. The ACCJC’s own Accreditation Standards charges trustees with the duty to ensure that the district provides for the “fair distribution of resources that are adequate to support the effective operations of the colleges.”
But when Trustee Hernandez performed his due diligence, posed questions of equity for the three colleges, he was rebuked by not only the accrediting body but also the VCCCD’s outgoing chancellor, James Meznek, in a crafty letter leaked from his office, and a patronizing STAR editorial. Trustee Hernandez, the most senior member of the board, was ordered to stand down.
I appreciate Trustee Hernandez’s concern for district-wide equity. He proved this to me in 2009 when he listened to Moorpark College alumni who unsuccessfully attempted to save the district’s remaining wrestling program.
Despite the characterization of the issues by the STAR, one member of the board does not determine the accreditation of a college district. The STAR must educate itself on the realities of accreditation and investigate the hearsay allegations against Trustee Hernandez.
PS: A version of this essay was run in the Ventura County Star on August 12, 2012