I posted my blog essay on the one year anniversary demonstration of the Oxnard police killing of Alfonso Limon Jr on İLATINO LA! and received the email below from "Frankie Firme" who was raised in the San Gabriel Valley.
I read with distinct interest your article in LatinoLA about the youth killed in Oxnard by police, and the family’s endeavor to find justice.
For many years, I myself have supported community causes in search of justice, and I now support yours.
Many times as a youth growing up in the San Gabriel Valley neighborhood of Bassett, I was harassed along with my friends for daring to cruise into West Covina
during the late 1960’s & early 1970’s when it was primarily white. We were always pulled over for DWB ( Driving While Brown) and harassed, frisked, and forced to sit
on a curb facing traffic & the public, while our cars were searched, and back seats pulled completely out of the car and thrown to the curb.
Police would just laugh and tell us to “ Leave West Covina and go back to your side of town or Tijauna” , and follow us to the edge of town.
In 1971, 2 Chicanas, Kathy Zozaya & Rosalyn Macias, both 14 years old, were run over and killed by a white drunk driver in La Puente who had a previous DUI record .
Court was held in West Covina, in front of a white judge, and he was given probation. When the community protested, the media painted us all as “trouble makers”.
Justice was never served. I never forgot that….never will.
My compliments & respects.
Frank “Frankie Firme” A.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Rebecca expressed interest in my presence. I said that as a historian I periodically document the actions of the Chicano community by writing op-ed essays to situate current events within in a historical frame. I then asked if her family considered a request to the California Office of the Attorney General to investigate the killing of her brother. With grace Rebecca explained that the process first entailed an investigation from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and an inquiry by Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
Meanwhile, the Limon family will continue to seek answers and the timely prosecution of justice.
Rebecca’s sisters echoed this message in a circle of unity before the commencement of a peaceful protest march through the streets of La Colonia and Oxnard Boulevard.
As I listened to the words of the Limon family and members of Todo Poder Al Pueblo and observed a prayer service conducted by Aztec dancers, I panned the audience of community elders, youth, college professors, parents, infants in strollers, and students and alumni of my institution, CSU Channel Islands. Their presence mirrored moments of the recent and not so distant past when the Mexican community of Ventura County protested the perceived and real oppressive actions of law enforcement.
For example, in 1900 leaders of the Mexican community summoned the Mexican consul in Los Angeles to investigate the fiery death of two Mexican nationals in an Oxnard jail. Forty-five years later, the Mexican community of Oxnard protested the police use of batons and tear gas to break up a peaceful outdoor celebration along the boulevard.
When Police Chief George Pryor was confronted by members of the community he responded, “The tear gas wasn’t much good, anyway. . . We had it for a long time, and it gets weaker as it gets older. Why, it didn’t make’em cry very much. . . .”
In 1956, the OPD again fired tear gas as they stormed a crowd that enjoyed the festivities of a Cristo Rey Church bazaar in La Colonia after a reported disturbance. Tony Del Buono, Vera Gonzales, John Soria, and other activists formed the Oxnard Civic Improvement Association to collectively protest such abuse of power. Two years later in 1958, the OCIA converted itself to the Community Service Organization of Ventura County with Cesar E. Chavez as its director. A central concern of the CSO was police brutality.
Police relations in La Colonia had become strained to the point that many residents, particularly its youth, viewed law enforcement as not their protectors but as an agency that violated their rights with impunity. This expressed itself in 1958 when police officers responded to a boy being struck by a car in La Colonia. As they arrived at the scene, they found themselves pelted by rocks and bottles launched by neighborhood youths.
In my research of the Chicano Movement in Ventura County, long-time civically engaged citizens have shared stories how the police stopped African American and Mexican origin residents that dared to venture into white neighborhoods. In April of 1972 Mexican origin youth demonstrated against this sort of harassment by the Santa Paula Police. One Santa Paula police officer in particular was infamous for pulling over Chicanos who cruised the town to throw their car keys into an adjacent orchard.
It is this history and similar contemporary experiences generally not reported in the media that is absent from the public’s mind when considering peaceful yet militant demonstrations such at those organized by Todo Poder and the families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
As heartbreaking as the killing of Alfonso is, the Limon family is patient and determined to obtain answers to why and how he died at the hands of Oxnard Police Department. With the support of people in Ventura County and many others outside the area, they will wait for the legal process of justice to take its course.
A version of this post was published in the Ventura County Star.
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.”