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.
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.