Frank P. Barajas
Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961
University of Nebraska Press 2012
In Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961 (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) Dr. Frank P. Barajas details the central role of Mexican labor in the development of the agriculturally rich coastal plane located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. In this thoroughly researched history, Barajas relates the curious unions (i.e., unlikely partnerships) formed between agricultural industrialists and small independent growers on the one hand, and a multi-ethnic milieu of Mexican, Japanese, and Filipino laborers on the other. The alliance of small growers with agribusiness dictated a pattern of commercial, residential, and municipal development that simultaneously integrated Mexican laborers into the lowest tier of the local economy, while also segregating them and other people of color residentially and socially. This schizophrenic pattern of economic and spatial development resulted in unintended cross-cultural interactions among people of color that provided the locus of ethnic community formation and worker resistance. Providing insight into the shifting economic and demographic conditions across the Oxnard Plain, Barajas details the long history of Mexican labor resistance in the Sugar Beet Strikes of 1903 and 1933, the Citrus Strike of 1941, and the local campaign against the Bracero Program in the late 1950s. Each mobilization against Mexican worker exploitation required the formation of alliances that at times bridged class and ethno-racial divisions. Understanding the significance of these curious unions, Barajas argues, reinterprets the history of Southern California and the place of ethnic Mexicans within it.
David-James Gonzales (DJ) is a Doctoral Candidate in History at the University of Southern California. He is a historian of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Civil Rights, and Latino Identity & Politics. DJ is currently writing a dissertation on the influence of Mexican American civic engagement and political activism on the metropolitan development of Orange County, CA from 1930 to 1965.