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Curious Unions

Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961

Frank P. Barajas

Publication Year: 2012

César E. Chávez came to Oxnard, California, in 1958, twenty years after he lived briefly in the city as a child with his migrant farmworker family during the Great Depression. This time Chávez returned as the organizer of the Community Service Organization to support the unionization campaign of the United Packinghouse Workers of America. Together the two groups challenged the agricultural industry’s use of braceros (imported contract laborers) who displaced resident farmworkers.

The Mexican and Mexican American populations in Oxnard were involved in cultural struggles and negotiations long before Chávez led them in marches and active protests. Curious Unions explores the ways in which the Mexican community forged intriguing partnerships with other ethnic groups within Oxnard in the first half of the twentieth century and the resulting economic exchanges, cultural practices, and labor and community activism. Frank P. Barajas examines how the Oxnard ethnic Mexican population exercised its agency in alliance with other groups and organizations to meet their needs before large-scale protests and labor unions were engaged. Curious Unions charts how the cultural negotiations that took place in the Oxnard ethnic Mexican community helped shape and empower farm labor organizing.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book would not have been possible without the support of many people. I was fortunate to start my PhD program at the then Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University) under the tutelage of Vicki L. Ruiz. As she has done with so many other graduate students, Vicki guided my development...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv


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p. xvi

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pp. 1-11

For much of the twentieth century, an imposing factory in the fields of the Oxnard Plain stood at the center of a community named after three brothers — Henry, James, and Robert Oxnard — that did much to establish the sugar beet industry in Southern California. The Oxnard brothers, like other sugar beet magnates, developed...

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1. Early Curious Unions

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pp. 13-48

Prior to the start of the twentieth century, four distinct yet interwoven cultures occupied the Oxnard Plain: Chumash Muwu, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo American. All conducted commercial activities with communities within and outside the region, exchanges that encouraged cross-cultural unions and adaptation. Change occurred...

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2. The (Re)Creation of Community

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pp. 49-90

Landowners transferred thousands of acres of land to the American Beet Sugar Company after Henry Oxnard finalized an agreement with the plain’s leading landowners to unite in the production of sugar beets. Tracts of land sold continued to be identified as Rancho El Rio de Santa Clara O La Colonia. And Mexicans experienced...

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3. Segregated Integration

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pp. 91-130

From the city’s inception, a divide developed between “respectable” districts west of Oxnard Boulevard and north of Fifth Street and “tougher elements” east of the boulevard. A polyglot of black, Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, and Mexican residents largely lived east of the boulevard and within the streets of...

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4. Bitter Repression, Sweet Resistance

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pp. 131-161

The Mexican community lived in an environment that simultaneously restricted and compelled their integration into the mainstream of Oxnard’s political economy. Community organization was promoted by residents within barrio enclaves and their institutions of churches, mutual aid societies, and leisure. This cultural...

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5. The Emerging Mexican (American)

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pp. 163-213

Throughout the sugar beet strikes of 1903 and 1933, bitter labor strife and repression alloyed the Mexican community with a cross-cultural spectrum of supporters from the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association and the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union. Some Mexicans, on the other hand, sided with the interests...

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6. Creating César

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pp. 215-259

Mexican children of Oxnard who witnessed or listened to the cuentos (stories) of the sugar beet and citrus strikes of the first half of the twentieth century reached their early adulthood in the 1950s. Whether they were U.S. citizens or born in Mexico, this generation’s identity emerged within a hierarchically defined cross-cultural...

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pp. 261-263

The importance of the development of the Oxnard Mexican community is wide ranging. Unlike other California community narratives of the twentieth century, this one is ballasted in the production of beet sugar — one of the region’s first capital-intensive specialty crops — that later came to be entwined with the citrus industry just...


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pp. 265-323


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pp. 325-343


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pp. 345-355

Further Reading

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E-ISBN-13: 9780803244733
E-ISBN-10: 0803244738
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803237919

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 30 photographs, 1 map, 1 table
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830538120
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Curious Unions

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Subject Headings

  • Foreign workers, Mexican -- California -- Oxnard -- History.
  • Mexican Americans -- Civil rights -- California -- Oxnard -- History.
  • Labor movement -- California -- Oxnard -- History.
  • Mexican Americans -- Cultural assimilation -- California -- Oxnard -- History.
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