History Professor Frank Barajas relishes his role as citizen, historian, educator, mentor and activist in his hometown

By Marya Jones Barlow

When Frank Barajas went to Moorpark College in 1983, it was for the noblest of reasons: to please his parents.

“I wasn’t sure what one could do with a college degree,” he said. “All I knew is my parents wanted me to get a college education and be the first college graduate in our family.”

The moment he sat down in his first history class with Professor Joseph Gonzalez, Barajas found an inspiration, a major and a purpose.

“Dr. Gonzalez was dynamic and inspiring,” Barajas said. “He was also the first person of Mexican descent I had ever met who was a college professor with the title of ‘doctor.’ It opened my eyes to the trajectories available to me.”

Today, Barajas regards his role as a Professor of History at CI to be more about inspiring students than it is about teaching history.

“I try to instill in them the value of being critical thinkers, good communicators, effective writers, speakers and listeners,” he said. “I tell them, ‘We’re in a history class, but we are learning more than just history. In the process, we’re developing our skills. No matter what career you go into, these skills are going to be useful to you.’”

In courses like California History and Culture, The United States Since 1877 and Southern California Chicana/o History and Culture, Barajas teaches students to seek the “echoes of history” in present-day events, guiding them to draw parallels, contrasts and future implications. In each course he assigns group presentations in which students research and present lessons about people and topics that are barely mentioned in history textbooks. The exercise is one of his favorites.

“I love it because the assignment impacts their intellectual development as well as mine,” he said. “We learn together about influential figures and events that are often overlooked in the chronicles of history.”

Outside the classroom, Barajas is working on his second book  —   tentatively titled “Mexican Americans with Moxie: The Chicana/o Movement in Ventura County”   —   which examines a transformational time of Chicana/o activism and empowerment during the 1960s and early 70s. His previous book, “Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961,” explores how the Oxnard Mexican community forged partnerships with other ethnic groups that broadly influenced economic exchanges, cultural practices and labor and community activism.

I’ve got the best job in the world. My goal is to learn as much as I can and teach as long as I can.

 Frank Barajas

The topics are near and dear to Barajas, who was born and raised by Mexican-American parents in Oxnard’s diverse, working-class I Street neighborhood. Now living in his hometown with his wife, son and daughter, he relishes the role of native son, engaged citizen, historian, professor and activist in his community. Barajas often writes, speaks and demonstrates on behalf of the county’s underserved communities and is a regular contributor of columns and opinion pieces in the regional and statewide news. His work was recognized with a 2014 Latino Leadership Award by El Concilio Family Services.

He also maintains close ties to former students who credit him with being a source of inspiration in their educations and careers.

“I can say that Frank has been an inspiration and CI is where my aspirations were conceived,” said José Antonio Romero, who went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work and is now a child welfare social worker. “He trained me to think like a historian, which I believe incidentally led me into the field of social work. To this day, Frank and I have lengthy conversations on how institutional and systemic issues impact communities. In short, he was my professor, who turned into my mentor, who became my friend.”

Barajas earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from CSU Fresno. After earning his Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University, he taught for nine years at Cypress College in Orange County. While working on his dissertation on the Mexican community of Oxnard in the late 1990s, he noticed a new freeway sign for the future campus of CSU Channel Islands and put in his application. In 2001, he became one of CI’s first 13 tenure-track faculty members and a founding member of its History and Chicana/o Studies programs.

Fifteen years later, Barajas is elated at the way CI is growing in both size and diversity. He cites the ever-increasing racial and ethnic mix of its student, faculty and staff populations, national recognition as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and unwavering focus on a student-centered mission.

“I’m grateful to be a part of this great endeavor and continue President Rush’s legacy for as long as I can,” he said. “I’ve got the best job in the world. My goal is to learn as much as I can and teach as long as I can. Then I’m going to keel over right there in front of everybody in class with a big old smile on my face.”

 

© Spring 2016 / Volume 20 / Number 01 / Bi-annual