What first comes to your mind when you think of Orange County? What about its reputation as the place that boasts some of Southern California’s finest beaches (think Laguna and San Clemente) or the simple luxury of cruising down Pacific Coast Highway? How about the fact that Aston Martin finds its second-best market here? Well, according to “Orange County: A Personal History” by Gustavo Arellano, we’ve come a long way, from vast nothingness to hyper-suburbia, thanks to the post-World War II population boom.
As students at UC Irvine, we’re constantly surrounded with the age-old question: What is there to do in Irvine? Well, there really isn’t much to do in a city that is “master-planned to perfection.” In dismissing Irvine as nothing but the city of dull, we often fail to give credit to the fifth most populous county in the “Republic,” which is the rest of Orange County.
Arellano, author of the popular “!Ask a Mexican!” column in the OC Weekly, weaves his family’s four-generation journey through a scholarly and witty historical account of Orange County. Does the OC have any interesting history? Yes, people: The city of Orange and all that surrounds it is rich with history, and the best way to learn about it is through this simultaneously educational and entertaining read.
Better yet, take Arellano’s class, which will be based on his book, this upcoming winter quarter 2009, entitled Local OC. It’s listed as an upper division class under the Department of Social Sciences.
Arellano, born and raised in Anaheim, belongs to just one of many families who greatly contributed to making America what she is today: prosperous and bustling, despite the current economic crisis. After a 2,000-mile trek from El Cargadero, Mexico, his maternal grandfather, Placido Miranda, successfully crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, obtaining his passport by slipping a penny into a slot machine in El Paso. Through many more adventures, which are chronicled in the book, he eventually ended up in Anaheim, which hosts the largest population of Cargaderenses.
According to Arellano, “it’s the story of modern Mexican migration,” when hundreds and thousands of Mexicans from the same region brought their hometowns to the United States, fleeing the Mexican Revolution in order to find better lives for themselves. They reached Orange County and began toiling as fruit pickers in the city’s lucrative citrus industry.
Arellano’s mother, Maria de la Luz Miranda and her family also migrated from the village of El Cargadero to Northern California in 1962, and soon moved to Anaheim. After his father, Lorenzo, used smugglers to “invade” the United States in 1968, the two met and married and, as they say, the rest is history.
But there is a side to Orange County’s history that has been silenced. It reawakens in the following pages of this book, pages that narrate the stories of farmers who demanded higher wages in the 1936 Citrus War and the parents who filed a lawsuit against the city of Westminster in Westminster v. Mendez because their children were denied the right to be educated at a good public school, due to segregation practices between minorities and whites.
These are just two incidents that capture the “greatest stereotype of Orange County,” that impish conservatism that laces its history. This is the place where “All the Good Idiot Republicans Go to Die,” and has also become “The Beaner Bashing Capital of America.”
Years after Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson by one of the largest margins in an American presidential race, he boasted that he carried “five states and Orange County.” Much to the Republicans’ dismay, the 1996 congressional win of Loretta Sanchez sparked national coverage and angered Republicans. Her opponent and 10-time incumbent called upon the Newt Gingrich-led Congress. An investigation was thus launched, alleging that Sanchez and other Latino activists registered illegal immigrants to vote.
Such is Orange County, a historical haven for the Ku Klux Klan and all other things racist. However, there are also some pretty neat things that came out of the OC scene, such as rock star sensations No Doubt and hip-hop punk group Rage Against the Machine.
The introduction of the book takes a look at the “absolutely banal” future of this country, meaning “the coming Reconquista” for Arellano. Through the use of the “Reconquista” motif, Arellano often satirizes the xenophobic attitude toward the majority Mexican population of Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Although Arellano blends humor with the history of the modern Mexican-immigrant experience, his book is as much political as it is social and cultural. It characterizes Orange Country by addressing a range of issues. including racism, attempts to criminalize immigration (i.e. Proposition 187) and the meaning of the immigrant experience through the lens of a Mexican-American.
Arellano shows that Orange County is not just the television shows that have earned its pop-culture fame. It is home to many ethnic minorities, the Saddleback Mega-Church, the prominent Islamic Society of Orange County, area codes that are indicative of social status and, of course, its famous Orange Groves.
This review cannot do the book justice. Reading it will open your eyes to a world beyond the one that Donald Bren has built for us, beyond Irvine.