How did a multigenerational population of ethnic Mexicans in Ventura County express a collective politics in the mid-twentieth century? This question lies at the heart of the new book by Frank P. Barajas (California State University, Channel Islands), a thorough local history of the Chicano movement that also makes significant interventions in the broader historical understanding of the era.

In Mexican Americans with Moxie: A Transgenerational History of El Movimiento Chicano in Ventura County, California, 1945–1975, Barajas outlines the postwar political efforts of Mexican Americans in the region, from movements “with increased fervor for an equal education” to those “in defense of a largely migrant-Mexicanist population of workers” (82, 139). The ethnic Mexican population at the center of the story was more variegated than homogeneous. While they built from a common ground, sharing a “farmworker provenance” and a sense of purpose and action, differences of generation, nativity, and even political analysis also infused their politics. As a result, the story Barajas excavates is that of a transgenerational movement characterized less by generation or political identity than by “an emblematic moxie in relation to an emotive spirit of righteous indignation” (3).

Coupling archival sources and narrative thrust, the book’s primary contribution is a lively local history that also speaks to a wider field. As in his first monograph—Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California (2012)—Barajas portrays Ventura County as a region with a long history of agricultural production, and a concomitant population of immigrant workers with a rich legacy of labor and community organizing. In Moxie, however, the county is also a geography in flux, at the nexus of forces shaping the postwar economy. It is the site of blue- and white-collar economic growth, educational expansion, and an active politics in which marginalized groups fashioned claims on rights.

This dynamism is more than the backdrop of the story, it is the “movement” undergirding Barajas’s analysis of “El Movimiento Chicano.” He frames the rise of a “Chicana-Chicano mentalité” within a larger process that transformed the region’s rural provincialism. The growth of the military industrial complex in Southern California, for example, opened “new vistas of employment” to the children of farmworkers. The result was a cohort able to “incrementally transcend the economic status of the parents,” but also an ethnic Mexican population with some measure of class heterogeneity (21–22). Similarly, forces as disparate as the growth in access to higher education and the Vietnam War directly connected local participants to the national and global, whether intellectually or through physical relocation. The dynamic was also reciprocal, in Barajas’s telling, as a sensibility rooted in larger political practices and discourses informed local politics.

Taking his cue from this larger “sociogeographical terrain,” Barajas uses the local to expand our larger understanding of the Chicano movement. His deft narrative and analysis excavate various accounts of Mexican American political activity that challenge the prevailing historiographic understanding of Chicano-era politics as demarcated by generational status and nativity. The book consistently, often subtly, expands the parameters of what may count as “Chicano” or “Chicana,” pointing more toward a discrete realm of political practice and culture than to a named identity or ideology. However, the analysis sometimes underplays political tensions or contradictions held by certain sectors of the population—as in the discussion of busing, which comes across more as a bureaucratic process than as the story of a cohesive political movement working from stable common ground. Similarly, the lack of attention to gender as its own site of flux and transformation—a process shaped by the kinds of evolution in educational access and political formation that are central to the analysis—is a notable narrative gap.

To Barajas’s credit, the creative energy and determination suggested by the word moxie does more than name the diverse politics of a local, ethnic Mexican population. It furthers a collective analysis of the era by embracing a political terrain that blurs commonly assumed distinctions between the so-called “Mexican American generation” and the “Chicano generation.” Barajas does this work at the local level by detailing transgenerational efforts that were simultaneously animated by the experience of an older generation and the energy and tactics of a younger one. At a more academic level, he also models an understanding of the movement era as a product of these exchanges across divides, ones that historians should view as porous and fluid. In a region where postwar transformations created new possibilities, “an enthusiasm for actualizing positive change” (184) could involve multiple generations, and both institutional and oppositional political practices, simultaneously.

Barajas serves up this historical analysis within a narrative that explores the local with clear intentionality, if not with his own measure of moxie. The detailed descriptions of local Mexican American figures, organizations, and events speak powerfully to the collective memory of a generation of residents who are, after all, the central characters of the story. While the analysis clearly and consistently connects this regional and local story to forces and patterns beyond, the book is unabashed in its goal of providing the locally interested as full and complex a story as possible. While some may see this as a weakness, it reflects the author’s commitment to serving the historical needs of a local audience. This concern for audience is mirrored in the careful organization and prose. Barajas has crafted a book that speaks to an audience of professionally trained historians as easily as it does to a student new to the subject. Each chapter is written as a self-contained narrative, opening with a useful, nonrepetitive reframing of the story that came before, and concluding with a clearly written, succinct “takeaway.”

Mexican Americans with Moxie is a welcome contribution to the fields of Chicano and California histories, as meaningful for afficionados of the local history of Ventura County as it is for the larger historiography of the Chicano movement.

Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr.