By R.S. Rodriguez
Nestled about thirty miles south of Santa Barbara and 25 miles north of Malibu along the Pacific Ocean Coastline, Oxnard is the largest city in Ventura County, California with a population hovering around 220,000. Originally the home of the Chumash Native Americans, the area was “discovered” by Juan Rodriguez (no relation I am aware of) Cabrillo and claimed by Spain in 1542. Fast forward 420 years to 1962, the year I was born, when the population hovered around 45,000.
The city was originally named after the Oxnard brothers. Specifically, Henry T. Oxnard, an entrepreneur and farmer who founded a sugar beet factory in the area in the late 1800’s.
Agriculture has always played a major role in the economy of the city. Oxnard often competes with Watsonville, California for the title of “Strawberry Capitol of the World.”
Strawberries, lima beans, lettuce, celery and other fruits and vegetables thrive in the rich soil of the Oxnard Plain. My parents, originally from Jalisco, Mexico, were seasonal workers following the harvests throughout California and Arizona. They landed in the Oxnard area in the middle 1950s and decided to plant their roots in Oxnard due to abundance of work in the agricultural fields, the pleasant weather and the weariness of traveling to follow the harvest.
My father was a “cargador” or stacker. Though he worked in various industries throughout his life (including, but not limited to, working in mine shafts, construction, cement laying), he found his niche stacking trucks with boxes filled with produce. Standing around five foot eight and never weighing more than 175 Lbs or so, he was a notoriously strong man who was respected on the fields for his work ethic and strength.
When he worked the fields, the trucks were stacked manually, unlike today where forklifts are often used. It was not uncommon for my father and his co-workers (usually a crew of four) to lift approximately 2500 100 Lbs boxes of produce daily onto the trucks.
It was extremely difficult work and regardless of sunshine, heat or heavy rain, the trucks had to be filled. I have many memories of my father returning from work, his pants soaked and covered in mud experiencing excruciating pain from leg cramps that seemed to last for hours when I was a child. My mother would do her best to relieve his pain.
When he worked the fields, he would at times return home with aromas and smells I still recognize today. The smell of the soil, of frolicking in the fields, the different scents of strawberries and celery.
My mother and older siblings also worked in the fields, yet after time, my mother landed a job in a plant and worked seasonally, usually four months each year in the summer, so she could raise her children (especially those of us of the younger generation). My eldest brothers and sisters realized how difficult working the fields were and pursued education and professional careers in light of soil toil.
My childhood is filled with memories of riding bikes through the dirt roads of those fields, attending school, developing friendships and riding our bikes about a mile west to Silver Strand beach to body surf in the summer (Oxnard also boasts Oxnard Shores and Hollywood Beaches, respectfully. We learned at a young age, however, that the breaks at Oxnard Shores were violent and that the channel was dangerous. We avoided that beach).
Before I was born and while I became a budding body surfer, along with my buddies, I recall keeping my eyes peeled for celebrity sightings. Though in my formative years Oxnard was a small town, its beaches attracted the celebrities of Hollywood. Sonny and Cher, Charlie Chapman, Rudolph Valentino (I’m not certain when he passed, but I always wanted to pick his brain), John Carradine, Donna Reed, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, George Kennedy of “Cool Hand Luke” fame all lived or had summer houses along the beaches of our tiny town. (In later years, Pat Sajak James Cameron and countless others would buy homes here along the coast. Before he passed, the adult film star John Holmes even requested his ashes be scattered along the beach and ocean of Oxnard. I never condoned his profession, but I suppose he simply appreciated our beaches). Lee Van Cleef of “The Good, The Bad (he was The Bad) and The Ugly” unfortunately passed away while strolling along one of our beaches.
I’m 48 years old now. I was born and raised in Oxnard, left for many years to live in San Francisco, but returned home. I had the “born in a small town and want to experience the big city” syndrome for many years. Then I grew weary of the big city. I have been back many years and am experiencing desires to leave the relatively small city of Oxnard to experience another big city such as Chicago, Los Angeles (Westside only, please), New York or Paris. We shall see if those desires ever materialize.
In the meantime, though it’s not Paris, I’m comfortable living in Oxnard. It’s home.