Fullerton residents learned about North Orange County’s hidden past, progressive present, and shaky future during LA Times Columnist Gustavo Arellano’s appearance at Pollak Library on March 18.
The event was put on by Patrons of the Library at California State University, Fullerton. It attracted a packed room of attendees, with latecomers to the event vying for some standing-room space.
Arellano focused on significant events that have been forgotten or not found in polite historical societies. Events like the 1936 Citrus War, The Ku Klux Klan taking over Anaheim, and the great Santa Ana flood of 1938.
The citrus war was a strike by Mexican orange grove pickers going up against the citrus grove growers partnering up with local and county officials to suppress the striking efforts. Dr. Shana Charles, a Fullerton city council member and associate professor of public health at Cal State Fullerton, was surprised by the citrus war history and said it was the first time she had heard about it. Charles said she would look into a proposal to put up a memorial for the workers of the citrus war in Fullerton.
” I think it’s important that we start highlighting these places of our history that are not so nice,” said Charles. “We must look at names, what we are honoring, and make sure people don’t forget the history by putting up plaques and memorials.”
Other guests connected differently with Arellano’s presentation of forgotten history. Ashley Yniguez, an oral historian and history major at CSUF, said she does a lot of similar work to what Arellano does as a Journalist writing about history. Yniguez said it is important to her to uncover local history because there is so much in Orange County that people don’t talk about or don’t know about.
“A lot of times, our history is interviewing community members, and journalism has a huge part in that,” said Yniguez.
Arellano used the vintage orange crate labels that promoted a rose-tinted past of Orange County as a metaphor for the sanitization of history that is commonly told. He pointed out that the idealistic orange crate labels often featured rows of orange groves with idyllic sceneries but never the workers who picked, packed, and transported the citrus fruits.
“You see those orange crate labels, but where are the Mexicans picking those oranges? They are not there for a reason,” said Arellano. “If you put the workers in there, then you have to talk about the exploitation.”
Both the Santa Ana great flood and the Anaheim KKK takeover have been given the orange crate label treatment as well, said Arellano. With his work as a journalist, Arellano wants to fight against the orange crate label because history is not pretty. It’s full of struggle.
“I am going to tell all the good and bad stories. But, of course, I would love to tell more good stories, and I do. But there are a lot of bad stories out there,” Arellano said.
Arellano shared a personal story of a high school teacher who sugarcoated the Klan’s takeover of Anaheim and his realization of it later in life as a college student researching hate groups in Orange County. He contrasted his experience with high schools today that offer ethnic studies classes and will be required to graduate high school starting the 2025-2026 school year.
The event ended with a message from Arellano that this is not John Waynes Orange County anymore, it’s not even the Orange County he grew up in, and that makes him happy and proud to see the changes.
Arellano’s speaking series promoted his new book, which he co-authored with Elaine Lewinnek and Thuy Vo Dang, “A People’s Guide to Orange County,” published by the University of California Press.