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Compton in My Soul: A Life in Pursuit of Racial Equality

Stanford University Press

Forthcoming July 2024

Lessons and inspiration from a lifetime of teaching about race and ethnic relations

When Al Camarillo grew up in Compton, California, racial segregation was the rule. His relatives were among the first Mexican immigrants to settle there—in the only neighborhood where Mexicans were allowed to live. The city's majority was then White, and Compton would shift to a predominantly Black community over Al's youth. Compton in My Soul weaves Al's personal story with histories of this now-infamous place, and illuminates a changing US society—the progress and backslides over half a century for racial equality and educational opportunity.

Entering UCLA in the mid 1960s, Camarillo was among the first students of color, one of only forty-four Mexican Americans on a campus of thousands. He became the first Mexican American in the country to earn a PhD in Chicano/Mexican American history, and established himself as a preeminent US historian with a prestigious appointment at Stanford University. In this candid and warm-hearted memoir, Camarillo offers his career as a vehicle for tracing the evolution of ethnic studies, reflecting on intergenerational struggles to achieve racial equality from the perspective at once of a participant and an historian.

Camarillo's story is a quintessential American chronicle and speaks to the best and worst of who we are as a people and as a nation. He unmasks fundamental contradictions in American life—racial injustice and interracial cooperation, inequality and equal opportunity, racial strife and racial harmony. Even as legacies of inequality still haunt American society, Camarillo writes with a message of hope for a better, more inclusive America—and the aspiration that his life's journey can inspire others as they start down their own path.