If you've read one book on Mexican immigrants by sociologists, you've read them all. They rarely stray from a narrative depicting the immigrants as poor victims kept down by a toxic mixture of gabachos, Aztecs and the Catholic Church, a narrative that hasn't fundamentally changed since the Black Legend. And it drives Jody Agius Vallejo loca.
“I want to change the narrative of what it is to be Mexican and Mexican-American in this country,” says the USC professor of sociology. “People have this idea that Mexicans are monolithically poor, but as with every other immigrant group, they change.”
Vallejo has created a stir in academia with her first book, Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class, which is based on a doctoral dissertation she penned as a graduate student at UC Irvine and is based mostly on interviews conducted with Orange County residents. Vallejo chose the topic not only because Chicano scholars have long ignored the subject, but also because of personal experience: Though born in Michigan of Italian and Maltese heritage, Vallejo (who says she's “mexicana in my heart”) grew up in Placentia surrounded by friends and family who were middle-to-upper-class Mexican-Americans yet came from working-class backgrounds. Her first job was at a Latino grocery store owned by the family of a friend whose brother she would eventually marry.
“It gives me an insider-outsider perspective,” says Vallejo, who now resides in Dana Point. “And OC is a harbinger of what's going to happen to the rest of the United States.”
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• “My favorite 'chuppy' type of Mexican,” Vallejo says of the San Clemente hot spot South of Nick's, using the slang for a Chicano yuppie. “I love Cesar the bartender. He makes a cocktail called the Spicy Lover with Pop Rocks as the salt on the rim, and he also serves a paloma,” a type of Mexican cocktail involving tequila and Squirt. She recommends ordering the shrimp taquitos and seafood burrito—”and ask for the secret hot salsa.” 110 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 481-4545; thenickco.com/southofnicks.php.
• Dana Point doesn't have a large Latino population, which makes Marina Ranch Market that much more valuable for the profe. “It makes great chips in-house and excellent ceviche. I love that I can find Mexican spices here, and the bolillos are great, too.” 34146 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 496-4669.
• “My stylist [at Salon 359], Melissa, is awesome,” she says. “We have the most interesting, amazing conversations about everything.” 359 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 760-8359; www.salon359.com.
• At El Patio Cafe, Vallejo orders “potato tacos, deliciously seasoned potato chunks in big, gabacho-style shells. And garlicky rice.” 34226 Doheny Park Rd., Capistrano Beach, (949) 496-9074; www.elpatiocafe.com.
• “Gotta give a shout-out to Rose and Tony,” Vallejo says in reference to the owners of Tony's Little Italy, which she has patronized since moving to the county. “They do things how they want to do them, which means how it's supposed to be done. It's pure pizza goodness.” In addition to recommending the thin crust and the baked mostaccioli, she appreciates the Manzellas' care in pleasing vegetarian customers such as herself. “As they say, 'That's the best-ah!'” 1808 N. Placentia Ave., Placentia, (714) 528-2159; www.tonyslittleitaly.com.
• “I take the train to work, and I love arriving at the San Juan Capistrano Train Station in the early morning, when the sun is just coming out and the birds are chirping and the hummingbirds are zinging around the track. I also love the train station because it means I don't have to drive to work, and commuting by train is more energy-efficient than driving. More people should take the train.” 26701 Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano.