Synopsis of the Book
The book 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty… and then Oxnard by Martin Alberto Gonzalez is a story about a young boy with brown skin who lives in Oxnard, about his friends and family, and about the scenically beautiful city of Oxnard. Remarkably, contrary to the main message of the title, the book presents life stories that reveal the beauty of the local community, the beauty of its daily life, and the nobility in relations between people. In Martin’s book, Alberto Gonzalez discusses such important social issues as stereotyping, structural violence, gentrification, and racial inequality.
However, the book does not use an over-serious tone to convey to the reader the importance of the topics covered. In contrast, life in Oxnard and outsider perceptions of the city are presented from the point of view of insiders who have no idea about the many stereotypes associated with the city. For example, in the first chapter, Gonzalez ironically compares the signs along the highway announcing the entrance to Malibu and its “21 miles of the scenic beauty” and the entrance to South Oxnard. Martin creatively interprets the Oxnard invitation as “15 miles of the most beautiful brown people.” He describes scenes from the lives of local people, such as a weekly gathering at a local park where Hispanic Mexicans play football and cook street food while communicating in Spanish.
Remarkably, the author pays special attention to the issue of bilingualism in the book. Although he was forced to take an exam in standardized English during his English course at university, Martin concluded that standardized English narrows the possibilities of self-expression and makes masterful use of bilingualism in his book. For example, he brings a professor-student dialogue where the student expresses his opinion on educational strategies for brown people and uses words both from English and Spanish languages, and this approach to vocabulary is seen throughout the whole book.
Reaction to Overall Message and Articulation
The overall message focuses on the people of Oxnard, not being whom tourists or Malibu people think they are. In particular, the author pays special attention to stereotypes at the beginning of the book to make the reader think about what abyss can separate real life from a perceived one. The author discusses the issues of structural violence or how health and education systems discriminate against Oxnard residents.
The author illustrates how systems that are supposed to create opportunities for Americans deprive them of life prospects. By definition, “structural violence refers to any scenario in which a social structure perpetuates inequity, thus causing preventable suffering” (Lewis, 2021; par. 1). For example, the author illustrates the idea that the local Oxnard school does not provide an official opportunity for its graduates to continue their studies in college due to the lack of some courses related to subsequent certification. This state of affairs is blatant injustice and violates any moral laws, but the people responsible for this state of affairs either do not attach importance to this or cannot change the situation.
An equally important issue that Martin Alberto Gonzalez discusses in the book is the growing trend toward gentrification. Gentrification, by definition, is a “transformation of a city neighborhood from low value to high value” (Picardo, 2020, par. 1). The main purpose of gentrification is to exploit or create an economic advantage by settling or building in poorer geographically advantageous areas. However, gentrification has a significant drawback within the framework of social justice since, in most cases, residents who previously inhabited areas are forced to move to more remote places or even are forcibly evicted by those in power.
Unfortunately, gentrification is still a popular urban-renewal program today, despite the abundance of historical and contemporary evidence of its detrimental effects on communities. It is not uncommon for developers to create artificial inflation in property prices when there is a need to evict locals and subsequently sharply increase property prices. Martin Gonzalez illustrated this problem in a book, describing how ten of his fellow Oxnard residents live in three-room apartments (Gonzalez, 2017). Remarkably, given the optimistic style of storytelling, the author focused on how people support each other rather than on the obvious problem side of the issue.
Critique of the Overall Argument
There are different types of structural violence, and the author presents all of them in the book. It is noteworthy that the book is written in the genre of stories, and the author does not speak directly with the expression of certain social positions or calls to action. On the contrary, Gonzalez represents life in its innocent routine and people – acquaintances, friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, and older relatives who may not speak English. However, this approach has a stronger impact on the reader, as the pictures of life described create a contrast to stereotypes about the moral superiority of Malibu or other fashionable districts, or tourist surfers, over the residents of Oxnard. The author shows the most attractive aspects of life, such as relationships between people based on mutual support and respect for traditions and the world around them.
Therefore, although the author does not use the logos rhetorical tool, he masterfully communicates his message through the instruments of ethos and pathos. It is noteworthy that the book cannot be called overly pathetic since the author does not exaggerate the merits of the inhabitants of Oxnard neighborhoods, reflecting both the positive and negative or problematic aspects of the relationship. In general, the presence of a large amount of factual material about the life of people in Oxnard and personal experience allowed the author to create an extremely informative story in a light, somewhat humorous form.
Critique of the First Chapter
In the first chapter, the author very vividly and ironically illustrates how stereotypes prevail in the minds of most people and how they do not know anything about the city and have never been there. Nevertheless, they have extremely negative ideas about it. Notably, the neighbors’ lack of awareness of life in Oxnard was one of the reasons Martin Gonzalez wrote the book. He describes with warm humor how tourists see the locals as unworthy of the attention of the hard workers of the strawberry plantations and untrustworthy potential members of street gangs. However, most community problems are not related to crime but to the social phenomenon of structural violence, in which government systems such as the education system narrow down career opportunities among members of the community.
Book 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty… and then Oxnard by Martin Alberto Gonzalez is a beautiful illustration of such important concepts as discrimination, structural violence, and gentrification. In particular, reading the book helped me to better understand the meaning of these concepts, as well as the aspects and roots of sociological problems associated with them. Therefore, the book is not only a way to enrich the cultural perception of the surrounding life but also an excellent source for understanding sociological basic concepts.
Gonzalez, M. A. (2017). 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty… and then Oxnard: Counterstories and testimonies. Barnes and Noble.
Lewis, E. (2021). What is structural violence? Web.
Picardo, E. (2020). Gentrification. Web.