Cover of Compton in My Soul by Albert M. Camarillo
Compton in My Soul
A Life in Pursuit of Racial Equality
Albert M. Camarillo


July 2024
312 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638198
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639317

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

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.

About the author

Albert M. Camarillo is widely regarded as one of the founding scholars of the field of Mexican American history and Chicano Studies. He has been a member of the Stanford University history faculty since 1975, and has served as the President of the Organization of American Historians. Camarillo has published numerous books and essays that examine the experiences of Mexican Americans and other racial and immigrant groups in American cities.

"Camarillo's impactful life, his decades of agenda-setting scholarship and extraordinary dedication to teaching showcase an academic career committed to political activism yet imbued with gentility and generosity. In an era of political polarization and a sloppy disregard for evidence among some partisans, his book provides a refreshing antidote and useful model."

—Lorena Oropeza, Los Angeles Times

"[T]he book imparts a wealth of information about the effects of segregation and the struggle for racial equality in America. Its stories highlight the importance of family and community solidarity; the pivotal events of the transformative, turbulent 1960s and beyond; and the successful efforts of forward-thinking minority educators to see ethnic studies included among university programs. [A]n inspirational memoir."

—Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews

"This profound memoir showcases Al Camarillo's great heart and extraordinary ability to find common cause amid diversity. His compelling storytelling seamlessly weaves threads of racial and ethnic history into the rich tapestry of our shared human experience."

—Natalia Molina, author of A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community

"Albert Camarillo is one of the nation's most distinguished historians. Compton in My Soul shares a raw, intimate portrait of his extraordinary life—and rewrites the American story through his insights as a Brown boy from Compton. A breathtaking tale of love, struggle, and community."

—Kelly Lytle Hernández, author of Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands

"Al Camarillo has been a mentor, role model, and inspiring educator to thousands of students over decades. His life's journey reminds us of the wonderful progress America has made toward racial equality and also inspires us to keep working hard to close the gaps that still exist."

—Julián Castro, Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

"A rare, behind-the-scenes view into a lifelong commitment to social justice and path to academic excellence. Al Camarillo shares his passion and tells a stunning life story of emerging from a multiracial working-class Compton barrio and becoming one of the most influential Chicano historians of his generation."

—George J. Sánchez, author of Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy