Ignacio Lujano, Last of OC's Old-School Naranjeros, Passes Away at 91

Lujano: Que descanse en paz
Lujano: Que descanse en paz
Photo by Keith May

Ignacio Lujano, the last of Orange County's old-school naranjeros--the Mexican men who tended to the county's iconic orange industry for decades--passed away over the weekend in Lake Elsinore of heart failure. He was 91.

Lujano had taken care of orange groves in San Juan Capistrano since the 1950s, eventually ending up in 1970 on the 40-acre Swanner Ranch, which stood just next to I-5 South in the northern edge of the city. He lived there for the next 38 years, raising his family and making sure the groves stayed healthy. He irrigated, picked crops, turned on the smudge pots during frosty nights, and weeded. This bucolic life ended in 2008, when the city unceremoniously kicked him out to raze the grove for a maintenance yard.

The Weekly covered Lujano's saga in 2008, and the story quickly went national. The tragedy of an elderly man like Lujano forced to sit around while San Juan Capistrano slowly killed his orange trees outraged many, but nothing could be done, as the city owned the Swanner Ranch. Actually, city officials launched a smear campaign against the then-85-year old, trying to slur him as a tax burden (Lujano had been paid with city funds, per the agreement San Juan had with the last private owner of the Swanner Ranch) and even threatening legal action if Lujano didn't vacate the property by a certain date. In the face of public uproar, the city switched course and vowed to make the Swanner Ranch into a public park, with the orchard "restored"--but seven years later, and nothing. In fact, the dried, dead branches of Lujano's former wards can still be seen from I-5, a daily reminder of government stupidity and ineptitude at its worst.

"We keep on living," Lujano said on his last day on the ranch. "There is no remedy for life. I did this for many years, did a good job at it, and this is the thanks I get."

2008 cover for Lujano's story
2008 cover for Lujano's story

The Lujano family provided the following statement to the Weekly:

The Lujano family is sad to announce the passing of our beloved Patriarch , Ignacio Lujano. Don Nacho was loved by all of his 11 children, 29 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren.

He lived a good, long life doing what he enjoyed most,which was working hard to provide for his family and pursue the American Dream. He loved God and was a defender of the Catholic Faith. He was very respectful of all of God's creations and had an obsession for the outdoors. Good or bad, he believed in the will of God and lived his life accordingly. Always was true to his word and never took advantage of anyone. Despite humble beginnings and life's hardships, he taught us to persevere not just by words but by example. Always seeking to do right and be just, daily , even up to the day of his death. So few words cannot fully describe his 91 years of life and what he truly meant to us. The Lujano Family would like to thank and acknowledge all those who appreciated Ignacio and showed him the respect and kindness he deserved and earned.

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And this one's for the haters: his grandson, Dylan Lujano, works in Hollywood for Dick Clark Productions. From orange picker to Hollywood in three generations--how's THAT for assimilation?

Lujano was a wonderful man to interview, his story one of my favorites to tell, and I've kept in contact with his son, Alex, over the years, always happy to hear about his old man's exploits. And Don Nacho gets the last laugh over all those pendejo bureaucrats who kicked him out of the city and his beloved land. In the ultimate sign of San Juan royalty, his funeral will be this Friday at 1 p.m. at the Mission Basilica, followed by a procession to the Old Mission Cemetery, where the city's founding fathers and elite get laid to rest--now to be joined by the man who was the last of their kind.

Email: garellano@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @gustavoarellano.

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