A member of the Stanford University History Department since 1975, Camarillo is widely regarded as one of the founding scholars of the field of Mexican American history and Chicano Studies. He was born and raised in the South Central Los Angeles community of Compton where he attended the Compton public schools before entering the University of California at Los Angeles as a freshman in 1966. He continued his education at UCLA in the Ph.D. program in U.S. History where he received his doctorate in 1975 and where his dissertation was nominated that year as one of the best Ph.D. theses in the nation in American history. Camarillo has published seven books and dozens of articles and essays dealing with the experiences of Mexican Americans and other racial and immigrant groups in American cities.
Camarillo’s newest book, America's Racial Borderhoods: Mexican Americans and the Changing Ethnic/Racial Landscapes of Cities, 1850-2000 will be published in spring 2016 by Oxford University Press. Two of his books, Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios (Harvard University Press, 1979, six printings; Southern Methodist University Press edition, March 2005) and Chicanos in California: A History of Mexican Americans (Boyd and Fraser, 1984, four printings) have been widely read. He is currently working on a book entitled Going Back to Compton: Reflections of a Native Son on Life in an Infamous American City, an autobiographical and historical account of Compton from the 1950s to 2010.
Over the course of his career, Camarillo has received many awards and fellowships. He is the only faculty member in the history of Stanford University to receive six of the highest and most prestigious awards for excellence in teaching, service to undergraduate education, and contributions to the University and its alumni association. At Stanford’s Commencement in 1988 and in 1994 respectively, he received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education and the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1997, he was awarded the Bing Teaching Fellowship Award for Excellence and Innovation in Undergraduate Teaching. Camarillo was awarded the Miriam Roland Prize for Volunteer Service for 2005, an award that recognizes a Stanford Faculty member who “over and above their normal academic duties engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant volunteer service to society.” Most recently, he received the Richard W. Lyman Award from the Stanford Alumni Association in 2010 and the President’s Award for Excellence Through Diversity in 2011. Camarillo has also received various awards for research and writing including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship; he was also a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and at the Stanford Humanities Center.
Camarillo served as President of the Organization of American Historians for 2012-13, the nation’s largest membership association for historians of the U.S. He is also the past president to the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch.