Mendez VS Westminster 


By the 1940s 80% or more of the Mexican American students in California attended so called “Mexican schools”. Again, as noted earlier it was supposed to different but equal, except it was not. Part of the argument was that with specialized instruction this group of special students could Americanize quicker. In addition, school started two weeks late for these students since they had to help their parents with the walnut harvest. And, when the citrus harvest started, school changed and let out at 12.30 pm so kids could join parents in the orchids. Buildings that housed the (Special) kids were usually in poor condition and the staff was usually found to be lacking as well. Not to mention the playground designated for recess was basically just an empty lot. The irony of this same but equal policy is some of the schools were located within sight of each other and others were separated by a chain-link fence. As you can imagine this did not escape notice from parents and some children. Even though this happened decades ago it still bothers me to think of both the parents and children of that era. 

Photo Courtesy of Mendez Family

Photo Courtesy of Mendez Family

  Now we can imagine that no parent thought this was fair and like most parents you want better for your children and that usually starts with education. They first go to the school board to plead their case. Pero, the board consist primarily of rich growers with a vested interest in keeping things the same as always. In fact, as students got older, they were trained to work in the agricultural field and service industries. So of course, this did not work and as you can imagine most people would at that point just give up. Pero, not Mr. and Ms. Mendez instead they filed suit with William Guzman, Frank Palomino, Thomas Estrada, and Lorenzo Ramirez. And, if you think other mothers were not involved in this action you would be wrong. Gender discrimination may have been the only thing theses mother had in common with Angelo ladies of that era. Men took the forefront, but some were pushed by the women in their lives. The suit was filed in District court as Mendez VS Westminster by family’s attorney David Marcus and finally got to Federal District Judge Paul McCormick in 1946.

  The Judge ruled for the families saying that, “Separation of Mexican American children is unconstitutional under California law and violated the equal protection clause of 14th amendment in the constitution”. Public education is social equality, it must be open to all children regardless of linage. In addition to the Mexican children the ruling also covered all children of color including Asian and Native American children. This ruling was noted by the NAACP which saw it as a test case that may allow them to challenge school segregation nationwide. 

  In 2007 the Post Office issued a stamp to commemorate this landmark decision. And in 2011 Sylvia Mendez, the daughter of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez was presented with the presidential medal of honor from President Barrack Obama. And, while this fact has not been widely reported. “Now you know, and I invite to share”. As I stated in part one, this is just one example there are many more that go back even further, we will continue digging as long as you continue reading.

By A. Govea


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