Before Brown vs Board of Education there was  Mendez vs Westminster School Board


Photo Courtesy of Mendez family

Photo Courtesy of Mendez family

Before I get to the main story, I want to share a couple things with you, our readers. First you have probably heard as I have that we our (community) dos not stand up for ourselves.  That is a false narrative, this article is just one example of how we our community has been fighting for justice long before most of us were born. Second, in my experience having taught classes on the Chicano Civil Rights movement to mostly high school kids, close to 100% knew nothing of that history. In fact, several commented that now with the knowledge learned they would have a response to other classmates that said, “We had to do it all for you guys”. Who’s fault was this that our children were unprepared to defend their own community? You can blame the educational system. And soon they will finally (after our community fought for it) be offering a Chicano studies program. Pero, if you ask me, the fault lies not in the schools but in our homes. Now some parents may say, well, I didn’t know either. That is true. Our struggles and victories were not reported as extensively as the Black experience. So maybe we may have to dig a little harder for information. Pero, just like you make sure your kids are dressed properly for the elements, it is important that they know at least something about their cultural history. Because just like a tree cannot grow without its roots, so it is with people. You can’t be proud or defend a history you know nothing of. Not judging here. Pero, in this time in our countries history I believe it is even more important that our children have a cultural history they can be proud of and possibly be prepared to defend. 

  So, with all that in mind, I want to share with you a tale of some Raza families that stood up to inequality way back in 1930. This was California San Diego County, which practiced separately but equal based on Plessy V Ferguson.  They established Mexican Americans schools to keep White kids separated from all others. And that was just the way it was until a group of Mexican American parents decided that their children deserved the same education as the Angelo kids. First, they staged a boycott, and when that did not yield the desired results, they sued. And Lo-and-behold they were successful. However, the lawsuit only resulted in the change in their school district. Around the state and the nation, things did not change because of this one victory.

  The discrimination and outright racism were everywhere in the 1940s where our story heads next. To attend a movie, you had to sit in the balcony. Want to cool off in a public pool, well you must wait for Mexican Mondays which was the right before all pools were drained and cleaned. That way the pool would not have Mexican germs when the Lily-White kids showed up Tuesday through Saturday. Ditto for restaurants and most public establishments, they would display signs that read “No dogs or Mexicans Allowed”. So it was with this backdrop that the Mendez family moved to Westminster California a little town outside L.A. upon arrival they attempted to enroll their kids in the 17th Street school.  They had some relatives that had enrolled their kids there and heard it was an excellent school. Pero, there was a difference they and their kids were light complected and their last name was Vldaurri a European sounding name.  Well, that did not sit well with the Mendez family and most other Mexican American families there. End of Part 1.

Next week; They stood up for Mexican Americans, Asian, and Native American children.


By A. Govea


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