Friday, April 13, 2007

Mendez v Westminster

All it took was one couple to ask one question...

In Orange County, Gonzalo Mendez, a tenant farmer in Westminster, and his wife Felicitas, a native of Puerto Rico, along with a group of Mexican American World War II veterans asked a fundamental question about their communities: If we are good enough to fight and die alongside Anglos, then why are my children not good enough to attend the same schools as their children? Early in 1945, They filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles against four Orange County school districts--Westminster, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and El Modena (now eastern Orange)--seeking an injunction that would order their schools' integration.

Two years later, despite organized resistance by the school districts, and because of a great deal of effort by community organizers and a tremendous amount of personal time and money expended by the Mendez family, school segregation was no more in California. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on April 14, 1947, that school districts could not segregate on the basis of national origin--that is, that the authorities could not make children go to separate, even if equal, schools simply because they were of Mexican descent.

(From LA Times via

So 60 years ago tomorrow, segregation began to fall. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California schools could no longer discriminate based on national origin. And while it certainly did not end all state-sanctioned discrimination, it did begin a process of breaking down these barriers. This was the beginning of a new era when this state and this nation truly began to ask itself why some citizens were treated unlike the others, and why the color of someone's skin should dictate whether or not that person should be treated like a fellow human being. Let's take a moment today to remember those brave souls in orange county who took on not just school segregation, but the entire scourge of racism in California, and in America.

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