15 Jun Different Places, Same Communities.
“Being Mexican is a state of soul—not one of mind, not one of citizenship. Neither eagle or serpent, but both. And like the ocean, neither animal respects borders.”—Gloria Anzaldúa THE PEOPLE INVOLVED Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez (Source: Sylvia Mendez) The story of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez is a story that has been obscured in the records of history. A story of courage and pride, the Latino couple filed a class action lawsuit in 1947 against Mexican-American segregation in schools in Southern California. Eventually becoming Mendez v. Westminster School of Orange County, this case challenged the notion of segregated schools and it now demonstrates the political strength and agency of Latino communities in the post WWII era. Sylvia Mendez (Source: Sylvia Mendez) I had the opportunity to speak with Sylvia Mendez, daughter of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, this week and she shared her first hand experiences with me of the case and LULAC’s and the NAACP’s eventual involvement. But her fight hasn’t ended: Sylvia Mendez, now 80 years old, is still traveling around California and the nation making sure that Mendez v. Westminster receives the attention it rightfully deserves. CONNECTION TO TOPEKA, KANSAS In Kansas, Mexican American students were segregated in a similar fashion as their Californian counterparts. The Branner Annex school in Topeka was constructed for Mexican American students from kindergarten to third grade. Although the school district and principals justified the segregation by claiming that it helped teach students English, the teachers and resources in the Branner Annex school demonstrated that no effort was being made to accomplish this goal. It wasn’t until the parents of these students began to demand change, that the Annex school closed in 1942 and Mexican American students were no longer segregated in Topeka, Kansas. These stories in California and Kansas transcend the limitations of distance and language, because both communities demonstrated a insatiable need for equal opportunities and education. Sources: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa Mendez v. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights by Philippa Strum “No Más: Branner Annex and Mexican American Education in Topeka” by Nick Murray