Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez
GONZALO AND FELICITAS MENDEZ were like so many other Mexican Americanfamilies living in California in the 1940’s. Gonzalo and FelicitasMendez faced discrimination at all levels of society. After the Treatyof Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 ceded California and the Southwest to theUnited States, Mexican American families saw little hope of acheivingequality with their Anglo counterparts. Mr. and Mrs. Mendez were hurtby the discrimination they encountered on a daily basis. But it hurtthem even more when they saw their children become victims of thisdiscrimination. After one hundred years of California’s MexicanAmerican children being relegated to an inferior education, Gonzalo andFelicitas Mendez decided to do something about it.
Gonzalo was a tenantfarmer living in the Westminster area of Southern California. Mendezand his wife, Felicitas, decided that neither they nor their childrenwere going to be treated as second class citizens. In early 1945, theyorganized a group of parents to take on the Orange County School andstop its practice of keeping Mexican American children segregated fromAnglo children. While Anglo children attended academically orientedclasses in modern buildings using new books, Mexican American childrenattend vocationally oriented classes in old buildings using inferiorbooks.
Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez knew that a legal fight against awell entrenched segregationist educational system was going to betough. This did not stop them. A civil rights attorney was hired andthe lawsuit was filed in the federal courts in Los Angeles. The lawsuitnamed five Mexican American families, including the Mendez family asplaintiffs.The lawsuit, entitled Mendez V. Westminster, asked the courtto issue an injunction ordering the integration of the school district.The lawsuit argued that segregation based on national origin violatedthe United States Constitution. The case was won but the districtappealed. On April 14, 1947, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appealsruled in favor of the Mexican American families.
Eight years afterMendez V. Westminster, the then future Justice of the Supreme Court,Thurgood Marshall, argued the famous case of Brown V. Board ofEducation. The Brown case outlawed the “separate but equal” educationthroughout the United States. In arguing his case, Marshallrelied on Mendez V. Westminster as legal precedent.
Because of theirbravery and dedication, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez opened the doorfor a better education not only for children in California, but forchildren throughout the United States. Their efforts have been recentlyrecognized and honored by groups like the Los Angeles Mexican AmericanBar Association.
On December 3, 1997, the Santa Ana School Board, thesame school district that once practiced segregation, dedicated theGonzalo and Felicitas Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School. MendezFundamental Intermediate School is a school of choice. Allstudents will have the opportunity to receive a quality and enrichedcurriculum, regardless of the language they speak or the color of theirskin.
For More information check the School Pride section under Our School.