UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Hosts Symposium on 1946 Case Ending Segregation in California Schools
As a young girl, Sylvia Mendez attended a segregated school. She did not grow up in the South but in Orange County, California, in the 1940s.
"The school was next to a cow pasture," Mendez, now 67, recalled. "The cows would come over all the time during lunch. There were no monkey bars for us or anything like that."
Mendez's parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas, wanted their children to have the same educational opportunities as other children. They and other parents sued the Westminster School District on behalf of 5,000 students of Mexican descent and eventually won.
The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center will present a one-day symposium on this 1946 landmark desegregation case that successfully ended de jure segregation in California. The symposium will take place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 21, in the UCLA Faculty Center, 480 Charles E. Young Dr. The event is free and open to the public.
The symposium, entitled "Mendez v. Westminster School District: Paving the Path for School Desegregation," will bring together scholars, students, artists and experts from across California to discuss what was until recently a little-known case.
Presenters include the children of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, who were the main plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, as well as a number of former students who attended Hoover School, the Westminster School District's designated "Mexican school" in the 1940s.
An exhibit of photographs and documents related to the Mendez case will be displayed. "Fire in the Morning," an exhibit created by Yolanda Alvarez, also will be on display. "Fire in the Morning" provides a general overview of the lives of Mexican Americans in Orange County in the early part of the 20th century.
"The Mendez symposium will inform students and the general public about the significance of the Mendez case to the success of Brown v. Board of Education 50 years ago this year," said Carlos Haro, assistant director of the Chicano Studies Research Center. "It will honor the efforts of the many Mexicans and Chicana/os involved in the Mendez lawsuit who struggled against California school segregation and discrimination in order to improve education for all. The lessons of this case are especially important today in California now that Latino newborns represent the majority of births in the state, yet Latinos continue to have unequal access to educational opportunities."
Highlights of the conference include:
· At 9:30 a.m., Sylvia Mendez will give opening remarks.
· At 9:45 a.m., the panel entitled "The Mendez Case and School Segregation: An Overview" will present an historical overview of the case, as well as discussion on the legal, economic and labor-related significance of school segregation and issues of race and racism in the schools. Panelists include Gilbert Gonzalez, UC Irvine professor of social science and author of "Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation"; Christopher Arriola, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney and judicial chair and former president of La Raza Lawyers Association; and Daniel Solorzano, UCLA professor and chair of the department of education.
· At 11:30 a.m., Sandra Robbie, Emmy Award–winning writer and producer of the KOCE-PBS documentary "Mendez vs. Westminster: For all the Children/Para Todos los Niños," will discuss her educational campaign, whose aim is for students nationwide, age 9 through college, to know the history that happened in California that helped change the United States. The video also will be shown.
· At 1:30 p.m., former students of the "Mexican schools" will discuss their experiences.
· At 2:30 p.m., panelists will discuss the legal and educational significance of the Mendez case. Panelists include Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Aguirre; Charles Wollenberg, chair of social science at Vista Community College; John Rogers, associate director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access; Erica Bennett, a graduate student in the department of information studies at UCLA; and Nadine Bermudez, a UCLA graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in education and whose family attended segregated schools in Orange County where they were involved in efforts to desegregate the schools. Bermudez has conducted extensive research on the case and its impact.
· At 5:30 p.m., a staged hearing adapted from the pre-trial hearing, witness testimony and the court's conclusions of law will take place, coordinated by Erica Bennett.