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UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Hosts Symposium on 1946 Case Ending Segregation in California Schools

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As a young girl, Sylvia Mendez attended a segregatedschool. She did not grow up in the South but in Orange County, California, inthe 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 nomonkey bars for us or anything like that."

Mendez's parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas, wanted theirchildren to have the same educational opportunities as other children. They andother parents sued the Westminster School District on behalf of 5,000 studentsof Mexican descent and eventually won.

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center willpresent a one-day symposium on this 1946 landmark desegregation case thatsuccessfully ended de jure segregation in California. The symposium will takeplace from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 21, in the UCLA Faculty Center, 480Charles E. Young Dr. The event is free and open to the public.

The symposium, entitled "Mendez v. WestminsterSchool District: Paving the Path for School Desegregation," will bring togetherscholars, students, artists and experts from across California to discuss whatwas until recently a little-known case.

Presenters include the children of Gonzalo andFelicitas Mendez, who were the main plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, as well asa number of former students who attended Hoover School, the Westminster SchoolDistrict's designated "Mexican school" in the 1940s.

An exhibit of photographs and documents relatedto the Mendez case will be displayed. "Fire in the Morning," an exhibit createdby Yolanda Alvarez, also will be on display. "Fire in the Morning" provides ageneral overview of the lives of Mexican Americans in Orange County in theearly part of the 20th century.

"The Mendez symposium will inform students andthe general public about the significance of the Mendez case to the success ofBrown v. Board of Education 50 years ago this year," said Carlos Haro,assistant director of the Chicano Studies Research Center. "It will honor theefforts of the many Mexicans and Chicana/os involved in the Mendez lawsuit whostruggled against California school segregation and discrimination in order toimprove education for all. The lessonsof this case are especially important today in California now that Latinonewborns represent the majority of births in the state, yet Latinos continue tohave unequal access to educational opportunities."

Highlights of the conference include:

       At 9:30 a.m., Sylvia Mendez will give openingremarks.

       At 9:45 a.m., the panel entitled "The MendezCase and School Segregation: An Overview" will present an historical overviewof the case, as well as discussion on the legal, economic and labor-relatedsignificance of school segregation and issues of race and racism in theschools. Panelists include Gilbert Gonzalez, UC Irvine professor of socialscience and author of "Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation";Christopher Arriola, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney and judicialchair 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–winningwriter and producer of the KOCE-PBS documentary "Mendez vs. Westminster: Forall the Children/Para Todos los Nios," will discuss her educational campaign,whose aim is for students nationwide, age 9 through college, to know thehistory that happened in California that helped change the United States. Thevideo also will be shown.

       At 1:30 p.m., former students of the "Mexicanschools" will discuss their experiences.

       At 2:30 p.m., panelists will discuss the legaland educational significance of the Mendez case. Panelists include OrangeCounty Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Aguirre; Charles Wollenberg, chair ofsocial science at Vista Community College; John Rogers, associate director ofUCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access; Erica Bennett, a graduatestudent in the department of information studies at UCLA; and Nadine Bermudez,a UCLA graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in education and whose family attendedsegregated schools in Orange County where they were involved in efforts todesegregate the schools. Bermudez has conducted extensive research on the caseand its impact.

       At 5:30 p.m., a staged hearing adapted from thepre-trial hearing, witness testimony and the court's conclusions of law willtake place, coordinated by Erica Bennett.

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