Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh details the struggle Sylvia Mendez’ parents undertook to ensure that she and her siblings were able to attend the public school closest to their house, a school that was not only closer than the “Mexican school”, but also provided a superior education.
While the superintendent would only vaguely tell Gonzalo Mendez that his children couldn’t attend Westminster School because “that is how it is done” the court case revealed the depth of his prejudice. Without speaking to the students he assured the court that 75% of the Mexican students had poor hygiene and were academically inferior. Such blatant prejudices, particularly the claim that they all spoke poor English, were easily dispelled by student testimony.
Governor Earl Warren desegregated all California schools in 1947, opening the schoolhouse doors for not only Sylvia Mendez and Mexican children, but children from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. He also laid the groundwork for 1954, when as Supreme Court Justice he would rule on behalf of African-American students in Brown vs The Board of Education. Tonatiuh’s book was an eye-opener for me. I had not realized that segregation for the children of Mexican immigrants was codified until reading Separate is Never Equal.
Strong back matter accompanies this solid title of overcoming prejudice and changing American schools.
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