Dreaming About a Beautiful School

Sylvia Mendez was born in California in 1936. Her father was a Mexican immigrant to the U.S. and her mother came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico. The family was renting a farm in Westminster, CA from a Japanese family that had been relocated to an internment camp during World War II.

In Westminster, there were two elementary schools. The one for white children was beautiful as seen through the eyes of Sylvia. The one for children of color, primarily Mexican Americans, was a two-room wood shack. Sylvia dreamed of going to the beautiful school.

When her aunt took her brother and cousins to the beautiful school, the cousins were admitted because their skin tone was light. Sylvia and her brothers were denied entrance. When the children were rejected, Sylvia’s father and mother decided to contest the denial in court. Other families joined in the lawsuit.

The justification used by the school board was that the Mexican-American children were lacking in English language skills and needed special instruction. When the children were asked to testify, this argument was quickly proven to be bogus.

The judge ruled in favor of the Mendez and other families. The school board appealed, but by now a number of prominent organizations joined in with the Mendez family to uphold the judge’s original ruling. One of those groups was the NAACP represented by Thurgood Marshall.

The original ruling was upheld. The Governor of California, Earl Warren, took action to desegregate all public schools in California.

Six years later, Thurgood Marshall argued the case of Brown vs. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court. He used many of the same arguments that were earlier used in the appeal of the judge’s ruling in the Mendez case. The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was Earl Warren.

The hope of an eight-year-old girl to go to a beautiful school became the catalyst that changed America. A beautiful school doesn’t just mean the way it looks. It is beautiful for fulfilling the hopes of every child who enters, no matter their race, ethnicity, or any other biological trait.

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            “The evidence clearly shows that Spanish-speaking children are retarded in learning English by lack of exposure to its use because of segregation, and that commingling of the entire student body instills and develops a common cultural attitude among the school children which is imperative for the perpetuation of American institutions and ideals.” – Judge Paul McCormick (part of his ruling in the Mendez case)

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