📚Separate Is Never Equal (2014)
Author & Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Imagine being told you could not go to a certain school just because of the color of your skin! This is a reality that is not too far removed from present day and possibly still systematically happening in some parts of America!
Sylvia Mendez was born in the United States of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. In 1944, she and her family relocated from Santa Ana to Westminster California where her father would lease a farm to harvest asparagus, chilies and tomatoes.
A peculiar thing happened when Sylvia’s Aunt went to the 17th Street public school to register her daughters, Sylvia and Sylvia’s brothers. The school secretary was eager to register Sylvia’s cousins but told her aunt that Sylvia and her brothers would have the go to the “Mexican School”. Wait…what? Sylvia was American, born and raised! Sylvia spoke perfect English and this school was closer to her house! Plus, her cousin’s father was Mexican also so what was the difference? Answer: Her cousin’s skin and hair was of a lighter and fair complexion. Sylvia and her brothers had darker skin that was brown and their hair black! Furiously Sylvia’s aunt left not even enrolling her daughters in the school!
Now you can clearly see without any explanation that the 17th Street Public School and the Mexican School were no where near equal!
Mr. Mendez unable to get anywhere with the school superintendent, created the Parents Association of Mexican-American Children and on March 2, 1945 him and other families filed a lawsuit against the Westminster School District at the Orange County courthouse!
After many days of testimony by students, parents, the school district and experts, and almost one year later the judge eventually ruled in favor of the families! Children must be allowed to attend schools regardless of their race!
Word of the ruling spread and was celebrated! This celebration was short-lived because the school board appealed the judges decision…of course!
In the appeal the families were represented by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP, the Japanese American Citizens League, the American Jewish Congress and others. And on April 15, 1947 the judges in the Court of Appeals ruled that school segregation is unconstitutional!
Mendez vs. Westminster laid the foundation for future school segregation cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954)!