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73 Years Past The Staggering Conquest; Mendez Vs. Westminster, A Story Lost To History

It was a period in history when racial discrimination against Hispanics and other minority communities was a recognised evil. The people involved were acclaimed as national heroes, and activism took a complete turn towards mandate reforms.

Mendez v. Westminster

The Mendez case was a precursor and paved the path for Brown v. Board of Education. The Mendez household comprising Felicitas, Gonzalo and their three kids; earned out of a successful agriculture business venture. Their 40-acre asparagus farm was a land leased out by the owners, the Munemitsus; a Japanese-American family deported to internment camps after the Second World War.

Brown v. Board of Education of 1954; the breakthrough case that ended the de jure segregation of schools in the U.S.; was a phenomenal step towards civil rights liberty. But the actual kick start to this movement had transpired years prior (in 1946) to Brown's case. A small group of people had worked together to abolish the segregation rule in California; thus stamping California as the first state in the U.S. to do so.

Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez had faced their fair share of atrocities as kids. But, when their children were denied admission into a Westminster Elementary School for being coloured and Mexican and hence deemed unfit to study with the ‘White’; they took it upon themselves to seek justice on behalf of the coloured citizens. They got together with the United Latin-American Citizens and on 2nd March 1945, filed a legal lawsuit against four Orange County school districts: Westminster, Santa Ana, El Medina and Garden Grove.

The Result

Their case attained a whooping victory on 18th February 1946. Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled the case in their favour. Several organisations joined the appellate case and finally, a year later, the legal system ruled in favour of Mexican-American families. The Mendez kids along with many others were allowed to attend an all-white school.

Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez have passed on, leaving behind six children (four sons and two daughters) and their heroic, selfless legacies. Their daughter, Sylvia Mendez, is one of the most prominent American civil rights activists. President Barack Obama had awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Sandra Mendez Duran (the younger daughter of the Mendez household) in Sandra Robbie's Emmy-winning 2003 documentary, 'Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos los Niños' had revealed that her parents never talked about it at home. She came across a book 'North from Mexico' at University and learnt about the splendid Mendez history. It was not a big deal for her parents; their names were mentioned in history books, acclaimed as revolutionaries. When Sandra asked my mom about it, she had replied in the most humble manner, 'Ah yes! We did that. It was before you were born.'

My mom was a person of faith, and she wanted us to treat everybody with respect. The Golden Rule: treat people as you expect them to treat you. And that's what she taught us. ~ Sandra Mendez Duran

The Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates (15th September- 15th October) Hispanic American heroes for their contributions towards the betterment of America; inspiring many others to triumph. The first Hispanic Heritage Week observation was in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan broadened it to a month-long celebration and enacted it under the law.

The Hispanic Heritage Month of 2020 marks 73 years of an epic battle for liberation and equality; of social justice and respect. A battle, even though forgotten, ended up motioning changes in mindset and outlook. 'Separate is never equal'~ Judge McCormick. Every race and colour is just a variation in outward appearance and not a prudent judgemental criterion.

So, Happy Celebrating!

Todos somos diferentes, lo cual es genial porque todos somos únicos. Sin diversidad, la vida sería aburrida.


We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity, life would be boring.

Catherine Pulsifer

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