Editors note: This is the first of a multi-part series of columns on inductees for the 2015 International Educators’ Hall of Fame.
Trailblazing the way for desegregation in schools in the mid-1940s, were Gonzalo Mendez and four other local families who fought the Westminster, Orange Grove, Santa Ana and El Modeno School Districts of Orange County for refusing to accept their “Mexican” children in the “white” schools.
Gonzalo Mendez Jr, his son, was just seven years old at the time. While he says he does not remember much, he knew his dad wanted good education for his kids and was willing to work to make it possible.
Sylvia Mendez, his daughter, then just nine years old, was also refused admission to the “white” school. She says she wasn’t surprised by her father’s actions. “He wasn’t scared to speak up,” she says. “He knew that what he was doing was the right thing to do. He was going to right a wrong.”
As the story goes, when Gonzalo Mendez’ three children were refused entry to the Westminster Elementary School, Gonzalo dedicated the next year to a lawsuit against the Westminster School District of Orange County– and the other four families similarly filed lawsuits against their various districts; these amazing families filed suits not only to insure their own children had access to good schools, but to make sure all Mexican American students were granted equal admission.
During the Mendez court case, the school district offered to accept the children of Gonzalo Mendez in the school, but no other children of Mexican ancestry. Gonzalo Mendez refused the offer and continued the lawsuit with the purpose of benefitting the entire Mexican community.
Victory came and on February 19, 1946 the Los Angeles Times announced “RULING GIVES MEXICAN CHILDREN EQUAL RIGHTS” and reported the desegregation of schools in Westminster, Orange Grove, Santa Ana and El Modeno was in effect. The families won the landmark “Mendez vs. Westminster” case!
The International Educators’ Hall of Fame honors educators’ who are often “firsts,” “pioneers,” and “trailblazers.” Certainly, Mendez, et al were “firsts,” “pioneers;” “trailblazer” and community educators. They were challenging their rights to equal education on behalf of 5,000 other similarly treated Mexican American children. And they won, leading the way to the famous Brown vs. Board of Education, declaring separate schools in the United States unconstitutional.
Gonzalo Mendez Jr., who is now almost 80 will be attending the awards ceremony on Saturday, October 24th. The event will take place from 12: 00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at The Grand Auditorium, at the Church of Scientology of Orange County, 505 N. Sycamore Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701 where several dozen educators from around the world and about 100 youths will be feted and honored at the 22nd Annual International Educators’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
The public is invited to attend and to have the opportunity to meet the various Hall of Famers, and the youths. For more information please visit our website: www.educatorshalloffame.org.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at email@example.com.