Almost a decade earlier than the landmark racial segregation ruling by the Supreme Court docket in Brown v. Board of Training, Felicitas Mendez was already waging a authorized battle in opposition to racial segregation in public faculties. The civil rights battle she and her husband fought helped pave the way in which for the American civil rights motion that might achieve power within the 1950s and ’60s.
To mark the primary day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Google on Tuesday devoted its Doodle to the Puerto Rican civil rights pioneer and enterprise proprietor. The video Doodle contains archival interviews with Mendez concerning the struggles her household confronted in opposition to racism.
Born Felicita Gómez Martínez on Feb. 5, 1916, within the city of Juncos, Puerto Rico, she and household had been steadily subjected to racial discrimination, confused racially with Black Individuals. When she was 12, her household moved to Southern California, performing agricultural work within the fields of Orange County, the place she was once more racialized, this time as Mexican.
She married Mexican immigrant and fellow subject employee Gonzalo Mendez in 1935, and collectively they opened a bar and grill and managed a 40-acre asparagus farm in Westminster after the Japanese-American homeowners had been despatched to an internment camp throughout World Battle II.
Faculty segregation was rampant on the time, and Westminster had separate faculties for Hispanics and whites, the previous being a shack within the metropolis’s Mexican neighborhood, whereas the latter was a extra distinguished campus that supplied higher academic advantages. Recognizing the benefits, Mendez sought to enroll her youngsters within the nicer college however was refused based mostly on their ethnicity and pores and skin colour.
Alongside along with her husband and a group of different dad and mom, Mendez spearheaded a 1944 lawsuit in opposition to Westminster to finish racial segregation within the metropolis’s faculties. The college district argued there was a language difficulty that hampered the tutorial course of – a declare that disintegrated when one of many youngsters took the stand and articulately testified in English, demonstrating that no such language barrier existed as a result of most Hispanic-American youngsters already spoke English.
In 1946, a federal district courtroom dominated within the favor of the Mendez household, discovering the college district in violation of the kids’s constitutional rights of equal safety below the legislation. The Ninth Circuit Court docket of Appeals affirmed the choice a 12 months later — after involvement from future Supreme Court docket Justice Thurgood Marshall — paving the way in which for integration of public college in California and setting the stage for the Supreme Court docket’s landmark Brown v. Board of Training seven years later.
Mendez died in 1998, after working as a nurse for greater than 30 years. In 2011, her daughter Sylvia was accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her dad and mom’ position within the lawsuit.