One of my favorite parts of being a journalist is learning along with our readers.
So, I have to admit hearing about the little-known civil rights case Méndez v. Westminster blew me away. The name wasn’t totally unfamiliar, as I remembered receiving information in recent years about Sylvia Méndez as President Barack Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 2010. But when I sat down this month with the producers of a play about her family, I realized how little I really knew about this important moment in our history.
Her family won the rights of Mexican children to attend school alongside white children in California years before Brown v. Board of Education desegregated all U.S. public schools. Perhaps if the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, it may have earned a mention in school textbooks. But as Annette Ramos from the Rochester Latino Theatre Company pointed out, Latinos’ stories often get lost in the shuffle on issues of race that tend to focus on black and white.
The Latino theater company, in partnership with BART Productions, is seeking to remedy that situation. They will present a play next month based on a children’s book by Duncan Tonatiuh, Separate is Never Equal, about the Méndez case.
In reaching out to Tonatiuh, he astutely pointed out that little has changed in public schools decades after the family fought so hard for their rights. Today, schools remain segregated by race and ethnicity not by design but by socioeconomics. Perhaps if we paid closer attention to the stories of struggle by the common man as well as by the great civil rights leaders of the past, we wouldn’t be following the same patterns.
When will we realize that remaining separate betrays the core values of our society and our faith?