By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
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By Charles Lam
Phyllis enjoyed working with Bennett. “She interviewed all of us,” she says. It also doesn’t hurt that Tales of a Golden State begins with an interview of Josefina Ramirez.
Robbie also approves. “When I did my documentary, a colleague of mine said, ‘Mendez is over. Move on,’” she says. “In my mind, to this day, I think, ‘Oh, it’s only just begun.’”
* * *
History sits in front of Chapman’s Memorial Hall on the evening of Oct. 14: old, young, black, Mexican, white, Asian. They arrange themselves by family in a semi-circle, preparing for a picture, the historic building’s Doric columns and wide steps providing an appropriately grandiose background. To their right stands a group of high-school-student “ambassadors,” mostly girls wearing black skirts and bright-red suit jackets glimmering with gold buttons. They hold placards with the names of the families involved in Mendez vs. Westminster, including Marcus (as in David, the lawyer who represented the families).
“Munemitsus! Palomillos! Scooch together!” yells Robbie. Tonight, the school will dedicate the Mendez v. Westminster Group Study Room and Archive.
The student ambassadors join the group. Faux gaslamps turn on in the early dusk. Robbie “is a force of nature,” remarks Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt. Petite, wearing brown slacks, an off-white turtleneck sweater, a chunky bead necklace and a smile that stays on all night, Robbie marshals the last stragglers in for the shot. A five-member mariachi band waits, ready to belt corridos.
Picture time. “Okay, guys!” yells Robbie. “Everybody say, ‘Mendez!’ Go, Mendez!” The families respond in unison.
“Woooo! Go, Chapman!” Robbie now shouts, like the cheerleader she once was. She tells the photographed to throw up peace signs. They do. Then, “Go CRAZY!” The families throw up their hands.
Parade time. Robbie threads through the crowd of about 30 onlookers, carrying a basket of glow sticks. She tells onlookers they can either follow the guests of honor in the coming march or stand along the short route to watch. The mariachis, now playing, go in front, followed by families and dignitaries, then students. A golf cart with flowers is at the rear.
A man wearing a Chapman sweat shirt throws fake snow on the parade as it winds through the campus: from Memorial Hall past Roosevelt Hall, past a fountain reflecting a slab of the Berlin Wall, past Wilkinson and DeMille halls, and eventually to the steps of Attallah Plaza in front of the library. Robbie passes out candies to confused students strolling by, some of whom high-five paraders. The mariachis continue to play; people start dancing. Robbie, who now has snow in her hair, links arms with a woman and spins.
“This is an amazing commitment to diversity,” says Charlene Baldwin, dean of the libraries. “It’s Sandra Robbie’s vision. . . . She has unbelievable passion and commitment.” Chapman initially was lukewarm to the idea of the parade, she remembers, but Robbie insisted on it. “Amazing.”
Eventually, the crowd enters the library and takes the elevator to the third floor, to the already-packed Malloy Performance Portico. Robbie emerges from the elevator. “Woo!” she yells, before beginning to kiss people’s cheeks.
Speech time. Diocese of Orange Bishop Cirilo Flores gives the invocation.
Baldwin offers remarks. “This room is more than a room,” she says. “It’s part of a larger commitment at Chapman to teach about this case.”
Professors and deans speak. Rueben Martinez, legendary bookstore owner, MacArthur genius grant recipient and now a presidential fellow at the school, shares his remarks, followed by representatives for congresspeople Ed Royce and Loretta Sanchez, then Judge Frederick Aguirre. “Sandra Robbie does the most to publicize this case—if you haven’t seen her video on this, you must see it,” says Federico Sayre, the main donor who made the room a reality.
Robbie takes the stage to thunderous applause. “I’m so honored to see so many faces and friends I’ve met through Mendez v. Westminster,” she says, then retells anecdotes of people talking about the case when Robbie travels around the country to lecture on its importance. “This is a dream come true.”
The ceremony ends. Robbie tells the plaintiff families to gather at the rotunda for more pictures. They smile, but they never say a word before the crowd.
The Ramirez family didn’t attend this event. They weren’t invited.
Staff writer Spencer Kornhaber contributed to the reporting of this story.