Bowdlerizing Santa Ana's Past (Canto CXVIII)

Students of history can only expect so much from Images of America, those slender books of historical photos published by Arcadia Publishing. Most of the people who compile the pictures in this book are well-meaning antiquarians (of the philosophical and age variety), and the people who purchase such tracts are usually of the same ilk. They're not expecting thorough analysis or dredging up the dirty bits of our past; they want photos of parades!

This art form is particularly onerous in Orange County, where most self-titled historians don't bother with anything that might detract from our Gunkist memories. A prime example is Arcadia's latest Orange County entry, Santa Ana 1940-2007, released today by Roberta A. Reed and the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society. The book's back cover waxes poetic about its beloved city: "Today, Santa Ana continues to be both a government and cultural center in Orange County, as well as home to many landmarks and events that have shaped Orange County history." It's a fascinating read, only as a reminder that white people were the majority in SanTana just a generation or two ago. But flipping through the purty pictures becomes disturbing when considering what Reed and amigos put in but don't explain.

To the left is a picture of John C. Fremont Elementary School, a campus that no longer exists because the 1971 Sylmar earthquake rendered it shaky (the current Fremont School is somewhere else). Its entry in Arcadia's book doesn't say much—and therein lies the rub.

Fact is, that old campus was one of the catalysts behind Mendez vs. Westminster. People always associate this landmark desegregation case with the Westminster School District but usually forget that parents in Garden Grove, El Modena, and Santa Ana also sued each community's respective administrators. Educators in each city of course denied any segregation, arguing they maintained Mexican schools because those damn wabby kids didn't know any English, but U.S. District Court Judge Paul McCormick found otherwise. In particular, he singled out Fremont as a prime example of discrimination:

Two zones, that in which the Fremont School is located, and another contiguous area in which the Franklin School is situated, present the only flagrant discriminatory situation shown by the evidence in this case in the Santa Ana City Schools. The Fremont School has 325 so-called Spanish-speaking pupils and no so-called English-speaking pupils. The Franklin School has 237 pupils of which 161 are so-called English-speaking children, and 76 so-called Spanish-speaking children.

The evidence shows that approximately 26 pupils of Mexican descent who reside within the Fremont zone are permitted by the School Board to attend the Franklin School because their families had always gone there. It also appears that there are approximately 35 other pupils not of Mexican descent who live within the Fremont zone who are not required to attend the Fremont School but who are also permitted by the Board of Education to attend the Franklin School.

Sometime in the fall of the year 1944 there arose dissatisfaction by the parents of some of the so-called Spanish-speaking pupils in the Fremont School zone who were not granted the privilege that approximately 26 children also of Mexican descent, enjoyed in attending the Franklin School. Protest was made en masse by such dissatisfied group of parents, which resulted in the Board of Education directing its secretary to send a letter to the parents of all of the so-called Spanish-speaking pupils living in the Fremont zone and attending the Franklin School that beginning September, 1945, the permit to attend Franklin School would be withdrawn and the children would be required to attend the school of the zone in which they were living, viz., the Fremont School.

There could have been no arbitrary discrimination claimed by plaintiffs by the action of the school authorities if the same official course had been applied to the 35 other so-called English-speaking pupils exactly situated as were the approximate 26 children of Mexican lineage, but the record is clear that the requirement of the Board of Education was intended for and directed exclusively to the specified pupils of Mexican ancestry and if carried out becomes operative solely against such group of children.

This tidbit of the past would've impressed readers, shown them that America did progress out of its racist past, at least for a couple of years. Instead, its inclusion says more about Orange County than any caption could ever hope to. And people wonder why Mexicans bash American history for excluding their role...


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