Next week marks the 70th anniversary of Mendez, et al vs. Westminster, et al, the landmark civil rights case that found school segregation against Mexican-American students in Santa Ana, Orange, Westminster, and Garden Grove illegal and that was subsequently used to argue the far-more-famous Brown vs. Board of Education. To this day, virtually the only family involved in the case that anyone can name is the Mendez family, whose name adorns schools across Southern California and whose members have earned numerous awards over the years. But that has slowly, painfully changed gracias to the family of Lorenzo Ramirez, who sued on behalf of his children who attended school in the then-El Modeno School District.
I first wrote about Ramirez’s involvement back in 2009, and how his now-adult children were fighting against the gatekeepers of the Mendez, et al. legacy to get their papi and other the families involved their proper due in the public. And their efforts are paying off; in 2011, the Orange Unified School District issued a proclamation honoring the Ramirez family; last year, Santiago Canyon College renamed their library in Lorenzo’s honor. And this Thursday, the community college will unveil a statue of Ramirez that will stand just outside his namesake.
Per the Rancho Santiago Community College District press release:
Ramirez was one of five Mexican-American families who challenged school segregation of Mexican-American children. The families claimed that their children, along with 5,000 other children were being forced to attend separate schools in Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modena school districts in Orange County. In 1947, this historic case made it all the way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit where it was decided that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican-American students into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional. This was the first federal court case to hold that separate schools for children of color were not equal.
Ramirez had attended Roosevelt School in El Modena, but only completed the eighth grade. At that time, he married Josefina and moved to Whittier where he worked as a foreman on a ranch. In Whittier he had no problem enrolling his three sons in the primarily white elementary school. When the family moved back to El Modena in 1944, they were told that the children could not attend Roosevelt but that they could attend the “Mexican” school next door. In the court testimony, Ramirez said, “We live in a country where everyone is equal.”
Good for the district to do something not involving Saudis. The unveiling happens at 2 p.m. in front of the Ramirez Library—see you there!
And Sandra: What’s good?