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Mendez et al v Westminster School District et al: Mexican American Female Activism in the Age of De Jure Segregation


In the fall of 1944, a group of concerned citizens in Westminster, California got together to protest the segregation of Mexican origin children into so-called "Mexican schools." Angered that their children had been racially targeted, parents from the Mexican American community drafted a petition to school officials. Outlined in the petition were the parents' concerns regarding their children's education and their plea to the district to reconsider its separatist policies. Largely ignored by school officials, the parents saw fit to file suit.

The case of Mendez et al. v. the Westminster School District et al. marked a watershed moment in the history of this country and the ongoing battle for racial equality. What began as a community struggle eventually emerged as a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 5,000 people of predominately Mexican ancestry. Named in the lawsuit were five key families, a number of students, and a host of people from across Orange County. Not readily identified in the lawsuit or subsequent inquiries about it, however, were the countless women who participated in efforts to dismantle "Mexican schools" in California. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine this void.

This study of the Mendez case tells the story of a Mexican American community's quest for social justice. It examines the grassroots movement of those who organized to challenge de jure segregation in their neighborhood schools and their reasons for doing so (see Figure 1). Guiding this study are questions regarding the many people who contributed to the Mendez case and the multitude of ways in which they lent their support. Particular to this study of Mendez et al. v. the Westminster School District et al. is an investigation into the participation of Mexican origin women and their varied contributions to desegregation efforts.

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