In light of Black History Month, with a film like Selma in theaters and massive protests against racial profiling occurring across the country, we here at Vamos feel it is a good time for educators to have their students reflect upon civil rights achievements of the past in order to take lessons learned from the successes and apply them to ongoing struggles of today.
Many of you, I’m sure, have heard of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation of public schools. What you may not know is that seven years before a case involving the segregation of Mexican-American students in California laid the groundwork for that significant decision. The case, Mendez v. Westminster, is brought back to life through the story and illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh in his children’s book Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. And we cannot recommend it highly enough.
If our applause isn’t loud enough, then we’ll let others convince you. Just recently, the book was recognized as a 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and as a Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Award for Younger Readers.
Here is an excerpt from Kirkus:
Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the “Mexican school,” despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause “problems,” he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history.
The story takes place over the period of three years. It begins with Sylvia being bullied on her first day as an integrated student and shoots back in time to tell the story of how hard her family fought to get her to that point. The story invaluably outlines the legal process of civil rights cases, taking us through each step that the Mendez family went through, even including trial scene dialogue taken directly from court transcripts. Continue reading →