Thursday, May 23, 2024

California Latina Activist Receives Highest Civilian Honor

Yesterday, Sylvia Mendez, who at the age of eight became a key player in the fight to desegregate the nation’s public schools, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in Washington.

When Mendez’s parents, a Mexican immigrant and his Puerto Rican wife, were barred in their attempt to enroll her and her two brothers in the ‘white only’ school in their Orange County California neighborhood, they took action filing the first lawsuit in Federal Court that resulted in the landmark ruling on Mendez et al v. Westminster

California would later become the first state in the country to end segregation in schools, and helped lead the way for Brown et al v. Board of Education to do away with segregation nationwide less than a decade later.

Mendez joined other award recipients who included poet and author Maya Angelou, the 41st president, George H. W. Bush, John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and John J. Sweeney, former president of the AFL-CIO in receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Mendez continues to travel around the country giving lectures on the historic contributions made by her parents and the co-plaintiffs to the desegregation of the U.S.

An award-winning documentary by Sandra Robbie, “Mendez v. Westminster: For all the Children/Para Todos los Ninos”, tells the story of this little known case.  It aired on multiple networks around the country to commemorate the hard fought victory.

Hispanic Business

Washington Post