Thursday, December 9, 2010
President Obama has announced that, in early 20111, activist Sylvia Mendez (and here) will be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At age eight, her parents attempted to enroll Mendez in a local school in Orange County, but were refused and told to take their daughter to the all-Mexican school. Her parents, Gonzalo Mendez, who ran a successful agriculture business, and mother, Felicitas Mendez, sued. The end result was the landmark decision in Mendez v. Westminster, 64 F.Supp. 544 (C.D. Cal. 1946), aff'd, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir. 1947) (en banc), which found that the segregation of persons of Mexican ancestry violated the law. Mendez served as one of the foundational cases leading up to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
Mendez eventually became a nurse, but retired after 30 years. Since then, she has lectured across the country on the importance of desegregation and educational equality.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom will be given out in early 2011. Mendez’s fellow honorees include, among others, former President George H.W. Bush, Maya Angelou, Bill Russell, Stan Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Warren Buffet.
As the United States Senate considers the DREAM Act, we should keep in mind the historic struggle for educational equity in the United States and the pioneers like Sylvia Mendez.