Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education Honors Sylvia Mendez
- Wednesday, October 2, 2019
At its October 1 meeting, Garden Grove Unified School District's Board of Education honored Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights activist and presidential Medal of Freedom recipient whose family fought for the desegregation of schools in California! In the words of Ms. Mendez, "the fight for equality can be accomplished by anyone." We were thrilled to thank this brave hero for her family legacy and life's work. She shared with us a heartwarming story, explaining that Garden Grove High School was the first school she visited to speak about her family story and desegregation, and the encouragement from GGHS students gave her the confidence and will to continue visiting schools to increase awareness about this important piece of history!
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lorena Sanchez read the following statement to honor and thank Sylvia Mendez:
Good evening Board president Lan Nguyen, Board Trustees, Superintendent Mafi, community and guests. It is my honor to introduce to you our esteemed guest, Ms. Sylvia Mendez.
In 1945, Sylvia's parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, sent their children to their local school, only to be told that they would have to attend a separate facility reserved for Mexican Americans. In response the Mendezes and other parents from nearby school districts went to court to challenge the unjust segregation. The districts involved were not only Westminster but also Santa Ana, Garden Grove Elementary (prior to our being unified) and El Modena (now Orange).
Mendez v. Westminster et. al was the first case in which segregation in education was successfully challenged in federal court. Judge Paul J. McCormick initially ruled in favor of the Mendez family by finding separate schools for Mexicans to be unconstitutional. The case was then heard in the ninth circuit court of appeals, which ultimately upheld the decision.
Eight years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Mendez v. Westminster dismantled the segregated school system and inspired similar actions elsewhere. Consequently, California Governor Earl Warren signed a bill into law ending school segregation in California. He would later serve as Supreme Court Justice on the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education which ended school segregation across the nation!
Ms. Mendez thrived in her education and went on to earn several degrees in Nursing, and became the Assistant Nursing Director of the Pediatric Pavilion at USC Medical Center. She continues to carry on the legacy of her family by visiting schools, teaching students about the Mendez case, and encouraging them to stay in school. In 2007, the US Post Office released a stamp commemorating the Mendez vs Westminster Case. In 2011, President Obama awarded Ms. Mendez with the prestigious Medal of Freedom!
This brave family did not set out to become civil rights activists, but recognizing this incredible injustice felt no recourse but to defend their rights. In the words of Ms. Mendez, the “fight for equality can be accomplished by anyone” (pause). On behalf of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education, we present you with this plaque and certificate to thank you and your family in appreciation of the Mendez Family.