Happenings: Sylvia Mendez

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez
to speak at Texas State Oct. 25

Poster for Sylvia Mendez reception

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez will speak at Texas State University Oct. 25, 2012.

By Ann Friou

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez will speak on “Critical Issues of Equity in Education” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at Texas State University. Her talk will be held in the Wittliff Collections, located on the seventh floor of Alkek Library.

Mendez is the oldest daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican immigrant, and Felicitas Mendez, a Puerto Rican, who challenged segregation so that their children and other Latino children could obtain the same quality education provided to white students.

In 1943 in Westminster, Calif., students of Mexican descent were required to enroll in segregated and inferior schools known as “Mexican Schools.” Along with four other Latino families, Mendez’s parents led a lawsuit against four Orange County school districts in the landmark civil rights case, Mendez v. Westminster School District. Mendez won in federal court in 1946 and on appeal in 1947, helping to make California the first state in the nation to end school segregation. Seven years later, Mendez served as significant precedent for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education.

Sylivia Mendez and her family have received numerous awards and recognitions, including a U.S. Postage stamp commemorating the 60th anniversary of the appellate victory; the naming of two public schools in honor of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez; a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Parent Teacher Association; and the U.S. Congress Civil Rights Champion Award. Additionally, two books were written about the life of Sylvia Mendez and another about the lawsuit, and the case has been the subject of two documentaries: the Emmy-winning film Mendez v. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos los Niños, written and directed by Sandra Robbie, and Mendez v. Westminster: Families for Equality, written and directed by Erica Bennett.

Mendez also has received individual honors on a national stage. On Feb. 15, 2011, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. On May 30, 2012, she accepted an honorary degree from The City University of New York in Brooklyn.

Today, Mendez continues the legacy left by her parents by fighting for quality education and by encouraging students to stay in school.

Mendez’s talk at Texas State is sponsored by the Departments of Modern Languages, Curriculum and Instruction, and Counseling, Leadership, Adult Education and School Psychology, and by the Center for the Study of the Southwest.

For more information, call 512.245-2157.

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