Sylvia Mendez is a civil-rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, who more than six decades ago took the fight for school desegregation to the highest court in the nation.
She played an instrumental role in the Mendez v. Westminster case, the landmark desegregation case of 1946. Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites”-only school, an event which prompted her parents to take action. Together they organized various sectors of the Hispanic community who filed a lawsuit in the local federal court. The success of their action, of which Sylvia was the principal catalyst, would eventually bring to an end the era of segregated education. The case successfully ended de jure segregation in California and paved the way for integration and the American civil-rights movement.
She says more history, art and music are needed in schools, and parents need to play their part, too.
“Encourage them to stay in school and let them know that’s how they’re going to be successful in life.”
Because Latinos drop out of school the most, Sylvia says that, in her speeches, she always emphasizes how important it is for parents to not allow this to continue.
“Even if they are very poor, I always ask parents to do the impossible so that their children finish their studies because this is what will allow them to progress.”
Her efforts to promote education have been recognized by many, among them President Barack Obama, who on February 14, 2011, awarded her the Medal of Freedom.
We salute you, Sylvia Mendez, on #WomensHistoryMonth.