Mendez v. Westminster, A Pioneer Movement of Chicano Education (by Lupe Avila)

Students will understand that the Mendez v. Westminster case was a movement that set a basis for the permission of fair education for minority students. It was one of the first times minorities stood up for themselves, in particular Mexican Americans, well before the Brown v. Board of Education case.

This lesson will provide students with knowledge on two historical events that led to the complete de-segregation of schools in the United States. First, students will learn about the Mendez v. Westminster case and why it was important to the local community and the family fighting the case and then broadening the understanding of the issue with the Brown v. Board of Education which is prevalent to all non-whites in the country. Students will be able to imagine what the Mendez family had to go through and further imagine what other less privileged families had to live in the time after the Mexican-American war. Students will also understand why the Mendez v. Westminster case directly affected Mexican-Americans in the local Orange County area.

The Mendez v. Westminster was a key movement for the future accomplishments of Mexican Americans in the United States.

1. How can Mendez v. Westminster be considered a movement, in the era before the civil rights movement?

2. What is the connection between Latinos and African Americans in terms of struggle and movements, but focusing on the court case? Compare and contrast Mendez v. Westminster and Brown v. Board of Education.

3. Why do you think public schools were segregated before 1947 in America? What were segregated schools like?

4. How do you think was the experience of a Mexican American student in public school different from that of a white student?

5. What is segregation? Does it still exist?

6. Do you agree with what Mendez stood for? Have we embraced the Mendez decision in society, or what would schools have looked like without the two court cases?

7. Should the Mendez v. Westminster case be included in U.S. history textbooks?


Schools were not always accessible to everyone in the United States. There was a series of events including people mobilizing, protests and political decisions that led to this privilege being available to minorities and not only whites. The 60’s were a period full of revolutionary activity in terms of struggle and fighting for human or what is known as civil rights. This information is more popular in textbooks but there are many other historical happenings that occurred but cannot be included in books because of the large amounts of facts that would flood books. But one thing is not having enough space to talk about issues and another is choosing to leave it out. Often times, books can be biased on what the authors decided to include. Nevertheless, it is important to learn history and make connections with everything that happens, because it is all connected. “The practice of segregation created its political opposition, and although this study has focused on the action of segregation, the social movement to end segregation is of critical importance to understanding the era of segregation” (136). 1

After the Mexican-American war, many Mexicans stayed in the United States by choice and decided to make their lives here as Americans. These now Mexican-Americans were mostly located in the southwest. Regardless of their American Citizenship, they still had to endure racism from people that did not want them here and did not want to be around any person of color. Each race has gone through their own struggles but in the end a success for one is a success for everyone, directly or indirectly. “without collective political action, marginalized groups could not benefit from the same rights as dominant groups or even aspire to enhance their rights (11). 2 African Americans were also suffering from racism in their everyday lives including in segregated schools. It was the norm for colored children to be in separate schools from whites. “African Americans and Hispanics…Throughout US history, the discrimination faced by these two groups has resulted in limited opportunity and little room for advancement” (29). 3 In order for things to change, there must be unity and mobilization. There must be a rebuttal against the oppressor present at all times.

“Behind efforts for the most participatory vision of education reform is an understanding of public education as a vehicle for the development of an active citizenry engaged in concocting a deeply and critically democratic society (12).4 Education should be equal for all and at one point in U.S. history, it was not. This is what we will be talking about today.


Copy of Ruling Gives Children Equal Rights Article.

Video on Mendez v Westminster.

Video on Brown v Board of Education.


Worksheet for homework


Print out the article and pass it out to the class. They should not be expecting to read what they will be reading in this article, so it might take them by surprise. Have them get into small groups depending on the size of the class and talk about their reactions to the reading. Also have them identify both sides of the case and predict what the outcome will be. The groups should have an effective discussion and then share to the class if they wish.

Have students watch the Mendez v Westminster video on a projector. Students should be interested in the video after having read the newspaper article.

Next, have them watch the Brown v Board of Education YouTube video.
After the video is done, put the “ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS” on the board and have them answer them in their groups. They should be taking notes on their answers. Go around, and each group should pick a question to talk about to the class and share what they thought. After watching the two videos, students should be able to have a lot more knowledge on specific details and should also be able to answer the opinioned questions.

In order to get a more impacting understanding of what segregation was like, assign a picture analysis for homework. Print the picture provided on one side and the homework worksheet on the back side. This should be given to students to fill out. This visual will provide a variety of opinions of what is happening in the photo. Students should turn this in the next day.


Charles M. Wollenberg. “The Decline and Fall of “Separate but Equal.” In All Deliberate Speed Segregation and Exclusion in California Schools, 1855-1975, 108-135. Los Angeles: University of California Press Berkeley, 1978.

Gilbert G. Gonzalez. “The Rise and Fall of De Jure Segregation in the Southwest.” In Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation, 136-156. Philadelphia: Associated University Presses, 1990.

Jack Greenberg. “An End to Segregation-Nothing Else.” In Brown V. Board of Education Witness to a Landmark Decision, 47-53. New York: Twelve Tables Press, LLC, 2004.

M. Christopher Brown II. “Closing the Racial/Ethnic Gaps.” In Still Not Equal, edited by M. Christopher Brown II with assistance from RoSusan D. Bartee, 29-37. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 2007.

Mariolga Reyes Cruz. Introduction to Mexican Immigrants Advocating for School Reform, 3-14. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2008.

Mary Castillo. “The Unknown Civil Rights Victory Created Racial Equality” USA Rise Up Magazine. February 15, 2011. Accessed April 5, 2012.

Mendez v. Westminster, 64 F. Supp. 544 (1946). Accessed April 5, 2012.


1.Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
2.Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
3.Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
4.Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
5.Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
6.Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

1Gilbert G. Gonzalez. “The Rise and Fall of De Jure Segregation in the Southwest.” 136.

2 Mariolga Reyes Cruz. Introduction to Mexican Immigrants Advocating for School Reform, 11.

3 M. Christopher Brown II. “Closing the Racial/Ethnic Gaps.” In Still Not Equal, 29.

4 Mariolga Reyes Cruz, 12.

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