Mexican-American schoolchildren eating school lunch. Segregation of Latino students was the norm. Taken at a school in Penasco, New Mexico, United States. December 1941.

UPDATED February 27th, 2018

In the early part of the 20th century, Mexican-American children were often segregated into “Mexican” schools. Usually in ramshackle rooms or barns, these kids were not allowed to be educated in the same manner as their Anglo counterparts. A Mexican-American child was not permitted inside an Anglo school.


Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez, parents whose objection of their children’s school segregation set the stage for Mendez vs Westminster.

In 1945, Mexican-American parents attempted to enroll their children into an elementary school in the Westminster School District in Orange County, California. The children and their parents were turned away and told to enroll in the “Mexican” school. One of those families was named Mendez. Not willing to accept less for their daughter Sylvia, they organized, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 families, across four school districts in Orange County.

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The 1934 1st Grade Class at the “Mexican” Wilson School in Orange County, CA.

With the help of future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Mendez v. Westminster ruled in favor of the Mexican-American families, overturning the California law, and setting up the legal groundwork for the monumental Brown v. Board of Education, seven years later.

This brief photo essay helps visualize the complex, and equal parts triumphant and tragic history of Mexican segregation in the United States, up to the present.


Left: Signage like this was rampant throughout the Southwest. Center: Schoolgirl at the center of the court case, Sylvia Mendez at age 10. Right: LA Times headline of court ruling announcing the outcome of Mendez v Westminster.


Signs like this are a reminder of just how far we’ve come. Taken in Dallas, TX.