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Google Doodle Honors Felicitas Mendez, Puerto Rican Civil Rights Figure Who Helped End School Segregation in the U.S.

To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, Google featured Puerto Rican Civil Rights pioneer Felicitas Mendez as today’s Google Doodle. Here’s why it’s important:

Felicitas Mendez left her mark on American history after suing the school district in California that denied her children from enrolling in classes. This precedent helped end segregation in California and the United States seven years later.

Felicitas was born Felicitas Gomez Martinez on February 5, 1916 in Juncos, Puerto Rico. During her preteen years, she moved with her family to the United States where she eventually settled in California’s Orange County. In 1935, she married Mexican immigrant and naturalized American citizen Gonzalo Mendez, a fellow farm worker who worked alongside her family. The couple opened a neighborhood cafe named La Prieta and managed their land in small-town Westminster.

Wikipedia

The couple had three children, Sylvia, Gonzalo Jr. and Jerome Mendez who all attended Hoover Elementary.

This school, in the middle of a small Mexican neighborhood, was designated for Mexicans only and those with a Spanish surname.

Felicitas’s daughter, Silvia Mendez, recalled the school had desks and books that were falling apart, as well as flies everywhere, and an electric fence separating the school from a cow pasture. 

However, the cleaner all-whites school, 17th Street Elementary, was located only a mile away. The issue was, California school districts implemented a very strict segregation regulation between Latinos and whites in schools. 

Regardless of segregation laws, Felicitas and her husband Gonzalo wanted to enroll their children at 17th Street Elementary but were denied because their children were of Mexican-Puerto Rican descent and had brown skin. 

Felicitas’ nieces and nephews, who were lighter skinned and had the last name Vidaurri (a French surname), were accepted into 17th Street Elementary. Viduarri demanded both her own children and the Mendez children be accepted altogether; however, 17th Elementary did not budge. 

Unwilling to accept this injustice and racist discrimination, Felicitas and Gonzalo became determined to change this and they geared up to create permanent change.

school segregation
Credit: Getty Images

Their organizational efforts were met with obstacles and little support at first. However, on March 2, 1945, the couple was able to obtain four other Mexican parents to file a prominent lawsuit against the county and school district demanding the end of segregated schools between Latinos and white students. Meanwhile, Felicitas worked diligently to manage the Mendez farm in order to bring in profits to help subsidize the lawsuit. 


The school representatives argued Mexican children were segregated from white children deeming their Spanish-speaking and “Latinidad” as something inferior to white children and therefore necessary to separate Mexican children. They also added that they “had hygiene deficiencies, like lice, impetigo, tuberculosis, and generally dirty hands, neck, face and ears,” which is why they needed to be segregated.

The Jewish attorney representing the Mendez family, David Marcus, argued that the segregation was a violation of the equal protection law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which prohibits states from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

Credit: La Comadre

On February 18, 1946, Judge Paul J. McCormick of the federal district court ruled in favor of the Mendez family. However, the school district appealed. 

Some Orange County schools started to desegregate while other schools  refused. 

Still, other schools forced Mexican students to continually take IQ tests to justify segregation and educational inferiority. 

Several organizations like the ACLU, American Jewish Congress, Japanese American Citizens League, NAACP, and the famous Thurgood Marshall wrote an amicus curiae to the court in support of the Mendez family fighting for cultural equality. 

Sylvia Mendez recalled what her mother told her the day she came home crying from her first day at an all-white school: 

“Don’t you know what we were fighting? We weren’t fighting so you could go to that beautiful white school. We were fighting because you’re equal to that white boy,” said Felicitas.

quote via Los Angeles Times

A year later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in favor of the Mendez and other Mexican families. 

Due to the upholding by the federal court, California Governor Earl Warren signed legislation making California the first state to desegregate schools.

Seven years later, this same ruling was what provided attorney Thurgood Marshall the grounds in the historical Brown v. Board of Education which ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional nationwide. 

The Mendez family created a legacy that spread throughout California and the nation. 

On September 9, 2009, a local school in Boyle Heights opened the “Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center.” Mendez’s daughter, Sylvia Mendez, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. 

Sylvia Mendez, recalled her pride in her mother’s legacy saying,

“No one knows about Mendez vs. Westminster, how five families fought to end segregation in California. When we all decided to fight, it was not only for you but for all the children. It was that day that I promised my mother I would make sure everyone knew about the fight and Mendez vs Westminster. It became my legacy!”

quote via Google

While this did not end racism, inequality, or other forms of segregation in this country, without women like Felicitas, we wouldn’t be here today one step closer to change. Gracias Felicitas!

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Google Paid Tribute To Mariachi Music With A Doodle And Break Out The Mezcal Because It’s Gonna Give You Tears!

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Google Paid Tribute To Mariachi Music With A Doodle And Break Out The Mezcal Because It’s Gonna Give You Tears!

ULISES RUIZ / Getty

Mariachi is officially getting the search engine clout it deserves!

Google Doodle’s latest feature celebrates the musical genre of mariachi. As an ode to the anniversary of the week that UNESCO inscribed mariachi on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The genre of Regional Mexican music goes back to the 18th century.

Google’s latest Doodle features an animated video of mariachi serenading.

Remote file
Google

Singing “Cielito Lindo,” which is a song that encaptures Mexican pride, the doodle features a band of mariachi members.

Together they sing the following lyrics”De la Sierra Morena/cielito lindo, vienen bajando/Un par de ojitos negros/cielito lindo, de contrabando/ Ay, ay, ay, ay/Canta y no llores/Porque cantando se alegran/cielito lindo, los corazones.”

The lyrics translate to “From the Sierra Morena/Lovely sweet one, is prancing down/A pair of little black eyes/Lovely sweet one, is sneaking by/ Ay, ay, ay, ay/Sing, don’t cry/Because singing makes rejoice/Lovely sweet one, our hearts.”

For the doodle, the mariachi band wears traditional trajes de charro (charro suits) while strumming the traditional instruments of the genre.

Plucking away at the guitarrón, vihuela, and violin, other members use a trumpet and harp. According to Newsweek, “The tradition of mariachi originated in west-central Mexico around the turn of the 19th century, though its exact origins are murky. The musical genre began as entirely instrumental, made up of the sounds of stringed instruments, before vocals and the trumpet were eventually added.”

No doubt Google’s latest Doodle has won over the hearts of various searchers.

“What a beautiful tribute… thank you!” one user wrote.

“The Google doodle for today is a tribute to mariachis & it’s a little video that plays cielito lindo I am not okay, cielito lindo is my favorite mariachi song, it’s too cute,” another commented while another user wrote “I was so shocked when I clicked on this last night. What a wonderful surprise.”

Sweetly, the doodle really seemed to hit home for so many. “The Google Doodle today nearly made me cry,” one very happy user noted. “It was so unexpected and made me miss home for the first time since I moved.”

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The Significance Behind Today’s Google Doodle of Puerto Rican Activist Felicitas Mendez

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The Significance Behind Today’s Google Doodle of Puerto Rican Activist Felicitas Mendez

Today’s Google Doodle is an eye catching image: an illustration of a smiling brown-skinned woman. She watches children of all colors go into a sun-drenched school, palm trees lining the walkways. A man in a suit escorts two of the brown-skinned children into the building.

The Doodle is of Puerto Rican activist Felicitas Mendez, a woman instrumental in the fight against school segregation between whites and Latinos in the 1940s.

Born in the town of Juncos in Puerto Rico, Mendez moved to the mainland United States when she was 10-years-old. It was here that she experienced her first taste of American racism and inequality.

Because of their mixed-race Puerto Rican heritage, Mendez (née Gómez) and her family were racialized as “Black” by white Americans, and therefore subject to anti-Black discrimination. But when her and her family moved to Southern California to work the fields, she was racialized as “Mexican” and discriminated against by anti-Hispanic racists.

Felicitas Mendez and her husband, Gonzalo Mendez, were the key figures behind the landmark anti-segregation case, Mendez vs. Westminster.

Mendez vs. Westminster was a California civil rights desegregation case which successfully ended the segregation between Latino and white students in the state of California.

As the story goes, the Mendez family moved from the integrated town of Santa Ana, California to Westminster, California, where they were shocked to discover the students were divided into “white” and “Mexican” schools. Since the doctrine of “separate but equal” schooling was a myth, Mexican schools received far less government funding and gave inferior education.

The school for Mexican students was so bad, that Mendez’s daughter Sylvia (an activist in her own right) later described it as a pair of wooden shacks on a dirt lot, surrounded by an electric fence.

Felicitas Mendez
Felicitas Mendezvia Getty Images

Instead of going along with Westminster school district’s policy of segregation, Felicitas Mendez and her husband decided instead to challenge their policy.

In 1945, on behalf of roughly 5,000 Hispanic-American school-aged students, Mendez and her husband filed a lawsuit against Westminster School District of Orange County. And they ended up winning.

The Westminster school-board appealed, but to no avail. In 1947, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of the Mendezes.

This lawsuit, Mendez v. Westminster, would eventually become the spark that ignited the larger fight against school segregation throughout the nation. Shortly after the win, then-California Governor Earl Warren ordered all California public schools other public spaces to desegregate as well.

Mendez’s experience as being labeled as both Black and Mexican at various points in her life made her an active anti-racist, sensitive to the plight of people and children of all colors.

“We had to do it. Our children, all of our children, brown, black,
and white, must have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be, and education gives them that opportunity,” she said in a 1998 interview.

As today’s Google Doodle illustrator Emily Barrera says: “When I see Felicitas, I see a strong woman, a fighter, a mother, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement, fighting for the same rights as her own family and heritage.” And that is what she was. A brave activist, yes. A fighter, yes. But above all, a loving mother who wanted a better future for her children.

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