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

Things That Matter

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.

school segregation
via 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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Today’s Google Doodle Is All About Lotería And You Can Play A Few Rounds With Your Friends

Culture

Today’s Google Doodle Is All About Lotería And You Can Play A Few Rounds With Your Friends

Google

Google is pulling on my Mexican heartstrings! The most popular search engine, which from time-to-time uses its homepage logo as an interactive gateway to educate the public about historical figures and cultural traditions, has over the years celebrated Mexican heritage in beautiful and innovative ways. From honoring Mexican-American icon, Selena Quintanilla in 2017 to Frida Kahlo’s 103rd birthday in 2010, Google is doing a remarkable job of paying tribute to the people and traditions close to our Mexican heart. And today’s honor is just as touching. 

Google is celebrating the most beloved game in Mexican communities, the Lotería!

Credit: Google

Perla Campos, Google Doodle’s Global Marketing Lead, is one of the people responsible for pushing Google’s innovation team to celebrate Mexican culture. She’s the one responsible for pushing the Selena Google Doodle for two years before its premiere. She did the same for the Lotería. 

A smile instantly comes to my face every time I think of Lotería,” Campos wrote on the Google page. “I think of being with my extended family in Mexico for the holidays, scattering around my Tia Cruz’s house, anxiously waiting for a round to start. I think of us tossing beans at each other in attempts to distract the other from our boards. Most importantly, I think of the laughter, the excitement, and how all the worries of the world melted away as this game brought us together, even if just for a few hours.”

The Lotería Google Doodle isn’t just a visual that shares the story of its history but also an interactive game that people can play with friends or strangers.

Credit: Google

Google states that this game is their second-ever multiplayer experience. Campos said that Google was looking to incorporate an interactive game and, of course, she told them about the Lotería. 

“Upon being prompted to think of possible interactive Doodles to create for the following year, Lotería almost instantly came to mind,” Campos said. “I wondered: If this simple game was so magical and powerful in its original state, how might that be amplified in the digital space? And so the Lotería Doodle was born.”

Playing the Lotería that we have played all of our lives and playing the Lotería Doodle is two different things. Here’s why. 

Credit: Google

As I launched into a round of Lotería on the Google page, I surely thought I was going to win until I realized the Lotería playing card didn’t have all of the recognizable characters and icons. In other words, Google reimagined the Lotería card — as other artists have also done with the Lotería card — to fit their brand. So, people will see an “emoji” icon or “la concha.” 

What makes this card and game extra special is that the Lotería Doodle was illustrated and created by Mexican artists.

The guest visual artists that worked on the Lotería Doodle include Mexico-based Chabaski, Mexico-born Cecilia, Hermosillo-born Luis Pinto, Los Angeles-based Loris Lora, and Mexico City-based Vals.

It was exciting to collaborate with five Mexican and Mexican-American illustrators to reimagine many of the classic Lotería game art for the Doodle—along with some new cards for a fun sorpresa!” Campos stated on the Googe page. “We also partnered with popular Mexican YouTuber Luisito Comunica, who serves in the iconic role of game card announcer for the Doodle.” 

Each artist also shared their favorite memories of playing Lotería. 

“I remember when I was around 6 years old, my mom and aunts would gather around a table and play for hours until we had to go home,” Chabaski said. “We would bet a couple of pesos, which made it more fun.”

The Lotería Doodle still honors the traditional game and educates a new generation of people about its origins. 

Credit: Google

“Although it has changed a great deal since being officially copyrighted in Mexico on this day 106 years ago, Lotería is still wildly popular today across Mexico and Latino communities, whether as a Spanish language teaching tool or for family game night,” Campos said. 

Okay, so you’re ready to play?!

Credit: Google

Click here and play with friends or strangers. And, if you want to make the game extra exciting play at home with your laptops and include some money for each round. Nothing wrong with making a buck and having fun. 

READ: 25 Times Latinos Have Graced The Google Doodle

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