Mendez v. Westminster School District: Facts of the Case
Mexicans lived in California before the Gold Rush days of the mid-19th century. However, the problem of segregation did not arise until 1910, when large numbers of Mexicans began appearing to work in the citrus groves. By 1920, the Mexican population in California had tripled. To the extent that the burgeoning Mexican population created great anxiety among the Anglo communities, social segregation practices soon began appearing that prohibited Mexicans from sitting with Whites in movie theaters and swimming with them in pools. These practices also led to the establishment of segregated housing patterns.
In Orange County, the center of a large citrus industry, Gonzalo Mendez and his wife, Felicitas, who was from Puerto Rico, formed a group to battle against school segregation based on race. In 1945, the plaintiffs filed suit in the federal trial court in Southern California against four school districts (Westminster, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and El Modena), seeking an injunction that would end racial segregation of the schools.
The Mexican American parents turned to the courts in their attempt to end racial segregation, because their petitions to the boards of education and their superintendents received muted responses. The prevailing belief among educational officials was that the Mexican American children were dirty, unkempt, and not as intelligent as the White students. The “proof” was offered in the familiar IQ test data, which showed that Mexicans were intellectually inferior to Whites. Insofar as IQ scores were considered genetic and not mutable, this difference fueled resistance by White educators to integrating Mexican children in the schools.