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07_robinson - Copyright(c 2003 Regents of the University of...

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Copyright (c) 2003 Regents of the University of California Asian Law Journal May, 2003 10 Asian L.J. 161 ARTICLE: Mendez v. Westminster: Asian-Latino Coalition Triumphant? Toni Robinson and Greg Robinson+ + Greg Robinson is Assistant Professor of History, Universite du Quebec a Montreal. The late Toni Robinson was a lawyer in solo practice in New York State. This article is based upon remarks originally presented at a conference entitled Racial (Trans) formations: Latinos and Asians Remaking the U.S., organized by Nicholas P. de Genova and Gary Y. Okihiro of the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, Mar. 1, 2002. Many thanks to Ed Robinson, Lillian Robinson, and Heng Wee Tan for their support in this project. [*161] Introduction Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, 1 which put an end to the exclusion of Mexican American children from "white" schools in Southern California, is a bellwether event in the history of equal rights in the United States. Not only did the court's decision represent a major advance for Mexican Americans in their quest for equality, but it also led directly to the repeal of all school segregation laws in California, which had been up until then the largest state to maintain separate schools for minority populations. Mendez can thus be claimed as the first victory in the postwar legal struggle against segregation in primary education that climaxed with the Supreme Court's epochal Brown v. Board of Education. 2 decision. Mendez has been enshrined both in historiography and in popular memory as a precursor of Brown, a challenge to racial discrimination by minority group representatives. In accordance with this view, historical accounts and commemorations of Mendez have tended to highlight the participation of civil rights organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP"), the Japanese American Citizens League ("JACL"), and the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC"), and to portray the case as a golden moment of intergroup unity among Latinos, Asian Americans, and African [*162] Americans. A notable illustration of the tendency to view Mendez as a landmark of (inter)racial struggle is the work of historian Ronald Takaki, whose book, Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II, provides the following commentary on the case: The Mexican-American struggle for justice expanded [after World War II] to the right to equal education. In the 1946 case of Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, the U.S. Circuit Court of Southern California declared that the segregation of Mexican children violated their right to equal protection of the law guaranteed to them under the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore was unconstitutional. To support the Mendez case, amicus curiae briefs were filed by the American Jewish Congress, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Japanese American Citizens League. Together, they won a victory over prejudice in education.
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