ORANGE, CA. The OC Film Fiesta resumed on Monday, September 13th with a screening of Méndez V. Westminster: For the Children, at Chapman University’s Memorial Hall. In attendance were the filmmaker Sandra Robbie, Gonzalo Méndez, Jr., Santa Ana City Council members Michelle Martínez and Sal Tinajero, Judge Frederick P. Aguirre, Dr. Paul Apodaca of UCLA and former curator of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, and attorney Federico Sayre.
The documentary entails the story of the Méndez family of Westminster taking the Westminster School District to court over racial discrimination and segregation throughout its schools. The lawsuit was filed in 1943, at a time when Mexicans were not allowed to send their children to Anglo schools, or to partake in everyday activities with whites, nor shop in certain parts of town. This was a county-wide discriminatory practice according to Dr. Paul Apodaca who grew up in Tustin.
The lawsuit was also applied to other parts of the county where discrimination was common, namely in the Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and El Modena school districts. Then California Governor Earl Warren signed a law that forbade racial segregation in schools in California in 1947, this was a first for the country. When Warren became a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he took from the precedent set with the Méndez et al V. Westminster School District et al case and built a consensus at the Supreme Court in order to deliver a decisive 9-0 vote ending racial segregation in schools nationwide in the Brown vs. The Board of Education case.
Other justices recall the precedent set in the Méndez vs Westminster case as a catalyst for influencing the decision in Brown vs The Board of Education case.
The evening ended with a panel discussion with Sandra Robbie, Federico Sayre, Judge Frederick P. Aguirre, and Dr. Paul Apodaca.