Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fights for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh is a book I picked up to read to my son on one of our airplane trips. I found myself blown away by this book because it is not only child-friendly, but it’s full of rich history that I was able to use in my teaching.
Sylvia Mendez was a young girl in California when her father moved the family to Orange County to help run a farm left by a family moved to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. (The book doesn’t mention this part, but I think it’s an incredibly poignant point in this story.) When Sylvia’s ain’t took her, her brothers, and her cousins to register them for school, her aunt was told that Sylvia and her brothers had to go register at the Mexican school. Her cousins — with lighter skin and a French last name — could stay. Her aunt refused to register any of them, and they all went home. This fired up Sylvia’s father and mother, who went above and beyond to ensure that their children would have the same education that their neighbors had. Their fight went all the way to the Supreme Court, with a ruling stating that children of Latino heritage were entitled to an equal education as their White peers.
This was a lovely story, and a wonderful book, and not long after reading this to my son, the Mendez case came up in my urban schools course. We read about it in several readings and watched an adult Sylvia testify before the Civil Rights Commission. It was quite moving. It also confirmed that this book was quite accurate in the depiction of the Mendez case and Sylvia’s experience. I wanted to read this book to my students, but we ran out of time as we do in all classes that have strong conversation sparked. I’m so happy I found this book, and even though I had to return it because it was a borrowed book, it’s on my son’s wishlist. After all, I can learn to share.