When Sylvia Mendez was a child back in the 1940s, her parents filed a lawsuit to fight segregation of children of Mexican heritage in schools. In Mendez v. Westminster, the Mendez couple (a native of Puerto Rico and a Mexican immigrant) won the opportunity to enroll their children in schools that had been reserved for non-Hispanic whites only. (A few years ago, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the federal case.)
Sylvia Mendez will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 in honor of her lifelong work in speaking out for the importance of educational equity, according to Latina magazine. (Hat tip to ImmigrationProf Blog. I missed this news when it was announced last month.)
This past spring Mendez talked about her memories of the court case on StoryCorps. You can learn more about Sylvia Mendez in a book, Mendez v. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights, by Philippa Strum, which was released this year.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.