Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

by Duncan Tonatiuh
     
 

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A 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and a 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a

Overview

A 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book and a 2015 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

Praise for Separate is Never Equal
STARRED REVIEWS
"Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.”
School Library Journal, starred review

"Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote) offers an illuminating account of a family’s hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before Brown v. Board of Education."
Publishers Weekly

"Pura Belpré Award–winning Tonatiuh makes excellent use of picture-book storytelling to bring attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation."
Booklist

"The straightforward narrative is well matched with the illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, brick, and (Photoshopped) hair to provide textural variation. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be."
The Horn Book Magazine

 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/03/2014
Tonatiuh (Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote) offers an illuminating account of a family’s hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before Brown v. Board of Education. In 1944, after years of laboring as a field worker, Sylvia Mendez’s father leases his own farm in Westminster, Calif. But even though Mexican-born Mr. Mendez is a U.S. citizen and his wife is Puerto Rican, their children are banned from the local public school and told they must attend the inferior “Mexican school.” When all else fails, the Mendezes and four other families file a lawsuit. Readers will share Sylvia’s outrage as she listens to a district superintendent denigrate Mexicans (Tonatiuh drew his words and other testimony from court transcripts). Visually, the book is in keeping with Tonatiuh’s previous work, his simplified and stylized shapes drawn from Mexican artwork. He again portrays his characters’ faces in profile, with collaged elements of hair, fabric, and fibrous paper lending an understated texture. An extensive author’s note provides historical context (including that Sylvia Mendez received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011) and urges readers to make their own voices heard. Ages 6–9. (May)
School Library Journal
★ 05/01/2014
Gr 2–5—When the Mendezes moved to Westminster, CA, in 1944, third-grader Sylvia tried to enter Westminster School. However, the family was repeatedly told, "'Your children have to go to the Mexican school.' 'But why?' asked Mr. Mendez……'That is how it is done.'" In response, they formed the Parents' Association of Mexican-American Children, distributed petitions, and eventually filed a successful lawsuit that was supported by organizations ranging from the Japanese American Citizens League to the American Jewish Congress. Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later. Back matter includes a detailed author's note and photographs. The excellent bibliography cites primary sources, including court transcripts and the author's interview with Sylvia Mendez, who did attend Westminster School and grew up to earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tonatiuh's illustrations tell a modern story with figures reminiscent of the pictorial writing of the Mixtec, an indigenous people from Mexico. Here, the author deliberately connects his heritage with the prejudices of mid-20th century America. One jarring illustration of three brown children barred from a pool filled with lighter-skinned children behind a sign that reads, "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed," will remind readers of photographs from the Jim Crow South. Compare and contrast young Sylvia Mendez's experience with Robert Coles's The Story of Ruby Bridges (Scholastic, 1995) to broaden a discussion of school desegregation.—Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-04-16
A little-known yet important story of the fight to end school discrimination against Mexican-American children is told with lively text and expressive art.Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the "Mexican school," despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause "problems," he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history. The universality of parents' desires for better opportunities for their children is made plain. The extensive author's note provides context, and readers can connect with the real people in the story through photographs of Sylvia, her parents and the schools in question. Helpful backmatter includes a glossary, bibliography and index. Even the sourcing of dialogue is explained.A compelling story told with impeccable care. (Informational picture book. 6-9)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781419710544
Publisher:
Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
05/06/2014
Pages:
40
Sales rank:
52,318
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
AD870L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Duncan Tonatiuh’s first book, Dear Primo, won the 2011 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration, and Diego Rivera won the 2012 Pura Belpré Illustration Award. Tonatiuh lives in Mexico.

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