By Fernando Alcantara/Garden Grove Journal
A grand opening and reception for the exhibit, “A Class Action: The Grassroots Struggle for School Desegregation in California – Mendez et al v. Westminster et al,” was held last Saturday afternoon at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana. County supervisor Janet Nguyen, Santa Ana Councilman Vincent Sarmiento and Representative Loretta Sanchez all spoke in support of the exhibit, which was curated by Cal State Fullerton.
Descendants of the five families that brought about the class action lawsuit were also in attendance during Saturday’s reception.
Rep. Sanchez referred to the families that stood up against segregation in Westminster as “warriors.”
“I ask myself today, ‘Where are the warriors?’ because you look around and the injustice is still there,” Rep. Sanchez said in her remarks during the reception. “All of us must become the warriors to right the injustices of today.”
The exhibit celebrates the landmark case of Mendez et al v. Westminster et al from 1946 that challenged racial segregation in public schools in Orange County. It is open now and will run until June, 2012.
“A Class Action,” which was curated by professor of history at Cal State Fullerton Dr. Ray Rast and produced by the Museum of Teaching and Learning, features a mock separate-but-equal classroom from the 1940’s, audio transcriptions of interviews from those that attended those schools and a comparison of modern and 1940s yearbooks.
Lectures, film screenings and panel discussions are scheduled throughout year of the exhibit’s run.
“We had to figure out how to tell this story,” Rast said of the direction the exhibit. “This is a class action lawsuit. The parents who brought it said ‘It’s not just about one family or five families, it’s about all our families,’”
President and founder of the Museum of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Greta Nagel believes in the message the exhibit sends. “De facto segregation is still with us. Inner city schools have schools with less experience, have facilities that aren’t as nice… we hope to inspire each person to think of their personal legacy to do the best each one of us can.
The results of Mendez v. Westminster ended segregation in California and aided the future case of Brown v. Board of Education in ending the separate but equal doctrine that plagued public school systems in the United States.
Lorenzo Ramirez was one of the fathers that sued the Orange County school districts. His son, Alvino “Jim” Ramirez, was one of the students who were forced to attend a separate but equal school. His memories of school were mostly fond.
“To me, it wasn’t segregation. It was just school,” Ramirez said.
Rast recalls in his research for the exhibit that the children in these schools accepted their lives, as it is was and for the most part, were oblivious to the injustice that was put upon them.
“Some of the people who went to segregated schools actually have good memories of their time in school,” Rast said. “We were really intrigued with some of the stories that we heard from the students that experienced segregation.”
Several undergrad students from Cal State Fullerton that worked on “A Class Action,” according to Rast, were not familiar with the Mendez case. Rast notes that although segregation is no longer legal, his students mentioned that a successful exhibit would bring light to the truth that segregation, although subtle, is still prevalent today.
“They said to make this something that people walk away from thinking about when they leave the exhibit,” Rast said.
“A Class Action” is open weekdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Old Orange County Courthouse at 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd. in Santa Ana. Visit http://www.motal.org/events.html for a listing of all upcoming events.
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