When it comes to the desegregation of schools in America, the most indelible moments that people think of first have to do with the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960. However, decades previously, Felicitas Mendez, the subject of today’s Google doodle, also made history when she and her husband Gonzalo Mendez sued the Westminster, California school district after their three small children were denied enrollment at a nearby public school due to their skin color and Hispanic ethnicity. The Mendez lawsuit was first filed in 1944.
Two years later, the federal district court in charge of the case concluded that a violation of Mexican-American citizens’ right to equal protection under the law was taking place, and subsequently ruled in favor of the Mendez family. “I am so proud to be the daughter of Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez and to have the opportunity to keep the promise I made to my mother,” Sylvia Mendez, the daughter of Felicitas and Gonzalo and the eventual recipient of the told Google in an interview. Sylvia was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for her role in this case and later career in activism; her mother had died 13 years prior, in 1998. “I remember my mother saying to me, ‘No one knows about Mendez vs Westminster, how five families fought to end segregation in California. When we all decided to fight, it was not only for you but for all the children.'”
The Google Doodle that’s been made of Felicitas by the Doodler Emily Barrera was directly sourced from the artist’s interviews with her own family members, who grew up themselves as Mexican kids studying in the United States. “There’s still a long way to go to achieve equal rights and provide the same opportunities to everyone, but every step counts,” Barrera added. “As we keep pushing forward, we need to keep sharing stories like these from history, to teach about perseverance, acceptance, and to celebrate our differences.”