Don’t miss a very special event at the Leatherby Libraries at 5:30 today (Monday, May 10) – a reception will precede the 6 p.m. unveiling of historic documents related to the famous Mendez vs. Westminster case (the Leatherby Libraries is the repository of the offical Mendez vs. Westminster Archive).
Mendez v. Westminster
, the landmark California civil rights case that helped make California school desegregation case, took place during WWII and has been commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp. The case was argued in Los Angeles and eventually won in the 9
Circuit Court of Appeals. Earl Warren was governor of California at the time of Mendez. Two months after the appeal, he signed legislation that ended de jure segregation in California’s school. Seven years later, Warren was the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the decision for
Brown v. Board of Education
, ending de jure segregation across America.
But before any of that could happen, there was the flashpoint, the confluence of people in time that entwined the histories of the people across communities. Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez would never have been in Westminster, nor would have they been able to afford the lawsuit, if they hadn’t been leasing the farm from the Munemitsu family, who as Japanese Americans were being interned during WWII. Because the Mendez family lived in the white district in Westminster, they came face-to-face with the segregated policies of the Westminster school district, who turned their children away. Because they were entrusted by the Munemitsus to care for and lease their farm, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez were not struggling laborers but fairly wealthy farmers who had the bankroll to support a costly and lengthy lawsuit. Without the Munemitsu family and the lease agreement, there would have been no
Mendez v. Westminster
The original lease agreement between Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez and the Munemitsu family will be unveiled at a private preview in Leatherby Libraries on Monday, May 10 at 5:30 pm, in celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Janice Munemitsu, the daughter of Tad and Yone Munemitsu, found the document in her mother’s papers. Her father Tad co-owned the Westminster farm with his parents. Her parents saved the papers, along with photos, farm implements and even steamer trunks and bamboo baskets that made the first trip from Japan to their new home in America. These items have also been donated by Janice Munemitsu to the Mendez Archive to help share the story of her family’s connection. History made by regular folks, that’s how Janice sees it. In fact, the Chapman Munemitsu event is named
History in the House,
just like the electronic posts Janice Munemitsu has been sharing with friends on Facebook as she rediscovers her family’s history.
Mendez documentary filmmaker Sandra Robbie has been working with the Munemitsu family to collect their family story for the Mendez Archive. Robbie says, “The Munemitsu items are fantastic historic finds that our communities should come together to treasure and celebrate. These papers document the building of bridges between individuals and peoples. That bridge, in turn, served as the foundation for big changes across the country and around the world. This is huge. This is electric. These documents reveal how our lives are all connected, and how daily decisions can and do pave the way for history.”