Los Angeles Federal Courthouse
Los Angeles Federal Courthouse building. Wikipedia/Daniel L. Lu

US Rep. Jimmy Gómez (D-CA) called the Méndez v. Westminster School District case, filed in 1946 by Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez and four other families to end segregation in California public schools, a story of struggle for justice, equality, and inclusion. Felicita was Puerto Rican and her husband, Gonzalo, was Mexican American

During an emotional press conference held on the steps of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC, attended by Felicita's daughter Silvia Méndez, the Congressman introduced legislation to name the U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles after Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez.

"They are American civil rights icons whose activism, along with that of four other families, culminated in the landmark 1946 case that led to the end of school segregation in California and paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education", said Gómez.

The Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez United States Courthouse will be the first federal courthouse named after a Latina, out of more than 200 named federal courthouses in the U.S. The courthouse is located just blocks from where the historic Méndez case was originally decided in 1954 when Earl Warren, then Chief Justice, signed legislation officially ending segregation in public schools.

"This Hispanic Heritage Month, I am making sure Latino stories are enshrined in American civil rights history by introducing legislation to name the Los Angeles federal courthouse located in my district—just blocks away from where Méndez v. Westminster was decided—after the Méndez family. When Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez and four other courageous families challenged segregation in California schools 77 years ago", added the congressman.

"They not only stood up for their own children—they took a stand for the civil rights of students of color everywhere and left a legacy that led to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling," expressed Gómez. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Sylvia Méndez also spoke at the event and thanked the author for the legislative initiative. Sylvia was previously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her civil rights activism, and her education was the subject of the landmark court case.

"It is an immense honor that Congressman Jimmy Gómez is working to memorialize the work of my parents, and all the families involved in this case, by naming the Los Angeles U.S. courthouse the Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez U.S. Courthouse," said Sylvia Méndez.

"My parents and the four other families in this case refused to give up on their vision for a more equal society for their children, where the color of someone's skin doesn't determine their access to education. I am eager to see Rep. Gómez's bill move forward to preserve this important piece of Hispanic history.", added Méndez.

Some legislators also endorse the bill, like Nanette Barragán, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has joined the initiative.

"Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez, along with four other heroic families, are Latino heroes. Their courage ultimately broke down the segregation policies of schools in California and in doing so, helped spark the movement for a more equal and just American education system for all students of color", said Barragán.

"By carrying the names of the Méndez family would serve as marker for Latino civil and equal rights history in our Los Angeles and the United States," added the congresswoman.

Their story of justice is an American story, an immigrant story, and a story of perseverance and pride and I applaud Congressman Jimmy Gómez's efforts to memorialize this moment in history.", emphasized.

Another lawmaker who joined in the tribute was U.S. Representative Joaquín Castro, who noted that the story of Felicitas and Gonzalo Méndez is the story of two fathers who fought for their children and changed the world. "All Americans deserve to know how the Méndez family laid the groundwork for millions of children to get a better education. As we push for greater Latino representation in the telling of American history and across American society, I'm proud to support Congressman Gómez in this historic effort.", added.

The main Latino grass-root organizations supported the initiative, like Andrea Senteno, Regional Counsel of MALDEF's (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) Washington, DC office.

"The Méndez case is an important, but often overlooked, piece of civil rights history, and the renaming of the U.S. Courthouse is a fitting way to acknowledge the history of discrimination against Mexican Americans and Latinos in the U.S. and to educate the public about the significant contribution the Méndez family made in the fight for educational equality for everyone in the U.S.", declared Senteno.

In turn, Janet Murguía, President and CEO of UnidosUS said the Méndez family played a critical role in the end of segregation in our schools, the advancement of civil rights and in our shared American history. By naming the courthouse in their honor, the lasting and historic impacts of Méndez v. Westminster case are permanently and publicly commemorated to inspire Angelenos and all Americans for generations to come.

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