Saturday, January 10, 2015

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

Duncan Tonatiuh's Separate Is Never Equal is the first time I have seen the story of Syliva Mendez told in picture book format.

Nearly every student knows of Ruby Bridges and her fight for school integration  But none of my students had ever heard of Sylvia Mendez, despite the fact that I have a large Hispanic population.

Sylvia's parents expected her and her brothers to get a good education, yet when they tried to enroll them in school, they were told they must attend the Mexican school, which provided fewer resources.  Despite the Mendez family's constant inquiries about why the children could not attend the white school, they were never given a good answer.

Eventually the Mendezs are able to gain the support of other families who are also experiencing segregation and they file a lawsuit.  

After years of trials and awaiting judges' decisions, the Mendez family and other Hispanic families were granted the right to a free and equal education.  

Tonatiuh has included a glossary of terms that might be helpful to readers, photographs of the Mendez parents and Sylvia and also pictures of the two schools.

Although the story of Ruby Bridges is well known, it is unfortunate that this story has never garnered the same publicity or recognition. Sadly it was not only African Americans who were discriminated against, and this is important to recognize other cultures and their fight for equality.

Although this is the first picture book I have read about Sylvia Mendez, three years ago I reviewed Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling, an historical fiction novel that tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her Japanese American friend, Aki and their fight for an equal education.  If you are curious about this topic, I highly recommend reading Sylvia and Aki, which adds a little more depth to this story and may appeal to older readers.

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