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House Bill Passes to Rename Federal Courthouse After Latino Family

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Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez’s (CA-34) bipartisan legislation to name the Los Angeles U.S. Courthouse after Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez, American civil rights icons.

The Mendez family helped change the course of U.S. history almost eight decades ago after their daughter wasn’t allowed to enroll in her neighborhood school that was only for white children. They brought a lawsuit that ended school segregation in California in 1947. 

The Mendez’s activism, alongside the Ramirez, Estrada, Guzman and Palomino families, culminated in the landmark case that led to the end of segregation in California schools. Thurgood Marshall wrote the NAACP’s amicus brief in the case, and just years later used the Mendez case as a blueprint for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark ruling, which found segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Gomez’s bill would be a historic first, as the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez United States Courthouse would be the first federal courthouse named after a Latina out of over 200 named federal courthouses in the U.S. The courthouse sits just blocks from where the historic Mendez case was originally decided.

“Today we took a historic step in honoring the history of civil rights in Los Angeles and across the nation by passing legislation to name the Los Angeles U.S. Courthouse after civil rights icons Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez,” said Rep. Gomez. 

“What an immense honor that the House passed Congressman Jimmy Gomez’s bill to memorialize the work of my parents and all the families involved in this case by naming the Los Angeles US courthouse after them,” said Sylvia Mendez, whose education was at the heart of the landmark Mendez v. Westminster case.

“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 Congressman Gomez’s bill pass the Senate to preserve this important piece of history.”

The Mendez family’s legal plight began after Sylvia was denied enrollment at her Westminster neighborhood school.

As a 9-year-old third grader at the time, she wanted to attend the “beautiful school” with the “nice playground,” not understanding that she couldn’t because it was reserved for white children only. Instead, Latino children like her were forced to attend the “Mexican school” in a rundown building next to a cow pasture. The conditions there were terrible, she recalled in an interview with NBC News in 2021.

The Mendez family relocated to Westminster because the Japanese American Munemitsu family, who were themselves tragically experiencing the injustice of World War II incarceration by the federal government, was willing to lease farmland to them.

“I thank CAPAC Executive Member Rep. Gomez for his leadership to have Congress highlight how intertwined our stories and fights for justice and equality are and recognize the significance of the Mendez v. Westminster case to California’s and America’s civil rights history,” said Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“Decades after Brown v. Board of Education and Mendez v. Westminster, the fight for equality in education continues,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-04), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Honoring Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez by naming the Los Angeles US Courthouse after them takes a step to rectify past injustices and will serve as a reminder of their advocacy. This legislation will reinforce our continued commitment to work toward justice and equality.”

The courthouse naming bill now heads to the Senate.

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