An award-winning scholar at the University of California, Irvine, Vicki Ruiz is the author, editor, or coeditor of several books, including From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (1998); with Ellen Carol DuBois, Unequal Sisters: An Inclusive Reader in U.S. Women's History (4th edition, 2008); and, with Virginia Sanchez Korrol, Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (2006). A past president of the OAH, the American Historical Association, the American Studies Association, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, she is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of American Historians as well as a recipient of the 2014 National Humanities Medal for pioneering the history of twentieth-century Latinas.
Rural schools offered Mexican American children more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They could nurture expectations, aspirations, and even opportunities while simultaneously reminding them of their place as children of Mexican farm workers, miners, and rail hands. Drawing on an array of archival sources, newspapers, secondary literature, and oral narratives, this powerpoint presentation provides a historical overview of education in the lives of rural Mexican American youth from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. Although beginning with the controversy over public education itself in New Mexico during the 1870s, this talk focuses on the institutional nature of segregation “for the cause of Americanization” as well as two significant legal challenges by Latina/o parents on behalf of their children. Historian Francisco Balderrama contends that at the dawning of the Great Depression “more than 80 percent of the school districts in southern California enrolled Mexicans and Mexican Americans in segregated schools.” In 1945, Puerto Rico-born Felícitas Méndez and her Mexican born husband Gonzalo, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens, organized other parents in a class action lawsuit against several school districts in then rural Orange County. While Mexican American struggles for educational desegregation remain largely hidden from history, the case of Méndez v. Westminster (1946) would help pave the way for Brown v. Board of Education