Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation (Duncan Tonatiuh)


Hello, everybody! Today’s book is Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight For Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the true story of the Mendez family’s fight to desegregate California public schools.

When Sylvia’s father uses his life savings to move his family to a new town, he is thrilled with the promise of his children getting a good education. But when Sylvia’s aunt takes them to enroll, she and her brothers are turned away and told they must attend the “Mexican school.” Despite being US citizens and speaking perfect English, Sylvia and her brothers are forced to attend a substandard school with disinterested teachers, flies, even an electric fence. Sylvia’s parents decide to fight this injustice: her father hires a lawyer and tours to raise support, and her mother works day and night to keep the farm running in his absence. After three years of fighting in the courts, the Mendez family wins their case, and the governor of California signs a law saying that all public schools must be open to ALL children. Sylvia is sometimes taunted at her new school, but she learns to hold her head high regardless: her family fought for justice, and they won.

This book was absolutely incredible. I loved that it did not shy away from the racist mindsets that school officials used to justify marginalizing these families. The story recounts testimony of a school superintendent who cites a lack of intelligence, work ethic, and even hygiene as reasons that Latino children should be barred from attending white schools. It’s an honest example of the extreme systemic prejudice that these families faced at the time, and still face today. This is ultimately a story of triumph, of one family’s fight and sacrifice to provide a better future for not only their children, but all children. The Mexican folk art-inspired illustrations are a wonderful addition, as is the educational appendix. The length may be pushing it for most baby bookworms, but this is a must-read when kids are ready. Absolutely phenomenal, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

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