The Museum of Tolerance is hosting a webinar for educators on Wednesday, March 9 with author Janice Munemitsu, whose new book documents the bond between two local families during the legal fight to desegregate schools in Orange County.
“The Kindness of Color: A Foundational Story in the History of Segregation and Desegregation in California” will also feature panelists from the Orange County Department of Education who will speak about the importance of history and how it can be taught in the classroom. The event will take place from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and is free for California educators who register in advance.
Munemitsu is set to lead an in-depth discussion on her book “The Kindness of Color,” which she self-published last year. The autobiographical story chronicles his family’s connection to the Mendez family, which successfully prosecuted one of the most important court cases in state history, Mendez et al v Westminster.
Following his presentation, there will be a Q&A and panel discussion with Dennis Cole, Director of Partnerships and District Operations of the OECD’s Alternative Education Division, and Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, Professor of Education at the Vanguard University Higher Education Program (and former OECD Director of Studies). Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares will deliver welcoming remarks and attendees will receive a signed copy of Janice Munemitsu’s book.
Family stories intersect
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the final decision in Mendez v. Westminster, which ended in a historic victory on behalf of approximately 5,000 Mexican-American children who were unjustly denied access to quality neighborhood schools. Janice Munemitsu’s book specifically tells the story of two immigrant families whose stories intersected along the way.
During World War II, the Munemitsus were driven from their farm in Westminster and sent to internment camps with other Japanese-American families following President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Before they left, the Munemitsu family rented their land to Felicitas and Gonzalo. Mendez, who in 1943 sought to enroll their daughter Sylvia and sons Jerome and Gonzalo, Jr. in their neighborhood school.
Mendez v Westminster
Although they were American citizens, the Mendezes were told that their children could not attend 17th Street School because of their Mexican heritage, and they were directed to a less desirable campus known as ” the Mexican school.
After their appeals to district chiefs failed, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez teamed up with four other families and filed a lawsuit in federal court. Their victory in 1946, upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a year later, ultimately laid the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court to declare racially segregated schools unconstitutional in the 1954 ruling. Brown v Board of Education.
The Munemitsus returned to their farm after the war ended, and for a brief period the two families lived and worked together, forging lasting friendships. Case in point: Sylvia Mendez, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for her efforts to promote education and awareness of her family’s case, is the author of the foreword to “The Kindness of Color.” .
For more information about the event or to register, use this Museum of Tolerance registration link.