Museum and memories educate about school segregation against Mexican Americans


Today, many Redlands High School alumni remember a time when racial discrimination was more common. RHS alumni Paul Aranda, class of ‘67, reflects on his experiences as well as from his family as they grew up in Redlands as Mexican Americans. 

Aranda’s family has lived in Redlands for generations, beginning from the early 1900s. Living in Southern California as Mexican Americans, Aranda has his fair share of stories that clearly display how discrimination occurred in this community. 

In the 1930s and 40s, educational systems enforced segregation between Mexican Americans and whites in California. Cities with only one high school, such as Redlands, were mixed, but discrimination proceeded. 

Aranda recalls when his great-uncle Cruz had a racial slur, “Spick and Spanish,” printed in his RHS yearbook from 1942. 

“On his picture on the yearbook, like in the senior picture, they had his picture and they called him ‘Spick and Spanish,’” Aranda said. “‘Spick’ was a derogatory name for Mexicans. My uncle Jerry, you know what they called him? The orange picker. On your high school yearbook graduation photo, they put ‘The Orange Picker.’”

Aranda’s great-uncle, Cruz Coyazo, RHS class of ‘42, was given the nickname, “Spick and Spanish,” typed under his name in his senior year portrait. “They had his picture and they called him ‘Spick and Spanish.’ ‘Spick’ was a derogatory name for Mexicans. My uncle Jerry, you know what they called him? The orange picker. On your high school yearbook graduation photo, they put ‘The Orange Picker,’” said Aranda. (Courtesy of Paul Aranda) 

At the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, similar stories are told behind a glass window in an exhibit titled “Para Todos Los Niños: Fighting Segregation in California.” The display informs museum-goers about the background and aftermath regarding the 1947 Mendez v. Westminster court decision which addressed segregation of Mexican American children in California. 

In this case, two Mexican families, both related, requested to attend a white school, but only one family was admitted due to their lighter skin color despite their Mexican descent. In 1946, Mexican American fathers Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino and Lorenzo Ramirez then took four Los Angeles school districts to court claiming that their children were victims of discrimination. This was because it was compulsory for Mexican children to attend schools specifically without whites. 

The exhibit, «For all the Children» at the Museum of Tolerance tells the story of the Westminster v. Mendez case through photos, text, and video. (ETHAN DEWRI/ La Plaza Photo)

Judge McCormick declared that “A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage,” which only applied to children of Mexican ancestry in California. 

However, the school districts disagreed with the judge’s decision and decided to take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in which they affirmed Judge McCormick’s ruling. 

Two months later, California Governor Earl Warren signed a bill ending segregation in schools in California. 

Eight years later, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional through the Brown v. Board of Education court case. Attorney Thurgood Marshall, who eventually became the first African American Supreme Court justice, used some of the evidence and reasoning from Mendez v. Westminster to help him win the Brown case. Despite this proclamation ending segregation in U.S. schools, racial discrimination and prejudice continued to exist.

Paul Aranda, Redlands High School class of ‘67, holds up Maria Fleming’s “A Place at the Table: Struggles for Equality in America” book featuring the Mendez v. Westminster court case. (MIA ARANDA/ La Plaza photo)

Aranda remembers segregation as a child in Redlands. “In the 50s, the Redlands park had a swimming pool and it was basically whites only. If you were a person of color, they wouldn’t let you into the pool,” Aranda said. “They took away the pool now. In some families, especially in Latino or Mexican families, you might have a family of five with two whites kids and three dark kids. They would let the white kids in, but they wouldn’t let the others in. That’s the way it used to be.”

The following decade in the 1960s, Aranda remembers discrimination continued. “In high school, when I was growing up, there was still racial discrimination,” Aranda said. “They would call us dirty Mexicans, beaner; they called us all kinds of names, not everybody, just some of the real racist people.”

Aranda looks back on jokes he used to have with his friends in junior high regarding the teenagers that could attend junior high and be 16 or 17 due to a policy in the educational system where if one didn’t speak English, they would be held back until they could. Aranda said, “So, there was no English as a second language, none of that stuff. You had to learn it, just like my mom, to speak English and the educational system in Redlands was the best because most people, like my mom’s generation and mine, most people spoke English very well, but when you go to Colton or East LA or whatever, they speak with an accent or they speak very poor English. Because why? They were still speaking Spanish at home and the teachers at those schools really didn’t teach.”

Today, schools are much more diverse with students from various backgrounds. Before the 1960s, students of color, such as Mexican Americans and African Americans, had to succumb to lower standards of education in comparison to the finer schooling that whites were granted, merely due to their darker skin colors which deemed them as inferior. 

Times had changed between when Aranda had played baseball compared to his grandparents. “Sports was a way to equalize because it was white and brown, so we played together,” said Aranda. His grandpa and uncles, however, played in a Mexican baseball league in Colton. “They formed their own church leagues so they could play each other but they could never play a white team,” Aranda said. “Like the YMCA, it was white, so a Mexican could never go to the YMCA, so they had their own league for softball. My grandpa was a manager in the hardball leagues and they had their own bands and they had their own schools.”

Despite enduring forms of discrimination, Aranda is proud of the accomplishments that his father achieved. Aranda’s father, Salvador Aranda, received the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart from Fort MacArthur in San Pedro because of his heroic service in a World War II military operation on Nov. 14, 1944. In addition, Salvador became the first Mexican American to be appointed to the Redlands Unified School District’s board of trustees in 1968, after former president Donald Beckord had resigned. 

Aranda’s father, Salvador Aranda, received awards for his heroic service in World War Ⅱ in 1944 and became the first Mexican American to be appointed to the Redlands Unified School District’s board of trustees in 1968. (Courtesy of Paul Aranda)

Aranda’s generations of family and their experiences with discrimination and court cases, like the Mendez v. Westminster and Brown v. Board of Education, are examples of how California has gradually progressed in the past century. 

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