Google’s logo doodle on Tuesday honors an Orange County woman who helped lead the fight to end segregation in California schools.

In the drawing that appeared on Google’s homepage Sept. 15, a smiling Felicitas Mendez is shown watching a crowd of happy children of all races walk into a school. Her three children, led by her husband Gonzalo, are among them.

That image would have been pure fantasy in the early 1940s, when her children were barred from entering a “white” school in Westminster because they were of Mexican descent. Their case, Mendez v. Westminster, led to the end of public school segregation in California and paved the way for the federal Brown v. Board of Education, which ended school segregation across the nation.

Along with the doodle, Google featured a three-minute documentary examining Mendez’ story and the case, with photos and video clips of Felicitas Mendez and the family, including her daughter, Sylvia Mendez.

“I’m so excited because they’re picturing my mother,” Fullerton resident Sylvia Mendez, now 84, said Tuesday.

“She’s the one, when I retired from nursing, who said, ‘Please go out and tell the story.’ Go around the country and talk about it.”

Mendez children, center, with some cousins were sent to a Mexican-only school in Westminster, triggering a lawsuit that led to the desegregation of California schools. (Courtesy of the Mendez family)

And Sylvia Mendez did.  She’s been retelling the story for some 20 years to schools and colleges across the U.S. That effort has been widely lauded, and in 2011 Sylvia Mendez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1943, Sylvia and her brothers, Gonzalo and Geronimo, were turned away from what was then called the 17th Street School in Westminster. The family was told to go instead to a nearby “Mexican” school. Gonzalo Mendez and five other Mexican fathers joined to fight segregation policies in districts in Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Orange, (then called El Modena). In 1946, the Mendez family won their class action lawsuit and, in 1947, an appellate court upheld that ruling.

With that ruling, California became the first state in the nation to end school segregation.

The drawing and the brief documentary, posted on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, is the featured doodle on the site for 24 hours, a Google spokeswoman said.  Google often features interactive doodles and special features interlaced with its logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous people.

The artist, Emily Barrera, said in the Google video that she hopes her drawing will spark a conversation.

“When people see this doodle, I hope that it can start a conversation that Hispanic heritage is American heritage. We’re all in this together. We’re all part of this country and we all deserve the same opportunity and chances.”

Meanwhile, Westminster – which once ignored the legacy of the Mendez case – has teamed up with the Orange County Department of Education to create a “Freedom Trail” featuring interactive panels that tell the story of the case. Construction of the project was delayed due to the pandemic but next month, officials plan to hold a groundbreaking over Zoom, Sylvia Mendez said.

The 2.5 mile trail, along Hoover Street between Garden Grove Boulevard and Bolsa Avenue, will end in a small park featuring a monument to the Mendez couple. Originally, the monument was to honor only Gonzalo Mendez. But had it not been for Felicitas Mendez, who insisted her daughter dedicate herself to sharing the story, the case may have been but a lost side note, Sylvia Mendez said. “I wanted her included too.”

Felicitas Mendez, left, and daughter Sylvia Mendez are shown in this 1996 photo. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Felicitas Mendez, a Puerto Rican native who died in 1998, also played crucial roles in the lawsuit, her daughter said. She helped organized support for the lawsuit and managed the family farm, which helped pay for the litigation.

“I’m so happy she’s being recognized,” her daughter said.

In the video clip that accompanies the doodle, Felicitas Mendez talks about her legacy.

“I’m proud that at least we had the courage to do it…to fight not for our children but for the other children.” And for their children’s children.


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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