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The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was validated on February 2, 1848, the treaty ended the Mexican-American war. This war lasted about two years which was based on a few disputes between the United States and Mexico. Mexican Americans struggled to achieve first class citizenship. Not only did they struggle for citizenship but Mexican Americans also used legal challenges as part of their struggles to equality under the law. In different situations, Mexicans have faced the court challenges of segregation and discrimination, disparities in social and public services and jury exclusion. They also used the 14th Amendment to defend their civil rights at the state and national levels. Court cases like Re Rodriguez, Alvarez v Lemon Grove, Mendez v Westminster, Plyler v Doe, and Hernandez v Texas have made a difference for Mexican Americans to face the challenges.
During May of 1896 there was a civil rights case for a Mexican American man named Ricardo Rodriguez. The naturalization case of Ricardo Rodriguez that took place in 1897. Which explained how the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo informed the court’s decision. White people had more privilege, rights, and duties of a citizen than others. The case of Ricardo Rodriguez explains how a landmark civil-rights case, started when Ricardo Rodríguez, who was a Mexican of humble means who had resided in San Antonio for 10 years, which came before the federal district court of Judge Thomas S. Maxey. In May 1896 Judge Thomas S. Maxey requested a final approval of his application for United States citizenship, which would naturally confer on him the right to vote. He’s case explained how Ricardo may be classed with “copper-colored or red men” since he has dark eyes, hair, and high cheekbones. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was immediately informed to the court’s decision by allowing for the conferral of American citizenship on Mexicans who continued to live in the territory ceded after the Mexican War, if they have failed to declare their desire to become Mexican citizens. Between the relationship of race and citizenship, Judge Maxey declared that the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, regardless of color or race. He noted, “We have freely received immigrants from all nations, and invested them with rights of citizens.” Ricardo Rodriguez wanted to become a citizen of the United States because he wanted to have privilege and he also thought that he had a right to become citizen. Acosta states “ In his testimony before the court, Ricardo Rodriguez acknowledged that his interest in becoming a citizen lay in his long residency in Texas” The right to become a naturalized citizen is so important because it means that you have more privilege than others. It also can mean that you have more benefit, for example you have “historial benefits of whiteness. Which are to have access to wages, land grant, better education, jobs, loans, and ect.”
Student’s that were Mexican American were being segregated from schools just because of their race and color but it was illegal to do such thing. There was a case in the 1930’s which was The Lemon v Grove Incident: The Nation’s First Successful Desegregation Court Case. This case was about a school that should not matter about someone’s race, all students are welcomed to have an education. Mexican students were going to be able to attend this school as well but the students and parents thought wrong. The first day of school, Mexican students were set to attend class at Lemon Grove. The principle was at the door only accepting white students. The principle was sending Mexican students to another building that was aside, and was letting them know that, that was the building they would be attending school at. The district agreed to building a separate building especially for the Mexican students because they did not want to have them in the same school of all the white students. The first day back from school, the parents of these Mexican students were expected to hear great news from their kids about how their first day of school went. The parents were expected to hear wonderful things about the school. Their children were upset and immediately told their parents what was going on at their school. The parents were bothered and also upset because their childrens were being segregated, when they said otherwise. Later on, the parent and the students realized that it had all been planned out but the school failed to advise the parents how the first day of school was going to really be like. The parents of these students were aware that it was very unfair for their children to attend a different school because of their background of where they are from or simply because of their race and that they were Mexican. The parents that were highly upset came together to organize protests and committees. The protests from the parents were becoming bigger when more and more people were starting to become more aware of what was happening in the school. The protests were so big that they were published on the newspapers. The parents and students who were part of protests and organizations, were not going to give up until their students were able to attend the same school as the white children that they were attending at. Afterwards the case was brought up to court. On March 30, 1931 the court favored Mexicans and won the case. Therefore their children were able to attend the school they wanted to go to without being punished of their race or background they came from. In a report Robert R. Alvarez quoted that “The report considers all people of Mexican descent as Mexican nationals and does not differentiate between Mexicans born in Mexico, or U.S citizens of Mexican descents.”
There was another school case in the 1940’s that was called Mendez v. Westminster School District. This case was also about how it was illegal to have school segregation but it was still going on in schools. The family members of Frederick P. Aguirre as well as his father also experience segregation when they were young even though they were born in the United States. They were still being segregated by the skin color and the light skinned kids in the family were being accepted to the white schools and the dark skinned kids in the family were being sent to the Mexican schools. It was told that school districts in the south were still being segregated in the schools for Mexican and White children without anyone being aware of it. Mendez was surprised to find out when he sent his kids with his sister to sign them up for school that his kids were not accepted. The Mendez kids were not accepted in the school because of their any of their academic performance in school but it was really because of their skin color and their last name. Their last name sounded more like a Spanish Latin name unlike Mendez sisters kids, whose last name sounded not non-Spanish. During this time the only race that was allowed to be segregated from schools were those students from Chinese descents and Native Americans. Mexicans were not considered of White or Black race so they should have not been segregated but the school districts were discreetly segregating Mexican students. Frederick P. Aguirre mentions “A study found that 70% of the Mexican American children attended Mexican American segregated elementary schools.” (Aguirre 323). This was happening in many states were children were being forced to attend these schools. The case was won and in favor of Aguirre. Organizations where to keep fight against lawful challenges. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and American GI Forum (AGIF) helped segregation come to an end. These organizations were created when parents of the upset students came together to organize protests and to fight against filed lawsuits with the school districts who were part of segregating Mexican students in school. Their purpose was to fight until segregation and discrimination to came to a stop. The organizations LULAC and AGIF helped school segregation bring to a close.
In 1975 there was also another case of Plyler v Doe, the Education of Undocumented Children, and the Polity. Education was being charged when the state of Texas approved section 21.031 of the Texas Education Code but not all public schools were being charged. An organization called the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) was created to protect the rights of Latinos. Over time MALDEF joined other organizations like League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and GI Forums. They were all created to fight against discrimination. Michael A Olivas mentions “In June 1982, the supreme court gave the schoolchildren their win on all counts.” (Olivas 208). Undocumented children were not being charge $1,000 to attend school. In June of 1982, the Supreme Court made the decision that states are not able to deny students a free education regardless of their status. Olivas mentions “by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime.” (Olivas 209). Therefore there would be no good outcome of keeping them from receiving an education. In fact educating the students would help move forward.In the 1950’s the case of Hernandez v. Texas, Pete Hernandez was convicted to ten years in jail for murdering another man Joe Espinoza at a bar. During this trial Hernandez noticed something different, he noticed that all of the jury were white. The trial was considered as unfair trial because it excluded Mexican American jurors. They thought since the jurors were all white they would not understand Hernandez and be against him. Michael A Olivas mentions “In a country more than 14% Mexican Americans, there had been no Hispanic jurors in over a quarter century.” (Olivas 284). Not enough were educated or lacked the English language. Hernandez and his lawyer realized that there was also discrimination in the court system. When they went to use the bathrooms, they noticed they were being segregated as well. There bathroom where located somewhere else with the label “Hombres Aqui” on the door. Hernandez V Texas was the first case to reach the Supreme Court. Michael A Olivas states “Under the contemporary Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence, the court now regards with constitutional indifference any subordination not predicated on a express use of a racial classification, while it regards with equal hostility all uses of race, whether designed to perpetuate or dismantle racial hierarchy.” (Olivas 302) After the Hernandez case, Mexican Americans had equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and no longer seen as second class citizenship.
Mexican Americans had to face many challenges to get to where we are today. These are only a few of the court cases that have helped make a difference. Mexican Americans were granted the rights that come with having citizenship. Mexican Americans had to use the courts to challenge educational segregation and discrimination, disparities in social and public services, and jury exclusion. The inequality was seen in many aspects. It now has influenced in how things are today. Schools are no longer segregated, there is a diversity in schooling. Courts have a bit more of variety of people instead of all white.
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