Utilizing the Law for Latino Empowerment

Latino Empowerment Through Successful Legal Challenge

1. Case Description

Moments of legal empowerment and critical social reflection are often

incited by an intensification of the negative conditions demanding these

impulses. This has been especially true in the context of America's

challenges to resolve its own racial identity. During the 1930s, America

was in the throes of an intense reactionary abuse of its immigrant

populations, which came to a head in the so-called Lemon Grove Incident.

Here, Caucasian parents residing in the California region from which the

incident draws its name objected to what they perceived as a dramatic

influx of Mexican children in their schools, and to the detriment of their

children. Thus, they complained that "the Mexican children were so

deficient in English in 1930's California that their 'Anglo' classmates

were being taught at a slower rate. They caused health and sanitation

problems, said school officials, and they came from homes where ignorance

and poverty prevailed. Against that backdrop of cultural chauvinism the

Lemon Grove School District in California secretly established a separate

school for students of Mexican ancestry in the hope of 'Americanizing'

them. The segregation, a harbinger of other attempts in the Southwest to

bar Mexican students from interacting with Anglo students, came despite the

fact that most of them had been born in the Untied States and many spoke no

Spanish." (Rangel, 1)

In response to this growing anti-Mexican fervor, the School Board of

Lemon Grove passed a secret bill of segregation and built a farmhouse on a

separate location to house the Mexican children. These children learned of

the plan on the morning of January 5, 1931 when the principal of the Lemon

Grove Grammar School stood before the entrance and declared that Mexican

students were to be educated in their own separate facility. The parents

revolted however, refusing to send their children to the sub-standard

school. Gaining financial support for legal counsel from the Mexican

consulate, the parents of Lemon Grove would raise a legal challenge in the

case of Alvarez V. Lemon Grove, which was ultimately a critical first step

in the path to total racial desegregation in the U.S.

2. Impact on Latino Community

The Lemon Grove decision was a crucial stepping stone toward Brown v.

Board. So tells Alvarez (1986) in an article which describes the 1931

decision as "the first successful school desegregation court decision in

the history of the United States." (Alvarez, 1) Quite to the point, this

was a moment of tremendous importance in the longer scheme of opening

America's schools to total racial segregation. And of perhaps even greater

importance was the template that it set for the achievement of just such a

goal. Alvarez describes the importance of this moment in these terms,

alluding to the theme of Latino empowerment through legal avenues. The

article declares that the decision "is important in San Diego and U.S.

history, not solely because it occurred but because the community took

court action and won the case they established the rights of their children

to equal education, despite local, regional and national sentiment that

favored not only segregation but the actual deportation of the Mexican

population of the United States." (Alvarez, 1) Thus, in terms of the

challenges which the Latino population would be forced to overcome, the

methods of community action and legal representation which they channeled

into a positive outcome could be seen as an early example to the Civil

Rights activists of the coming generations.

3. Case Analysis:

The decision on the case of Alvarez v. Lemon Grove would be a landmark

case in terms of the implication of its decision. That it was a decision

which officially struck down an act of segregation is a point to its credit

and does illustrate it to be an important setter of precedent in judicial

attention to racial issues in America. But it would also fail in the

utmost to establish a precedent with the necessary implications of

precedent to serve the future advancement of America's racial outlook. In

some regards, the decision would be undermined by the quibbling of the

final opinion. Here, "on March 11, 1931, Judge Claude Chambers heard the

case and, on the basis of the arguments of attorney Fred Noon, ruled

against the school board and demanded the immediate reinstatement of the

Mexican American children. His ruling was partially based on the premise

that Mexicans were officially of the Caucasian race and therefore under

California state law,…