Toolkit for "Why Mendez Still Matters"

Mendez v. Westminster has gone largely unrecognized in history instruction. If it is mentioned at all, the case is often tagged as a precursor to the civil rights movement or as the Mexican-American version of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. These exercises help students explore the case and to better understand the role it did and did not play in U.S. civil rights history. 

Essential Questions

  • What role did Mendez v. Westminster play in civil rights history?
  • What role has language played in school segregation? 





To start, introduce students to the case. Then, use one or more of the suggested activities to further explore the intricacies of the case and its effects on school segregation in the U.S.  


Introduce students to the Mendez case: 

  1. Project or distribute the handout “Mendez v. Westminster Photos,” and ask students if they have ever heard of the Mendez vs. Westminster case. 
  2. Ask students who have not heard of the case to predict what the case might be about and explain their answer. Then ask students who have heard of the case to tell what they know. 
  3. Project, read aloud or distribute the handout “An Introduction to Mendez vs. Westminster,” and review details of the case.


Activity 1: 

Did the Mendez case end school segregation in California?

In this activity, students will analyze various historical accounts of the Mendez case to determine if the case really led to desegregation of schools in California. 


  1. Tell students that Mendez v. Westminster is often considered the precursor to the Brown v. Board decision, which declared school segregation as unconstitutional. Explain that, in this activity, they will analyze various accounts of the case to determine if that is true. 
  2. Distribute the handout “Did the Mendez case end segregation in California?” and the accompanying graphic organizer.  
  3. Read “Document A: Introduction for Teachers” as a class and fill in the section for Document A on the graphic organizer. 
  4. In groups, have students read the following documents and fill in the chart: 
    1. “Document B: Excerpt from The Color of America has Changed
    2. “Document C: Mendez Case Appeal Court Decision”
  5. Have students answer the review questions individually. 
  6. Discuss the chart and their answers to the review questions as a class. 


Activity 2: 

Why Were Mexican-American Students Segregated?

In this activity, students will analyze various documents related to the Mendez case to determine the reasons that Mexican Americans were segregated from white students in schools. 


  1. Tell students, “During and before Mendez, some schools segregated Mexican American students. Why?” 
  2. Distribute the handout “Why Were Mexican-American Students Segregated?” and accompanying graphic organizer. 
  3. In groups, have students read the “Why Were Mexican-American Students Segregated?” documents and fill in the graphic organizer. 
  4. Have students answer the review questions individually. 
  5. Discuss the chart and their answers to the review questions as a class.


Activity 3: 

Mendez’s impact

In this activity students will analyze cases that were tried after the Mendez case to determine the impact Mendez had on future school segregation cases and discuss what they think the case should be known for. 

  1. Divide class into six groups and distribute handouts “After Mendez v. Westminster” handout and accompanying graphic organizer.
  2. Two groups will read one of the following documents: 
    1. California Segregation Law
    2. Gonzales v. Sheely
    3. Cisneros v. Corpus Christi 
  3. Report back and fill out the graphic organizer as a class. 
  4. Have students answer the review questions individually then discuss their answers as a class. 


Activity 4: 

Create your own Mendez textbook account

In this activity students create their own account of the Mendez case. 


  1. Distribute handouts for any activities not previously implemented in class.  Distribute “Instructions for Mendez v. Westminster Textbook Account.”
  2. Allow students time to use the primary and secondary sources used throughout the prior three activities to review the case then create their own textbook account using the “My Mendez v. Westminster Textbook Account” graphic organizer. 

This toolkit was adapted from curricular materials written by Dr. Maribel Santiago, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University. Please cite as: Santiago, M. (2018). “Why Mendez Still Matters Toolkit” Teaching Tolerance, 58, pages 43-46.

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