Activists for Latinos Win Belated Honor


Johanna Mendez-Sandoval was eating lunch at the school where she worked as a clerk when she overheard a teacher say that Mexican children in the United States should speak English or go back to their home country.

That incident a decade ago hit Mendez-Sandoval especially hard because her grandfather was Gonzalo Mendez, whose 1945 lawsuit brought an end to the segregation of Latinos in Orange County schools.

Fearing that her grandfather’s legacy was being forgotten, Mendez-Sandoval began a crusade three years ago to raise awareness of his accomplishments.

Her dedication paid off last week when trustees of Santa Ana Unified School District voted unanimously to name a new school after Mendez and his wife, Felicitas.


Gonzalo Mendez, an asparagus farmer, died in 1964. Felicitas Mendez, now 81 and in a wheelchair, sat in the front row at the school board meeting. She addressed the trustees briefly, leaving to a standing ovation.

“This thing has been dormant for so many years,” she said, thanking them. “It finally came to light.”

Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez Intermediate School will be the district’s first school named for two people and the first honoring someone who is still alive.

The campus will be unusual too. Dubbed a space-saver school, it will have two stories of classroom and office space on top of a parking structure to be built behind Bristol Marketplace, a shopping center at Bristol and 17th streets. Facilities director Mike Vail said it will be the first school of its kind in California.

Construction is set to begin by year’s end.

The school district already owns the site. The parking structure will serve both the shopping center and the school.

Intermediate schools in Santa Ana are usually named for people who have had an impact on the community. When Mendez-Sandoval heard of plans for the new space-saver campus, she jumped at the chance to nominate her grandparents for school board consideration.

Community activists circulated petitions supporting the proposal and gathered more than 1,700 signatures from people statewide. Another granddaughter, Mistala Mendez, presented the document to the school board.


A dozen speakers endorsed the idea.

After the vote, Mendez-Sandoval said, “I was almost in tears on my way home--to think that 50 years later this would happen.”