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Mendez Freedom Trail in Westminster secures state funding boost

State Sen. Tom Umberg presents a check to Westminster to help complete the Mendez Freedom Trail project.
(Courtesy of the O.C. Department of Education)

A planned freedom trail honoring the landmark Mendez, et al v. Westminster civil rights trial took an important step closer to completion. Westminster City Council members celebrated the presentation of a $1.5-million check in state funding during a brief ceremony held this week at the future site of the Mendez Tribute Monument Park.

In 1945, Gonzalo Mendez served as lead plaintiff in the case after his Latino children were disallowed from attending 17th Street School in Westminster and told to enroll at Hoover Elementary, a Mexican school, instead.

The ruling in favor of the families helped paved the way for the better known 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that held segregated schools were “inherently unequal” and unconstitutional.

State Sen. Tom Umberg (SD-34) secured the funding to complete the Mendez Freedom Trail project and was on hand for the check presentation.

“I’m incredibly proud to support a project in my district as significant and important to California and the country,” said Umberg in a press statement. “This funding will help generations of people for years to come learn about this important part of history.”

Janice Munemitsu recounts how the history of Japanese internment and Mexican schools intertwined through her family’s Westminster farm in “The Kindness of Color.”

The Mendez Tribute Monument Park is expected to be completed early next year. It will feature statues of Gonzalo Mendez and his wife, Felicitas Mendez, sculpted by Ignacio Gomez. Another statue of schoolchildren holding books will symbolize the 5,000 youth represented by the class-action suit.

Along Hoover Street, the Mendez Freedom Trail near the park will feature four historical interactive installations on the case along a 2-mile path and is expected to open later next year.

Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras first spearheaded the monument efforts in 2017 and welcomed state funding.

“The Mendez Tribute Monument Park and Freedom Trail serves as a reminder,” he said, “that we must fight inequality in our pursuit of liberty and justice for all.”

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