Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

1931

Lemon Grove Incident

The struggle to end school segregation is usually linked to the 1954 Supreme Court Case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. However, many of the nation's earliest desegregation cases occurred in the American Southwest, where the children of Mexican Immigrants were the victims. This segregation provides one explanation to the low numbers of Chicanos/as in college today. Leading social scientist have conducted extensive research in an attempt to explain the low participation rate of Chicanos/as in higher education. Often missing from these studies is an examination of the historical background of this issue. The history of segregation, racism, and low income shapes the educational experiences of Chicanos/as. Thus, an examination of Mexican American children and their access to an education during the 1930's in Lemon Grove, California, can help educators help to explain why so few Chicanos/as currently attend colleges and universities.

The nation was in the middle of the Prohibition and KKK lynches were still everyday news. Racial tensions were reaching all time highs. In regards to incidents that were re-occurring, Lemon Grove was just one example. The incident also coincided with the need for the country to find a scapegoat for all its financial troubles (The Great Depression). On January 5, 1931, Mexican parents refused to send their children to school because they were being separated and taught in a renovated barn. The school board claimed it was better to separate the children by academic level, disguising possible racist motives. White children were not typically encouraged to interact with Mexican children. As a result, the Mexican parents boycotted the school. They refused a "second-best" education. Eventually, this issue was taken by the courts and with the help of the Mexican Counsel, the Mexican parents won the case. The verdict stated that racial segregation amongst the children was illegal. Unfortunately, the rest of the nation did not follow the example until decades later.

Segregation still exists today, though more cleverly disguised than in years past. For instance, tracking is prevalent throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. This type of schooling only perpetuates a social hierarchy within a community in which students live as adults. They are tracked into a vocational or academic/professional career, depending on scores that are out-dated and culturally biased test. This type of segregation only perpetuates the social strata with the pre-selected elite remaining at the top.

Sources:

A sixty-minute documentary called The Lemon Grove Incident, where they analyze the incident in detail. (UCLA Powell Media library)

Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1988) pg. 236.

Prepared by: Carlos Valdovinos (UCLA)

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Last updated on September 15, 2002.