We Are Alive When We Speak For Justice
By Students of Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School
Foreword by Sylvia Mendez
In We Are Alive When We Speak for Justice, fifty-seven students from Mendez High School in Boyle Heights Los Angeles explore a piece of history often overlooked: Mendez v. Westminster, the case that led to the desegregation of California schools and was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education, which followed nine years later.
The book is the culmination of 826LA’s twelfth Young Authors’ Book Project, through which the students experienced every step of becoming published authors over the course of a semester.
Students, family members, 826LA volunteers, and supporters celebrated the release of the anthology on June 2, 2015, at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Downtown L.A. Read more about the event here.
“As for me, the daughter of Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez, I see it as a great gift for our students to become authors of a book that allows them to talk about their deepest concerns, their families, and what they want in life. I travel the country sharing my story and talking with students about what it was like to be a part of the Mendez v. Westminster case, what happened, and what it means now for them and countless others who will follow. I want to inspire them and you, as the readers, to fight for what is right, for what is equal, and to be triumphant in the face of adversity.”
— From the foreword by Sylvia Mendez, civil rights leader
“To understand other people, we have to step out of our comfort zone. To understand how others live, that we all have cargas y regalos that are serious and legitimate, we have to be open with each other. We all have our own stories, and we hope this book opens readers’ eyes to new perspectives, to show how we are different than they first think.”
— From the introduction by the student editorial board
PRAISE FOR WE ARE ALIVE WHEN WE SPEAK FOR JUSTICE
“Compelling and inspiring, this collection renews my faith in the future. The high school students profiled in We Are Alive provide powerful counter narratives to the bad press that surrounds L.A. public schools. Through their writings, these resilient young adults demonstrate their intelligence, creativity, and corazón.”
— Vicki L. Ruiz, Distinguished Professor, History and Chicano/Latino Studies, University of California, Irvine
“I am inspired beyond measure by these fifty-seven essays. They come from teen hearts, voices, and hands. Each found a way to carve out their life meaning and a new vision for change in the midst of loss, abandonment, and racism. Meet these daring ones from Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School in L.A. Know their guide, the Mendez family that battled for the Mendez vs. Westminster court case in the 1940s, leading to the desegregation of all California schools, then in the U.S. Know it. Be ready and brave enough to love change, to write about it and to be it. Make it yours like these fifty-seven in this groundbreaking book and bestseller to come. Be inspired once again.”
— Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poet Laureate
“These stories of being Mexican in the United States, with the background of a courageous fight to desegregate California schools in 1946 with Mendez v. Westminster, elicit stories from me—as a Mexican child in Watts in the 1960s, swatted for speaking Spanish; later going to barrio schools in the San Gabriel Valley, with discarded books, lack of teaching materials, being treated less than human; soon joining gangs, using drugs, committing crimes. Then as a junior high school student, walking out with 15,000 East L.A.-area students in the 1968 “Blowouts,” participating in the 1970 Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, and finally finding my way out of “La Vida Loca” to become a Chicano revolutionary thinker, writer, and organizer. I also lived in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, and City Terrace, so I know these neighborhoods fondly and intimately. They have always been fronts of battle for economic equity, truth, and social justice. We have to tell our stories—and we have to realize the dreams and sacrifices our antepasados did so we can do so. We are old and new to these struggles. They should be celebrated and taught everywhere as in We Are Alive When We Speak for Justice. Mil gracias to 826LA as well as all the students, teachers, and community members who made this book possible.”
— Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., and current Los Angeles Poet Laureate