Human Rights Day: December 10, 2012

Today is Human Rights Day. It’s a day to celebrate your voice, your right. Today reminds me that while name of this project is Labor Rights are Civil Rights, let us not forget that civil rights are also human rights. The struggles Chicanos and Latinos fought for in the labor force in Arizona history were not only to be treated without discrimination to equal  legal, social, political and economic rights, but to also be treated with dignity and as first class citizens.

This semester Nancy (Chicano/a Research Collection Curator) and I’ve been working with the libraries’ Marketing and Outreach Director and the Multimedia Developer/Production Manager and his team to produce some online YouTube video materials for the ASU Library Channel, highlighting the Alianza Hispano Americana Records. The production is still under works, but as it furthers along and we’ve been gathering more interesting facts about the Alianza to showcase, Alianza’s role in the influencing Brown v. Board of Education (1954) came up.

Three years prior to Brown v. Board, in 1951, a similar case against segregation in the school system went to court. A group of families filed a class action lawsuit was filed against the Tolleson Elementary School District in Gonzales v. Sheely. Representing the plaintiffs Porifio Gonzales et. al, were no other than Alianza Hispano Americana members Greg Garcia and Ralph Estrada. Garcia was the Alianza Supreme President at the time and Ralph Estrada was Alianza’s Supreme Attorney and would later become Alianza president in the sixties (not to mention he was a notable figure in both the JFK and LBJ administrations).

It wasn’t the first case to file school segregation against a school district. There were two previous cases: Mendez v. Westminster (1946) in California and Delgado v. Bastrop (1948) in Texas. However how as Jeanne Powers and Lirio Patton point out in their analysis of the three cases in their article “Between Mendez and Brown: Gonzales v. Sheely (1951) and the Legal Campaign Against Segregation,” Gonzales v. Sheely was the first case to successfully argue racial discrimination and win. In Mendez v. Westminster, the main argument was that the schools were separate but unequal which was unconstitutional. And in Delgado v. Bastrop, the same argument was used and also curiously stated that race was not an issue because while Mexican Americans are viewed as a different race they are actually Anglo. But in Gonzales v. Sheely, plaintiffs proved in this case, the segregation within the school district was a race issue. That the children were separated because of race; it race was the cause not the effect of segregation. That these children where not only separate and unequal, but also treated as second class citizens because of the color of their skin and denied equal access that should be their inalienable right to equality and dignity as human beings.

The District Court of Arizona went on to rule school segregation at Tolleson Elementary School District unconstitutional and soon other suits followed. Other schools in other towns too started to question the legality and morality of school segregation, which eventually led to Brown v. Board of Education.

And Alianza was a part of that fight. They held a strong stance on advocating for civil rights and opposing segregation, which made Garcia and Estrada’s presence in the case all the more important. They lived by a code which called for “Protection, Morality and Instruction,” and at the root of it, those values stand for more than civil rights, but for human rights.

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