Fernando Rojas

Fernando Rojas

Sunday, 07 August 2016 17:00

"Before Brown, there was Branner"

It's done. The three panel exhibit on the school segregation of Topeka's Mexican community is done. The exhibit follows a timeline beginning with a very basic overview of Mexican immigration into Kansas and concludes with the beginning of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The opportunity to tell the stories of these children and a community that rose together against discrimination has been an empowering yet humbling experiencing. It's an honor to follow the struggle of an immigrant community facing challenges that still baffle us today. It's empowering to know that there was enough strength in a community to end segregation years before courts in California and DC ever could. But it's humbling because the legacy left by this community needs to be told and lived: it needs to be retold and shared. There's a lot of work to be done in the field of Latino narratives in the law—there are hidden perspectives in the Latina struggle for reproductive rights, in the Latino struggle for marriage equality, and, of course, in the Latino struggle for education. These areas hold a new perspective that deserves to be told in the larger narrative of United States history, and it's a challenge that's both daunting and galvanizing. My presentation at the post-internship workshop will follow the exhibit and will trace my experience making this exhibit. I'm excited to finally meet my fellow interns and share stories about our summers with LHIP. PANEL1 PPPANEL 2 PPPANEL 3
Monday, 25 July 2016 18:09

Exception to the Rule

They left their country as people, they arrived as laborers. 00118415

I can hear my mother say, "Who's gonna clean their homes? Who's gonna work the fields? Los americanos don't want to do that."
In the process of drafting my final essay I have run into a disturbing theme about United States immigration that explains some of the history behind Latino immigration. The change in global politics at the beginning of the 20th century moved the United States into its cloak of isolation. On the dawn of Nativism the United States passed laws that fundamentally changed immigration in the United States; corroborated by the fears of World War I, the legislature passed laws that placed quotas on the number of immigrants allowed into the nation. These quotas reinforced the misconceptions of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia, because the quotas specifically capped the amount of immigrants from these regions. But at the time that the United States closed its shores off from immigrants, Mexican immigrants were coming in boxcars to Topeka. But how did Mexican immigrants come into a nation that had enacted immigration quota laws in 1917, 1921, 1924, and 1929? They did not come into the United States as immigrants; they came in as laborers. When Congress passed the first law restricting immigration in 1917 industrialists that depended off the labor of Mexican immigrants pressured the legislature to exclude Mexicans from specific sections of the law. Six months after the law passed, Mexicans became the exception to the rule: they were allowed to immigrate because they were exploitable labor. This action was the beginning of an allegory that would follow the Mexican community until contemporary times. In Topeka the labor allegory was reinforced by the location and the conditions of the Mexican community. A majority of the immigrants lived in boxcars and lived in a community that was bordered off by railroads. Everything about this community revolved around their labor: they came into the United States to work on the railroad, they lived near the railroad, they lived in boxcars, all of their public health services came from the railroad. The railroad branded immigrants as laborers. Unfortunately, this identity still follows the Mexican community in an insidious way. When immigration debates arise in the United States the first rebuke from the Mexican community is our demographic's place in the labor sector. The knee-jerk reaction is to recite statistics about the number of Mexican laborers in the agriculture sector. Remnants of a Mexican identity forged by labor continues to influence the rhetoric we hear today. Although well intended, these arguments about Mexican labor erase the progress this community has made socially and politically. When will this change?
I want to  hear my mother say, "Who will run their government? Who will teach at their universities? Los mexicanos have been doing that for a while."
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 03:56

Cielito Lindo

People don't come to Kansas for the land—they come for the sky. Kansas is flat. Very flat. Consequently you can see the end of storms approaching even when its pouring in Topeka. I was thinking about the expansive sky the other day when I was writing about the migration of Latinos to Topeka, because the living conditions were horrible and the work wasn't always consistent so it seemed like something else kept Latino immigrants in Topeka. Something invisible but powerful.
This is a big week for the Latino community in Topeka. The Fiesta Mexicana has been going on this week since July 12th and will conclude Saturday, July 16th. The Fiesta Mexicana is the local church's biggest fundraiser for the Catholic private school. But the event's history extends beyond the colorful carnival rides and sweet horchata—it's a story of resilience. The Fiesta has existed for 83 years and holds many of the traditions it had from it's inception. Promoting culture, food, and community, the Fiesta is a living phenomenon of resistance that survived years of Americanization in Topeka. The private school that the Fiesta supports is a story of resistance as well. When the Branner Annex school (the segregated "Mexican school") began functioning in 1914 many students were forced to attend that school under the promise that it would help them learn English. But years later when Our Lady of Guadalupe opened its own private school, the attendance at the Branner Annex school plummeted. The private school at Our Lady of Guadalupe was the only alternative for students that did not want to attend segregated schools and, although it may not have been their intention, the school was a form of protest against the segregation of Latinos.


The conditions in Topeka for recent Latino immigrants were terrible: they lived in boxcars, measles and tuberculosis ran rampant in their communities, and they faced discrimination. But they immigrated to the United States because they were seeking something better for themselves and their families. They chose to deal with everything because something better was approaching. Ultimately, they didn't come to Topeka for the land—they came for the sky.


Tuesday, 02 August 2016 21:33

Everything but still matter

There's a ranger on the site whose last name is Standingwater. Standingwater. Still water. Still water. There was a small bird on the ground this quiet morning. Still morning. Still morning. There was a life taken in Louisiana-- no wait Minnesota this week-- no wait last week last year last century. These men were black. Why does it seem like every year the same voice has to cry that their lives matter. Still matter. Still Matter: scientifically defined as something that occupies space and has a rest mass. How long is this rest gonna be until another family is at mass crying for a dead man? How long is this rest gonna be until another parent gives the talk about navigating public space? How long were the last hugs these men gave their wives, daughters, sons? Their sons will go to parks, go to grocery stores, go to the cemetery, and go to school. But where do you go to when your country has failed you? When you were fed lies that everyone was endowed with rights? From the streets of New Haven to the streets of Los Angeles there's an anxiety, a fear. "Never talk back." "Always have your hands in the clear." From the streets of Topeka to the streets of Baltimore These rules are real.   Some people wonder why spoken word is always about race. I say because it still matters. Still matters. Still Matter. We must raise our voices to have these men be everything but still matter.
Friday, 01 July 2016 21:29

A Microcosm of Segregated Education

This week, while reading the court transcript of the Mendez v. Westminster the importance of studying the segregation in Topeka became more apparent. The separate schooling of Mexican American students in Southern California started as an effort to teach English to parents that could not speak English; the idea was that the children would learn English at school and go home and teach their parents English. But in 1910, the Mexican Revolution forced Mexican citizens to move to the United States, the underlying discriminatory sentiments of segregated education became apparent. Additionally, when the United States began fighting in World War II the foreign policy of the US both reflected and affected the domestic landscape of ethnicity and race. In his article "Richard Kiuger's Simple Justice: Race, Class, and United States Imperialism," Gilbert G. Gonzalez, a professor at the University of California Irvine, explores the way Imperialism reinforced the discrimination of minorities in the United States.

Gonzalo Mendez

So how does Topeka fit into all of this? Well Topeka's segregation became a miniature version of the complicated mess in the Southwest. Since Topeka could segregate all of it's Latino students into one school — the historic Branner Annex school — it's easier to track the evolution of this one school through the years. The effect of the Mexican Revolution, World War II, and the "Americanization" movement were all concentrated on one school. Furthermore, the Mexican population in Topeka and Kansas was very different from the populations in the Southwest. Unlike the states on the southwest border of the US, Kansas was not originally part of Mexico so this was the first state where a large immigrant population moved to. Unlike immigrants in California or Texas who were surrounded by Spanish roots in city names and street names (San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Monica, Los Angeles), immigrants in Kansas confronted truly foreign names like Dodge City, Garden City, and Topeka. Ultimately what happened in Topeka, Kansas was a naturally formed laboratory experiment where Latinos fell into the turbulent and perpetually changing American landscape.

Old Mexico

Update on the film screening event

We are proceeding to advertise about the Latino Film Series at the end of July. We have secured a total of five speakers for the events. Virginia Espino will have a Q&A for the first week's film. And Kansas House of Representative members John Alcala, Louise Ruiz, Valdenia Winn, and Ponka-We Victors will hold a panel discussion on the state of ethnic studies in Kansas after the second week's film. Looking forward to this event.


Monday, 27 June 2016 19:21

Discovering Forgotten Stories

This week's research and work has made me realize that the Latino narrative has been consistently erased in a nation that values its past. From the Civil Rights movement, to the desegregation of education, to reproductive rights, there are perspectives that effect the Latino community that are not represented in the bigger picture. As I continue my work on Mendez v. Westminster, I am repeatedly reminded of the hardships and successes that my community has made. For example, everybody know Brown v. Board of Education so we must make a conscious effort to include the struggle of Latino Americans when they fought for desegregation in schools years before Brown v. Board. The answer doesn't lie in making a completely new narrative just about Mendez; instead, we should include both perspectives when talking about school desegregation. Giving equal representation to all perspectives is the only way to ensure that none of these stories disappear. 2014-05-16-mendezvwestminsterstamp To bring awareness to other narratives that often forget about the Latino narrative, the Brown v. Board NHS is hosting two film screenings. The films, No más bebés and Precious Knowledge, focus on the battles for reproductive rights and ethnic studies, respectively. PreciousKnowledge-WomanStanding2 In addition to promoting the films on the site, I have reached out to the Tonantzin Society in Topeka to spread the word to the art and culture audiences of the city. We are gonna have the producer of No más bebés, Virginia Espino, for a small Q&A after the screening and a professor from Kansas University in the Spanish and Portuguese department will lead a discussion on Precious Knowledge. Please visit our event's website to learn more about the documentaries and the events themselves.    Carolina "Maria" Hurtado in the now abandoned maternity ward of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center where she was sterilized 4 decades ago.  
This week's research demonstrated the development of a concept that quickly spread throughout education in America and Topeka. The movement to "Americanize" children and their families was an effort to cleanse immigrant communities of their non-American habits (although this affected other communities, for our purposes I chose to focus on the migrant Mexican community.) Americanization included teaching children and families about cleanliness, thrift, general home economics, and English. While the intentions may seem good, Americanization constructed an implicit dichotomy between the American and Mexican values. One was good. One was bad. One was important. One came from Mexico. One was taught in schools to correct the faults of the other. SceneFromLittleMexicoThe images above are drawings from the Topeka Daily State Journal from 1922 and 1917, respectively, that demonstrate the rhetoric that filled newspapers in the early decades of the 20th century. These images, in addition to the constant news about the Mexican Revolution and the tense climate in the Southwest border, created the precarious situation of Mexican immigrants in Topeka: people that were in a different culture repeatedly reported on the horrors of its Southwest neighbor. Therefore, it should be no surprise when the wave of Americanization hit Topeka, many families were throwing all their support on creating schools that would change immigrants. This anxiety is summed up by Humphrey W. Jones, the principal of the Branner School in 1922: "America cannot endure half foreign and half American...We must assimilate them or they will assimilate us." The feelings associated with Americanization quickly evolved into an insidious agenda that created "Mexican schools" and created segregation in Topeka for Mexican students.
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 17:58

Different Places, Same Communities.

"Being Mexican is a state of soul—not one of mind, not one of citizenship. Neither eagle or serpent, but both. And like the ocean, neither animal respects borders."—Gloria Anzaldúa THE PEOPLE INVOLVED Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez (Source: Sylvia Mendez) The story of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez is a story that has been obscured in the records of history. A story of courage and pride, the Latino couple filed a class action lawsuit in 1947 against Mexican-American segregation in schools in Southern California. Eventually becoming Mendez v. Westminster School of Orange County, this case challenged the notion of segregated schools and it now demonstrates the political strength and agency of Latino communities in the post WWII era. Sylvia Mendez Sylvia Mendez (Source: Sylvia Mendez) I had the opportunity to speak with Sylvia Mendez, daughter of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, this week and she shared her first hand experiences with me of the case and LULAC's and the NAACP's eventual involvement. But her fight hasn't ended: Sylvia Mendez, now 80 years old, is still traveling around California and the nation making sure that Mendez v. Westminster receives the attention it rightfully deserves. CONNECTION TO TOPEKA, KANSAS In Kansas, Mexican American students were segregated in a similar fashion as their Californian counterparts. The Branner Annex school in Topeka was constructed for Mexican American students from kindergarten to third grade. Although the school district and principals justified the segregation by claiming that it helped teach students English, the teachers and resources in the Branner Annex school demonstrated that no effort was being made to accomplish this goal. It wasn't until the parents of these students began to demand change, that the Annex school closed in 1942 and Mexican American students were no longer segregated in Topeka, Kansas. These stories in California and Kansas transcend the limitations of distance and language, because both communities demonstrated a insatiable need for equal opportunities and education. Sources: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa Mendez v. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights by Philippa Strum "No Más: Branner Annex and Mexican American Education in Topeka" by Nick Murray    
Thursday, 16 June 2016 05:02

Brown v. Board of Education Museum

My name is Fernando Rojas and I'm a rising sophomore at Yale University. I'm spending 10 weeks in Topeka, Kansas researching Mendez v. Westminster. I've been given the amazing opportunity to work on the case that ended school segregation for Mexican-American students in Santa Ana, California. Even though Mendez v. Westminster can be traced to the arguments in Brown v. Board of Education, the case is not popularly known. During this summer I hope to explore a theme I have seen in legal cases: the erasure of narratives of the Latino community.
Monday, 03 December 2018 21:26

Fernando Rojas

Fernando Rojas is a sophomore at Yale University majoring in computer science and literature. He has an interest in the erasure of Latino narratives, and will be researching the Mendez v. Westminster court case for an exhibit.