Sylvia Mendez learned about discrimination at a very young age. When she was just eight years old, her parents attempted to enroll her in a local all-White school, but were refused and told to take their daughter to the all-Mexican school in their California community. Her parents refused, especially when they witnessed the abundance of resources at the all-White school. At the time, most schools were segregated and her father, Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican who ran a successful agriculture business, and mother, native Boricua Felicitas Mendez, decided to sue. The Mendez vs. Westminster
case lead to a landmark decision in the fight against educational segregation and was won greatly based on little Sylvia's testimony.
So, you could say that Mendez has been fighting for educational equality since she was in grade school. That's probably why President Barack Obama has decided to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the crusading civil rights activist. Mendez eventually became a nurse, but retired after 30 years. Since then, she has tirelessly crisscrossed the country giving lectures on the importance of desegregation and educational equality.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom will be given out in early 2011. Mendez’s fellow honorees include: Maya Angelou, Bill Russell, Stan Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Warren Buffet among others.