Understanding and Analyzing
Mexican American School Litigation
Beginning with the Romo v. Laird (1925) school desegregation lawsuit in Arizona, for more than eight decades Mexican Americans have been engaged in a hard-fought legal struggle for educational equality.1 Yet few scholars are aware of this long-standing struggle. Contributing, in part, to this unawareness is Mexican Americans' exclusion from much of the scholarship on civil rights history. Law professor Juan Perea (1997) has asserted that American racial thought incorporates an implicit “Black/ White binary paradigm of race,” which excludes Mexican Americans, “distorts history, and contributes to the marginalization of non-Black peoples of color” (p. 1213).2 This binary has evolved to become a central point of discussion and critique in contemporary discourse. For example, Perea noted that even major books on constitutional case law have truncated history in such a way that the Mexican American struggle for school desegregation has been entirely excluded (see Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, & Tushnet, 1991). By contrast, in my own research on Mexican American desegregation lawsuits, I have identified thirty-five cases dating from 1925 to 1985 (see chapter 1, this volume).
The problem with the Black/White paradigm of race, which Angel Oquendo (1995) refers to as “racial dualism,” is that it leads to the unfounded perception that Mexican Americans and other Latinos do not need access to the “machinery of civil rights law” (Ruiz Cameron, 1998, p. 1358). The reality is, however, that in the sphere of educational lawsuits Mexican Americans have indeed been quite active in civil rights discourse. To better understand and analyze this corpus of Mexican American-initiated school litigation, I employ a conceptual framework that draws from critical race theory, critical legal studies—especially the notion of legal indeterminacy—and postcolonialism.