The early forced segregation of Mexican American students became the crucible in which school failure of these children and youths originated and intensified.1 The intentional separation of Mexican American students from their White peers in public schools began in the post-1848 decades following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The signing of the treaty and the U.S. annexation, by conquest, of the current Southwest signaled the beginning of decades of persistent, pervasive prejudice and discrimination against people of Mexican origin who reside in the United States (Acuna, 2007; Perea, 2003). Subsequently, racial isolation of schoolchildren became a normative practice in the Southwest— despite states having no legal statutes to segregate Mexican American students from White students (San Miguel & Valencia, 1998). In light of the long-standing status of school segregation and its detrimental effects on academic achievement, this topic has captured the interest of many scholars.2 The early segregation of Mexican American students, however, needs to be contextualized in the larger realm of historical race relations in the Southwest. As a colonized people, Mexican Americans faced segregation in, or exclusion from, for example, movie theaters, restaurants, and public accommodations (e.g., swimming pools) (Acuna, 2007; Martínez, 1994). For many Mexican Americans, segregation spanned from the “cradle to the grave.” There was forced segregation in maternity wards3 and separate cemeteries for Whites and Mexican Americans (Carroll, 2003). The treatment of Mexican Americans as nonpeers allowed Whites to maintain their system of privilege and domination.
The number of Mexican American-initiated desegregation lawsuits far exceeds the number of cases in the other categories (e.g., school finance, bilingual education, and high-stakes testing) discussed in this book. I identified thirty-five germane desegregation lawsuits in undertaking research for this chapter. These cases are listed, chronologically, in Table 1.1.