RS: What was the impact of the Brown decision on Latino students in the United States?
Baez: I think it's been quite significant. The issues that were raised in the Brown decision from a legal standpoint, in terms of equal access and an end to segregated education, were issues that were not unfamiliar to Latinos. In fact, prior to Brown, there had been numerous cases by Latinos that went to the courts since the 1920s arguing that segregated education was bad for Latinos. They were not acquiring English language skills or getting the same type of content or opportunities that whites were.
RS: What were the cases that helped lay the groundwork for Brown?
Baez: Texas had a whole mess of cases. There's one particular case, Salvatierra, in 1933, where Latinos went even beyond the arguments that had been raised by African Americans in terms of segregated education. African Americans had argued those cases as a function of "let's end segregation." Latinos in the 1930s began to talk about the pedagogy. Salvatierra is one of the first federal cases where they brought to court a specialist in assessment, George Sanchez, a prominent Latino educator of the 1930s and 1940s, who appeared as an expert witness in a ton of desegregation cases in the Southwest. George presented evidence that not assessing students' needs—in terms of language proficiency, in terms of knowing what their needs were—was also a form of segregation.
In Mendez v. Westminster (1946), the issue was the segregation of Mexican children in Orange County, Calif. Mendez was argued successfully in the courts, and a federal court ruled that there had been intentional segregation of Mexican-American children with intent to deprive them of equal access and equal opportunity in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mendez became one of the first cases cited by the plaintiffs in the Brown cases when they went before the Supreme Court.