IS Roberto Alvarez or WAS Roberto Alvarez



U n C o r r i d o D e L e m o n G r o v e


A B a l l a d o f L e m o n G r o v e

A book written and Illustrated by Christy Hale

First, I have to tell you, finding this book at this time is a true miracle. In the same month as I felt compelled to write about Spanish Immersion in SoWashCo, I stumbled upon Christy Hale’s “Todos Iguales All Equal”. To say I do a lot of reading is an understatement. I read the Bible when I get up every morning, I read philosophy or classic literature in my down time throughout the day, and I read my kids’ reading assignments when I go to bed every night. In February I randomly chose my 7th grade daughters school book, “Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

It gives me goose bumps, because at the same time as the book revealed a history unknown to me about Mexican American segregation, I was researching what an equitable dual language program would really mean for SoWashCo. Before I post PART 2 of “Spanish Immersion, Meet Equity.” I hope you will consider “The Lemon Grove Incident” as it is now referred to as.

Christy Hale’s beautifully illustrated children’s book, “Todos Iguales, All Equal”, tells the true story about how segregation can be disguised by a school board who may think it is being helpful, while in reality it is being deceptive and immoral. Each page is written in both Spanish and in English, which is perfect for the second language learner.

Most likely, if you attended grade school in the United States of America, you learned about the Brown v. Board of Education’s 1954 ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which declared segregation unconstitutional throughout the country. Have you ever heard of the court case which influenced it though?

Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District

It was the first successful school desegregation case in United States history. If more people knew about it, we would say that Roberto Alvarez IS the reason desegregation became possible in Brown v Board. If Roberto’s story is never taught to children, then his good fight for equality fades in time, as has happened. Those few who know the case can say only that he WAS Roberto Alvarez.

Twelve year old, Roberto Alvarez, went before the judge on February 24, 1931 as a representative of all Mexican American children in his San Diego suburb community. Their families were well established in the neighborhood by then, after an almost twenty-year period of settling in the land prior to 1931. They had created a “supportive and stable community” working in the citrus orchards, agricultural fields, packinghouse, and mining quarry. Roberto attended school with 74 fellow migrant Mexican children and 169 Anglo children.

The school board justified their decision to build a new school for the Mexican American children in the summer of 1931 as a way to give special attention to students who spoke poor English and who had other ‘deficiencies’. The new school was not equal though. It was “small, roughly built, and filled with cast-off school supplies” as the book reads. “The school board claimed the new school was not a racist way of segregating students.”

Roberto was a good student, and he presented himself with intelligence and perfect English, “disproving the school board’s false portrayal of the Mexican American children.” After the story, Christy Hale includes more historical context and says, “The ruling succeeded in Lemon Grove because the Mexican American children were defined as white, and under California law they could not be separated from other while people.”

Why do US public schools not teach about Mexican American segregation, especially now in the age of “Equity”? If indeed the US education system wants to prevent segregation from happening again, wouldn’t this piece of history be important? Even if this very important court case were not taught at EVERY school, the most logical place would be in Spanish Immersion. Nope. The SoWashCo Spanish Immersion parents I asked have never heard of it. Have you?

Why has the public school system been silent about this piece of history? After all, it was the public school system that segregated students in California. It makes sense when you think about it though. The court case was embarrassing. Because the Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce was embarrassed by the bad publicity they tried to hide it. “Following the ruling, the March 12, 1931 school board meeting minutes did not record the court case.”

This brings me back to my painting about cycles and circles. The school board might call it “equity” now, but please… LET US BE CAREFUL not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

by JAiME for SCHOOLS March 8th, 2022


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