We the People
Truth, equality, civil rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. These American principles guided the Mendez family in their quest for a brighter future for their children. These families knew they were entitled to the same rights as other Americans. As the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In their lawsuit, the Mendez, Guzman, Palomino, Estrada and Ramirez families appealed to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The first witness in the case was called on July 5, 1945. Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez both testified, as did members of the other plaintiff families. The Mendez children attended the trial. Felicitas stated in her testimony, “We always tell our children they are Americans, and I feel I am American myself, and so is my husband, and we thought that they shouldn’t be segregated like that.” Testimony concluded on July 11, 1945.
While the case was still in process, the Munemitsu family returned from three long years in an internment camp in the Arizona desert. For a time, the Mendez and Munemitsu families lived together on the farm. Their children became friends, and revenues from the farm helped fund the case. Both of these American families, one of Japanese heritage and the other of Mexican heritage, faced discrimination, but they believed in the American principles.
Sylvia, Jerome, and Gonzalo, Jr., Mendez