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Graduate Studies - Luis Fernandez

California State University, Fullerton

Graduate Students Writing About Their Research

Luis Fernandez MA, History

Is a student in the Master of Arts in History, nearing the end of his program. In fall 2009, he finished his coursework and now has only his thesis to complete. His interests are in Latina/o history, particularly in Southern California. Besides his thesis research, Luis has also been working as an assistant curator with Professor Raymond Rast (History) in a museum exhibition entitled “A Class Action: Mendez v. Westminster and the Ongoing Struggle for School Desegregation” produced by The Museum of Teaching and Learning (MOTAL) in collaboration with the Center for Oral and Public History (COPH).

What a semester it has been! This semester will be my last semester of coursework as a graduate student in History, and quite honestly I haven’t had the time to fully realize my participation in this program is coming to an end. This program has come and gone in a blink of an eye. It has been a combination of hard work and personal interest in history has allowed me to move through this program to its end without realizing it! Although this is my culminating semester in the graduate program, I am excited because new opportunities have opened up that will allow me to expand my degree into other fields of history.

This summer, Professor Raymond Rast approached me with the opportunity to become part of a team of Assistant Curators, who will be assisting him in a museum exhibition entitled A Class Action: Mendez v. Westminster and the Ongoing Struggle for School Desegregation. A collaborative project produced by The Museum of Teaching and Learning (MOTAL), in collaboration with the Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) among other lead organizations, the team is made up of Professor Rast, as the Lead Curator, with Maria Cortes, Bethany Girod, Maria Quintero, Amanda Tewes and I as the Assistant Curators. There is also a collaborative effort between the Museum of Teaching and Learning (MOTAL) and the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) to bring a Mendez v. Westminster exhibition to the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) in the early part of next year. Both exhibitions will focus on Southern California, mainly Orange County’s segregated schools in the early to mid 1900s, and the Mexican-American community’s efforts to end school segregation. These organizing efforts eventually led to the 1945 court case Mendez v. Westminster in which the presiding judge, Judge McCormick ruled that it was a violation of Mexican-American children’s 14th Amendment to be segregated in public schools. In looking at digitized versions of the court documents on the case, I found that it my personal and my professional interests in this story blended, because most of the accounts are what I like to call, “backyard history.” I am familiar with most of the local schools mentioned in the court records. Fitz and Lincoln schools are blocks from my home. Fremont school is close to Santa Ana College, were I received my Associates Degrees and Bolsa School is my old high school. This research project combines my personal interest in the court case with my personal connection to this research at hand, as I have attended and lived around schools that in the past were racially segregated, but was never made aware of such history.

My research, both personal and professional, revolves around Mexican-Americans in Orange County, which in working on the Mendez v. Westminster exhibition has allowed me to blend both interests into one. The personal, one could say revolves around family, in the 1920-30s, my great-grandfather lived in Orange County for around a period of ten to fifteen years, and as my research interest revolves around Mexican-Americans, I also seek to find more information about his life in Orange County. Where did he live? How did he live? With whom? What reason caused him to return to Mexico after living here for so long? The professional, recently, I was invited to attend the Logan Barrio reunion: Logan is a historical Mexican barrio in Santa Ana dating back to late 1800’s, in which descendants of the original founding families still reside. Upon talking to several people and hearing their barrio stories, I felt that their stories needed to be recorded and preserved. In the near future, I look forward to working with the Orange County Mexican American Historical Society (OCMAHS), to conduct oral histories as well as collect digitized copies of documents, pictures and other ephemera from Orange County’s historical Mexican Barrios such as the Logan, Delhi and Santa Anita, to name a few, so that their histories are not forgotten.

Researching archival documents, pictures and other ephemera is fascinating detective work that with time and patience has allowed me to find some diamonds in the rough. Time is of the essence in doing archival research, I can go for a short amount of time to look at microfiche newspaper archives, digitized documents, pictures and other forms of research media, only to glance at my watch to realize one, two, or even three hours have passed me by. Going through primary sources gives me nostalgia of how it would have been for Mexican-Americans to live in the county in the early to mid 1900s. Local newspapers of the mid 1900s, rarely mention stories relating to Mexican-Americans in the county, but through my research I have uncovered a 1943 TIME magazine report which talks about housing covenants in the City of Fullerton. The report details that a Mexican-American family was refused to move into a home in the Anglo side of the city, which as a result, led to a court trial that allowed them to move into such neighborhood. Correlating with the TIME report, I have also uncovered the City of Fullerton’s agenda minutes for its Planning Commission in which members of the commission discuss the deplorable and unsanitary housing conditions in the African-American and Mexican-American districts on the opposite side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks. This might explain why the family in the TIME piece moved to the other side of the track and into the Anglo neighborhood. At another Planning Commission meeting, the president of the Citrus Growers Inc. petitions the commission to establish a labor camp to house Braceros, during World War II, only to hear objections by neighbors who complain of the nuisance Mexican laborers would bring to their neighborhood. I have spent a good amount of time researching Mexican-Americans in Orange County dating from 1900-1940s, and the more I look through pictures, documents and newspapers the more it invigorates my interest in uncovering their stories.