How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A Presidential Medal of Freedom for Sylvia Mendez, the girl who made civil rights history

One of today's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom was Sylvia Mendez, a woman who first stepped into the civil rights movement when she was a young schoolgirl in Orange County. Mendez, who lives in Fullerton, was the child behind the landmark 1945 case known as Mendez v. Westminster, which challenged school segregation in California.

The decision in 1947 by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled the end of school segregation in the state, setting a precedent for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later. A story in the Orange County Register described the conditions that prompted Mendez's parents to file suit:

Mendez was just 8 years old when her parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, sued Westminster School District for turning their children away from an all-white school.

The children were sent instead to the “Mexican” school, a two-room wooden shack with worn, wobbly desks and chairs, and tattered textbooks – hand-me-downs from other campuses.


No hearing on birthright citizenship bill, but some good reads anyway

Photo by johnwilliamsphd/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Plans for a hearing today on an Arizona senate bill whose proponents hope to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants were temporarily put off until next week, with legislators giving priority to a tax-cut bill.

Perhaps to coincide with the hearing that didn't take place, several news outlets today featured pieces on birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment, which as now interpreted guarantees it as a constitutional right. Here are a few of today's related reads:

CNN had a couple of essays, one written by Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana who recently introduced a federal anti-birthright citizenship bill. He wrote:

I don't believe that the 14th Amendment to our Constitution grants birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. In fact, all we have to do is use history as our guide. It reminds us that this amendment was specifically designed to address the horrible injustice of slavery -- not to grant citizenship to children of people living in our country illegally.


In the news this morning: Arizona hospital bill, Tunisian migrants, birthright bill hearing postponed, a conviction in border murders, more

Arizona bill brings hospitals into immigration fray - Politico The state bill would require hospitals to check on whether a patient is in the country illegally. It's the first of its kind on the country, and has drawn heavy criticism from doctors.

BBC News - Tunisia influx problem 'serious' for Europe says Italy - BBC The big immigration story in Europe right now comes after the fall of Tunisia's dictator, with thousands of migrants leaving the country on boats headed for Italy.

Birthright bills won’t be heard this week - Arizona Capitol Times A state  senate hearing on a bill proposing to deny birthright citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants has been tabled until next week as a tax-related bill takes top billing.

Vigilante Member Found Guilty of Murder in Arizona; Could Face Death Penalty - New America Media Jurors begin deliberation today on whether or not to impose the death penalty on Shawna Forde, the leader of a Minuteman splinter group. She was found guilty for the 2009 murders of a 9-year-old Latina girl and her father in a rural Arizona border town.


Quote of the moment: A local supporter of Iran's Green Movement

Photo by killerturnip/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An Iranian flag flown at a 2009 rally in Los Angeles

“We believe this: there is a democracy quake in the Middle East. People are looking to destroy the old model of politics."

- Hamid Shirazi, a Iranian American from Los Angeles area at a local solidarity protest

USC's Neon Tommy spoke with Shirazi and others during a pro-Green Movement rally on Sunday, one of several organized online to coincide with protests for democratic reforms in Iran. Thousands demonstrated today in the capital city of Tehran. In the wake of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation last Friday, pro-democracy protests have spread throughout the Middle East, with protests also in Yemen and Bahrain today.

The massive Egyptian demonstrations were sparked by protests that last month led to the ouster of Tunisia's autocratic ruler, which in turn has prompted an exodus of migrants.


Meet L.A.'s curbside Valentine vendors

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Gustavo Angel and his Valentine gift display in Echo Park, February 13, 2011

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Gustavo Angel and his Valentine gift display in Echo Park, February 13, 2011

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Gustavo Angel and his Valentine gift display in Echo Park, February 13, 2011

Just before Valentine’s Day each year, a small army of immigrant entrepreneurs stakes out street corners, freeway off-ramps, tables outside established businesses or just busy stretches of sidewalk, spreading out small loads of romance-themed gifts for sale.

You’ve seen these guys – they’re the ones waiting for you to drive up and claim that pink teddy bear holding the red embroidered heart that reads “I (Heart) U,” wrapped in crisp cellophane.

Who are they, and how do they get hold of so many pink bears to sell anyway? Yesterday, I met up with Gustavo Angel, 28, one of Los Angeles’ diligent curbside Valentine vendors, who was working the intersection of Sunset and Echo Park boulevards.

“My regular work is washing loncheras,” said Angel, a Salvadoran immigrant who has sold gifts on the street for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day since soon after he arrived eight years ago. “I saw people selling these and I thought hey, I can try this.”