Column: San Bernardino judge reenacts the 1944 case that let Mexicans use the swimming pool


They despatched out the hard-shell tacos on Thursday at Mitla Café the identical approach they’ve for 85 years — freshly fried, with a blizzard of cheddar cheese on high and a facet of historical past.

The diner off the previous Route 66 in San Bernardino is one of many oldest Mexican eating places in Southern California. Glen Bell of Taco Bell infamy bugged the founders through the Nineteen Fifties for his or her taco recipe, they usually generously obliged.

Extra importantly, Mitla has served as a neighborhood anchor within the metropolis’s Westside barrio for many years. It’s a spot the place historic civil rights battles have been deliberate and neighborhood teams nonetheless meet over heaping combo plates and a number of orders of these crunchy, chic tacos.

Tacos have been what San Bernardino Superior Courtroom Choose John Pacheco ordered as he waited for the beginning of a civics experiment.

People at Mitla Cafe watch a reenactment of Lopez vs. Seccombe.

Folks collect at Mitla Café to look at a reenactment of the Lopez vs. Seccombe case that desegregated San Bernardino swimming swimming pools in 1944.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Occasions)

Pacheco was about to stage a free noontime studying of the closing arguments for Lopez vs. Seccombe. In 1944, two newspaper editors and a Catholic priest sued San Bernardino on behalf of its 8,000 Mexican American residents, who have been solely allowed to make use of the town’s sole swimming pool the day earlier than the water was drained.

Metropolis officers argued that Mexicans have been too soiled to make use of the services at another time. Lawyer David C. Marcus efficiently argued that this amounted to discrimination. It was among the many earliest class-action civil rights lawsuits in the USA, influencing much more well-known choices like Mendez et al. vs. Westminster and Brown vs. Board of Training.

“Though it’s a monumental case, it doesn’t have any consideration,” Pacheco mentioned. “I wished to convey it right here. ¡Mira alli!”

He then pointed to framed photographs that includes Mitla Café common Cesar Chavez. “That is the place San Bernardino Chicanos made issues occur,” he mentioned.

Conservative colleagues have accused Pacheco of attempting to push an “agenda” by reenacting Lopez vs. Seccombe.

“I’m not attempting to be political,” he mentioned. “I’m simply reenacting information.”

All strata of San Bernardino’s Westside had turned out. The politico class devoured up huevos rancheros in sharp fits and energy skirts. Older residents decked out in Panama hats and guayaberas waited for tables. Exterior, a bus pulled up with highschool college students from Yucaipa, Calimesa, San Bernardino and different Inland Empire communities.

Brown University history professor Mark Ocegueda

Brown College professor Mark Ocegueda, who has written extensively about Lopez vs. Seccombe, presents the again story at Mitla Café.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Occasions)

Close to the middle of the restaurant, Brown College historical past professor and San Bernardino native Mark Ocegueda accepted hugs and handshakes. He has arguably carried out extra to advertise Lopez vs. Seccombe than anybody else by means of lectures, tutorial papers and on-line posts.

In truth, Pacheco was impressed to stage the case after stumbling onto Ocegueda’s doctoral dissertation on the topic.

“There’s this concept that within the Inland Empire, there’s not a lot essential historical past that occurred right here that helps us perceive California historical past,” mentioned the 34-year-old Ocegueda. “However this case, it’s such a stark instance of why this Mexican American neighborhood is essential to how we will perceive California historical past and the American West.”

I requested if he discovered it odd that an occasion like this was occurring at a restaurant at lunchtime.

“We might’ve packed an entire theater at a extra handy time,” the profe replied with amusing. “The truth that it’s at Mitla Café, such an essential web site in our neighborhood … If there’s going to be an occasion right here, folks comprehend it’s going to be one thing particular.”

It was showtime.

The Mitla Café banquet room held about 200 folks. A digital camera crew with the native PBS station stood able to movie. Free pocket copies of the U.S. Structure sat on a desk on the entrance of the doorway.

Close by, Christian Gonzalez, a senior at Oak Hills Excessive Faculty exterior Hesperia, stood in entrance of a poster board that includes newspaper clippings concerning the case, photographs of the plaintiffs and crisply written captions.

“It was actually exhausting to search out this data, however I really feel joyful to know that loads of that is beginning to get identified,” Gonzalez mentioned. “This was a stepping stone for human rights.”

He chatted up his work with College of Redlands ethnic research professor Jennifer Tilton. She teaches Lopez vs. Seccombe to her college students, few of whom have ever heard of it.

“They all the time come eager to understand how racism performed out of their backyards,” she mentioned. “College students are keen. College students are hungry. They don’t need a historical past of Alabama — they need a historical past of right here.”

Everybody fortunately snacked on burritos, taquitos, chips and guacamole. However there wasn’t a single crunch heard in the home when Pacheco started this system.

“That is the place it began,” the choose mentioned over the loud hum of electrical followers and the kitchen. “This metropolis is wonderful. It has a lot historical past. You children ought to be happy with the place you’re from.”

Ocegueda gave a PowerPoint lecture concerning the protagonists. There was a brief video with Judith Valles, the primary Latina mayor of a giant American metropolis, whose dad and mom have been closely concerned within the battle.

Then the time to reenact the oral arguments arrived.

“We’re going to take a deep dive,” Choose Pacheco mentioned to viewers giggles. “No pun supposed.”

Justice Manuel Ramirez portrays Judge Leon Yankwich during a reenactment of Lopez vs. Seccombe.

Justice Manuel Ramirez portrays Choose Leon Yankwich throughout a reenactment of Lopez vs. Seccombe.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Occasions)

Native lawyer Michael Bidart took the position of Marcus, representing San Bernardino’s Mexican residents.

One other lawyer, Michael Scaffidi, performed H.R. Griffith, who defended the racist insurance policies. San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia stood in for his long-ago predecessor, William Seccombe. Two native children acted as the youngsters on the heart of the case, who have been banned from the swimming pool.

Presiding over every part was California appellate court docket choose Manuel Ramirez, who sat beneath a big reproduction of the Nice Seal of California. He can be Leon Yankwich, the federal choose.

Children and adults alike whipped out their telephones and held on each phrase for the following 20 minutes.

Bidart channeled Marcus’ ardour when he responded to a question from Choose Yankwich — err, Ramirez — about whether or not the period’s separate-but-equal insurance policies meant that Mexican People might simply go to a pool of their very own as an alternative of demanding desegregation.

“They don’t have one other pool to go to,” Bidart replied. “They go swim within the Santa Ana River.”

Ramirez completely performed the position of a skeptical choose who turned slowly satisfied. However the true star was Scaffidi, tasked with defending the indefensible. His transformation from cocky to sputtering was a grasp class in gradual burns. When he spat out phrases like “pachuco” and “neighborhood agitators” with venom, the viewers gasped and grumbled with true emotion.

After the arguments, Choose Ramirez addressed the viewers as himself. A few of his friends marvel why civil rights instances get a lot consideration from the general public, he mentioned, when different landmark choices like Gideon vs. Wainwright — which ensures authorized counsel to anybody accused of against the law — and Marbury vs. Madison — which permits federal courts to strike down unconstitutional legal guidelines — are more and more ignored.

“What’s it that grabs our hearts and stirs our souls about these [desegregation] instances?” Ramirez requested.

He answered his personal query: it’s the “fathers and moms” who “dared to face as much as forces far larger than them and collectively mentioned, ‘This isn’t proper. This isn’t America.’”

The group gave Ramirez and his fellow novice actors a standing ovation.

Afterwards, college students talked excitedly and lined as much as meet the forged.

Nicole Vega, who was chaperoning college students from San Gorgiono Excessive, mentioned the reenactment “hit me instantly.” Her grandfather and his brothers have been airmen deployed to Europe throughout World Conflict II, so San Bernardino’s discriminatory pool insurance policies “would’ve utilized to them.”

“Seeing historical past come to life was loopy however nice,” mentioned Aniya Moore, a San Gorgiono senior. “I didn’t know something about it, however now I wish to know extra.”

Her good friend, fellow senior Nautika James, agreed.

“Extra faculties ought to hear about it,” she mentioned. “These are dwelling tales.”

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