I began writing plays in 1999 to escape the horrors of chemotherapy. Ten years later I remain a dedicated librarian and archivist who writes plays. I was informed just this past Thursday that I am also ten-years cancer-free from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, I am not certain that cancer survivors can ever really turn off the ticking clock.
Earlier this year I decided that I no longer write for anybody else but me; no short contests, or 24-hour festivals. I am freshly committed to writing dramatic plays about American women, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin, and the quintessential issues that confound us: men and babies, or lack thereof. LOL.
However by the fall of 2008 I was just fairly recovered from my PHISHING experience, and I began directing and producing the first production of my 2006 one-act play for students, EL PRIMER DIA DE CLASES. Over the 2008/2009 academic school year the play was co-produced by several and featured twenty or more community college students, who were taking classes in my college’s Ethnic Studies Department. This unique group of young adults had organized, discovered and read my play, and decided to adopt it as one of their several projects. I was extremely grateful to be honored in this fashion.
The play was actually the culmination of my 2002-2005 work as a UCLA graduate student in library science where I also achieved an emphasis in archival studies. It was while researching a classroom assignment that I first connected viscerally to the story of a young Orange County Latina, Sylvia Mendez, who was denied entrance to an all-white elementary school in the mid-1940s because of the color of her skin. It became my mission to bring her story out of the archives for the benefit of the community, who I thought would benefit most from its retelling.
For those unfamiliar with it, Ms. Mendez’ story grew into a matter of national historical significance. Her father, Gonzalo Mendez, led a group of five fathers representing 5000 children of Latin or Mexican descent in a class action lawsuit entitled Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County et al. in the California federal courts in 1945. The case won on appeal in 1947 ultimately desegregating California, and setting the precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated the United States seven years later.
Early in 2009 my play was chosen to be included in the new California Social Studies Civil Rights curriculum for primary and secondary school teachers. I followed up in the spring of 2009 by writing formal oral history interview questions with students and with the college produced, and directed the videotaping of memories of as many of the surviving family members related to the case as I was able to contact and coordinate.
In the fall of 2009 I cut a forty-minute documentary film with a talented student editor that wove together video of the play’s production with the oral histories. TALES OF A GOLDEN STATE: THE MENDEZ V. WESTMINSTER STORY screened in November 2009 for the community, and was submitted to a local public broadcaster. We were invited to share the film in full and in part with audiences at the Nixon Presidential Library and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in early 2010.
More in a second or two…