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EDUCATION OF MEXICAN-AMERICANS IN
Mexico: A Country Study (Library of Congress)
City Star - August 31, 2003
KCK School to Salute Pioneering Parent
by Mary Sanchez, race and ethnicity reporter, K C Star.
Historians, educators, descendants agree: Saturnino Alvarado was a man ahead of his time. Alvarado's time was the late 1920s, Kansas City, Kan. It was when Mexican children were segregated in basements of schools, or taught in annexes. Their hands were slapped with rulers when they spoke Spanish. And lines were drawn on school playgrounds to keep Latino children from mixing with Anglo children. That is, until Alvarado - a shoe cobbler from Michoacan, Mexico.
Alvarado's children, Luz and Jesus, attended segregated classrooms in elementary school. But he balked when angry parents fought to keep his children and two other Latino students, out of Argentine High School. For Alvarado, a high school graduate with a passion for poetry and plays, such denial of educational opportunity was unacceptable. "My grandfather was appalled the school district would say 'no' to his children," and Rose Marie Mendez, Luz Alvarado's daughter.
More than a year's struggle ensued between the school board, the Mexican consulate, and the Kansas attorney general. In 1930, Luz and Jesus and another Mexican student, Marcos de Leon, graduated from Argentine High School. Records are unclear on what happened to the fourth student.
On Tuesday, Alvarado's name will be among the first honored by a wall of fame at Argentine Middle School in Kansas City, Kan. Later this school year, the school's auditorium will be renamed for Alvarado, who died in 1955 at the age of 72. Argentine Middle School was once the high school, the building where the children were denied enrollment. Today 43 percent of the 650 students enrolled at the middle school are Latino. "This is history that just isn't really talked about," said John Rios, principal at Argentine whose idea it was to honor Alvarado on the school wall.
Some think the history of Latino desegregation in Kansas City, Kan., is not well known partly because no landmark court decision such as the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was used. Also, Alvarado's efforts only opened enrollment to Mexicans at the high school. It would take until well after World War II before Mexican children were accepted in all the district's elementary and middle schools. No more than three Mexican students earned high school degrees each year until after the 1940s, according to records.
"All of these memories, we push them to the recesses of our mind," said Esperanza Amayo, a Kansas City, Kan., resident who made it her cause to get Alvarado's story told. All of us are passing away, fading away. Who will tell our stories?" Amayo initially found little - or conflicting information - on Alvarado. But through years of work, she pieced together accounts from a thesis, school records, letters and oral histories.
In the 1920s, segregation of Mexican students was not rigidly enforced or legally ordered. Some schools in the West Bottoms allowed Mexican students to attend, along with other students classified as foreigners: Poles, Croatians, and some Jewish students Discrimination in the Argentine, Armourdale and Rosedale sections of Kansas City, Kan., was more harsh, especially as the numbers of Mexican children increased after the Mexican Revolution and as the railroads recruited more of their fathers as laborers. Skin color was an enrollment litmus test, according to a thesis Robert Martin Cleary wrote for his master's degree from the University of Missoudi-Kansas City. Lighter-skinned Mexican children sometimes were regarded as "Spanish," and were allowed enrollment in a school reserved for white children, unless Anglo parents protested.
Cleary's thesis says Alvarado's children and de Leon were the first dark-skinned Mexicans to graduate high school in the district. In 1924, a year before Alvarado began his fight, four Mexican boys tried to enroll in a new school, Major Hudson School. Hundreds of Anglo parents surrounded the building and police had to escort the Mexican children home. About 40 Mexican parents also became involved, Cleary said, risking truancy charges by keeping their children out of schools designated for Mexican students only. Many of the Mexican parents later relented and sent their children to segregated schools. At one point in the Hudson case, the Mexican consuls in Kansas City and Washington, D. C. became involved. A year later, the consuls took up the discrimination charges again with Alvarado's struggle.
Cleary cited newspaper accounts from the period that portrayed Mexican children as dirty and diseased. Many lived in railroad box cars provided by the railroads. An influenza outbreak in 1918 also peaked hygiene concerns. The Mexican classrooms fashioned in the basement of John J. Ingalls School shared the space with the coal room and are described in historical accounts as "dark...cold and damp" and "a detriment to public health." In 1923, a PTA pressured the Kansas City, Kan., school board to build a separate school for the Mexican students, a one-story white stucco building that would later be called Clara Barton School.
Alvarado had no intention of his children's education ending with their eighth-grade graduation from Barton school. After that grade, Mexican students often went to work in the area meat-packing plants, ice house and with the railroads. Alvarado's children attended Argentine High School for about a week before fears of violence caused him to take them out of school. During the two years he battled the district, Alvarado did not want his children to drop their studies. He hired a piano teacher and even learned to compose and play alongside his daughter, Luz, Mendez said.
At one point, the Kansas City, Kan., school board offered to pay the car fare and tuition expense for Alvarado's children to attend high school in Missouri, where they would be accepted. Alvarado refused, arguing his children should be educated in their neighborhood. He also battled other Mexican parents who did not want him stirring up trouble for them, Mendez said. One of the children Alvarado fought for, Marcos de Leon, later earned a doctoral degree and made the education of Mexican-students in California his career, said his brother, Joe de Leon of Kansas City, Kan.
"Back in the 1920s if they told us to stay on our side of the street, people did it," said Mendez. "They didn't really question why people were telling them that. But my grandfather, he rationalized what was right and what was wrong."
for Mexican-American Students at Schools
Argentine High School - 1927 (Alavarado family)
Clara Barton Elementary School for Mexican-Americans only - possibly 1930/31
Melville School - housed Mexican-American students prior to Major Hudson in 1924
Major Hudson housed Mexican-Americans after 1924
Rosedale High School - possibly 1941 (Correra family)
In the Pupil Services office at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (in June of 2003) is a staff member, Rose Marie Mendez, whose grandfather, Saturnino Alvarado, worked for the welfare of the Mexican and Mexican-American children in the Argentine Community. With a case brought before the Kansas Attorney General, Mr. Alvarado helped changed the future of those children and their descendants forever. The following is information about Mr. Alvarado. His children, Luz and Jesse, were among the first Mexican-Americans to graduate from Argentine High School in 1930.
Information from Rose Marie Mendez, Granddaughter
Saturnino Alvarado was Born November 29, 1883 (Mexico) to Justo and Juanita Chavez Alvarado
Died August 9, 1955 at Age 72 (Kansas City, KS)
Buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery
1st Wife: Concepcion Franco
Remarried Guadalupe Araujo, daughter of Antonio and Marcia Garcia Araujo, born Guanajuato, Mexico 13 Jan 1902. She died on 20 Apr 1998 and is buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery.
1930 Yearbook: "The Argentian"
NOTE: The case did not go to the US Supreme Court, but stopped at the desk of Secretary of State Frank Kellog in Washington DC. Our treaty with Mexico guaranteed education for Mexican children living in the US. They were to receive the same treatment as children born in the US. Secretary of State Kellog threated an injuction and possible jail time for anyone interfering with the Mexican children being refused entrance to Argentine High School. Luz and Jesus (Jesse) Alvarado were admitted to Argentine High School in 1926 and were among the first Mexican children to graduate from that school.
Kansan Article - October 25, 1925 . . . MEXICAN CASE UP TO U.S. -- HAYWARD AFTER CONSULTATION IN TOPEKA, REFERS SCHOOL ROW BACK TO WASHINGTON . . . "Residents of the Argentine district who have made it difficult for Mexican children in their district to attend the public schools may have action taken against them in the federal courts. Harry Hayward, county attorney, who returned last night from Topeka where he spent the day in consultation with C. B. Griffith, attorney general, indicated that the final settlement was a matter for federal and not state courts. Under the recent treaty with Mexico, Hayward declared, the Mexicans must be regarded as friendly aliens and as such extended the same privileges as those enjoyed by American school children. No record has been found of the treaty having been changed, or exceptions made, and Griffith declared he would take the matter up with Secretary of State Kellogg and recommend that the United States attorney general take action."
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Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012