This paper reexamines the case of Mendez v. Westminster, a lawsuit filed by a Latino couple whose children were denied admission to a public school in Southern California in the 1940s. Felicita Mendez, born in Puerto Rico, and her husband, Gonzalo, a naturalized American citizen born in Chihuahua, Mexico, challenged the segregation of Latinos and won their cases in the courts of Southern California and in the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of San Francisco, ending school segregation in California. The family sued the Board of Education of Westminster County after their children were refused admittance into the local school of the community where they lived, on account of being "too dark." Felicita's parents and siblings were racialized as "mulattos" in Puerto Rico, as "black" in Arizona, and as "Mexican" in California. Out of a lifelong struggle against exclusion, Felicita developed a universalistic anti-racism and a strong sense of citizen rights. We show that segregation was regionally differentiated in the United States and that the same individual could be racialized in different ways in different regions of the country and its colonies abroad. Thus, the larger architecture of the U.S. empire must be taken into account when examining cases such as that of Felicita Mendez. We challenge conventional notions of racial stratification as a binary structure and argue instead that a complex system of gradated exclusion best describes the racial/ethnic stratification system of the U.S. We call the practices of partial exclusion and partial enfranchisement, processes of "bordering." Through these processes, the empire determined who belonged in the polity and with what level of political and economic rights. [Key words: Mendez v. Westminster; Puerto Ricans, migration to Arizona; Puerto Ricans, segregation; Chicanos, segregation; Latino Education; Latino Segregation]
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