Review of Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez
by Larry Dane Brimner; illus. by Maya Gonzalez
Primary, Intermediate    Calkins/Boyds Mills & Kane    g
40 pp.    9/21    978-1-68437-195-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-460-2    $11.99

Brimner (Finding a Way Home, rev. 1/21) narrates the events leading to the first successful school desegregation case, Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District. In 1931, Mexican American parents in Lemon Grove, near San Diego, California, organized the Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove to resist the creation of the Olive Street School, a subpar school for Mexican American children. Brimner documents the machinations of Lemon Grove’s white parents, teachers, and school district board members who, through secret meetings held months earlier, “voted to construct a separate school for children like Roberto and his friends.” Gonzalez’s double-page acrylic paintings enhance the narrative, particularly in this scene. Five primly dressed figures — the illustration shows them cut off at the shoulders to emphasize their ­impersonality — sit behind a table drafting the paperwork that accuses Mexican children of bad hygiene, of lacking English, and of holding back the white students. Gonzalez renders the Mexican American parents and students of the Comité with round brown faces, a signature of her aesthetic (My Colors, My World; Family Poems for Every Day of the Week, rev. 1/18; and others). An author’s note, archival photos, and a bibliography append this work, which would pair well with Christy Hale’s All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove (rev. 11/19) and Duncan Tonatiuh’s book about a similar case, Separate Is Never Equal: ­Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (rev. 7/14).

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lettycia Terrones

Lettycia Terrones is a PhD student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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