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Former students of a segregated elementary school in Carpinteria are being honored

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Carpinteria Valley Museum of History
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Aliso Elementary School was segregated until 1947

Did you know it’s only 75 years ago that a court ordered the desegregation of "Mexican only" schools in this state?

It was the year of the first Polaroid camera, Harry S Truman was President and Meet The Press made its television debut on NBC - 1947. It also marked the decision to end school segregation for Mexican Americans in California.

Aliso Elementary in Carpinteria was one such school which, until 75 years ago, was designated for “Mexicans only.”

"While some of the population here knows about it, many do not," says Leslie Westbrook, a local artist from the Latinx Arts Project, who has plans for a mural celebrating Latino Culture and the history of Carpinteria.

It’s one of the ways that former students of the school are being honored in a ceremony on Tuesday.

"The Mexican-only school existed from about 1920 to 1947," explained Westbrook. "The Mexican children were sent to a segregated school that was not as nice as the other school for the white children. It had dirt floors."

Westbrook points out that most of the children were born in the United States.

"They were US citizens of Mexican decent and for most of them English was their first language. But just because their skin was brown they were separated into a Mexican-only school," said Westbrook.

Dr Jim Campos’ father, Sal, was a student at the school. He says the segregated school was meant to be a funnel for workers needed for the lemon industry in Carpinteria.

"It was funnel into the labor supply for the lemon industry which was the biggest industry in Carpinteria," said Jim Campos. "You didn't need to have educated workers to pick a lemon. When you segregated the children, they were not being exposed to a quality education. My dad knew that and I'm sure all of the other kids did too."

His dad Salvador – now in his nineties, says that – as a kid – he didn’t really know any different.

"We didn't pay too much attention to it, it's a thing of the past and I don't worry about it too much," said Salvador.

But that hasn’t stopped him musing to his son about what might have been, if he’d been given a different education.

"My dad as an older person, we were speaking one time and he looked at me pensively and he said, 'I wonder what I could have been if I had gotten a good education and not what I received at Aliso school'. I said, 'Jeepers creepers dad, you've been so successful and have an outstanding reputation in the community and everyone likes you. You have nothing to be ashamed of, so don't worry about the fact that you didn't get that great of an education'," said Jim Campos to his father.

Former students ranging in age from 80 to 103, all born in California of Mexican heritage, will be in attendance and honored at the event. They include: Tomas Castelo (80), Benito Villegas (80), Lorenzo Martinez (93), Salvador Campos (95) and Josephine Villegas (103).

A short video by cinematographer Brent Winebrenner featuring interviews with these former students will be shown.

The event is open to the public at Aliso School Auditorium at 4545 Carpinteria Avenue, from 5.30-6.30 p.m.