In 1913, a railroad foreman in Alamosa tried to enroll his 11-year-old son in the school closest to the family home. The school district denied him, and instead forced Miguel Maestas to walk seven blocks across dangerous railroad tracks to what was known as the Mexican School.
Maestas and other Mexican American families sued the southern Colorado district in what is the earliest known school desegregation case in the United States involving Latino students. They ultimately won the right to attend the same schools as the community’s white children. The case predates the Mendez decision, in which a federal court found that California could not send Mexican American students to separate schools, by more than three decades and other local court cases in Texas and California by more than a decade.
The Denver Catholic Register hailed the Maestas decision as “historic,” but because it was a local court case, it did not set precedent and was largely lost to time and memory until just a few years ago.
On Monday, a Colorado resolution recognized the importance of the Maestas case.
“We, the members of the General Assembly, acknowledge the tireless efforts of the Latino community in advocating for the integration of our public schools and improving outcomes for all students in Colorado,” the resolution concludes.
State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat with family roots in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the Maestas case is an important reminder of Latino contributions to Colorado and to educational justice. Honoring it lifts up history and brings it into the present, she said.
“We hear celebrations of the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954,” she said. “That is important history, but we were breaking that ground in Colorado a generation beforehand.”
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