The Fluidity of Historical Analysis: Students’ Interpretations Of Mendez V. Westminster

  • Maribel Santiago
  • Jasmin Patrón-Vargas
Keywords: historical analysis, intersectionality, White privilege, language discrimination


Using research from two eleventh-grade U.S. history classrooms in the San Francisco area, this article examines how students draw on their lived experiences to create historical meanings. Specifically, a three-day lesson on Mendez v. Westminster was used as part of a curricular intervention to explore the following question: How do students use their experiences with race/ethnicity and language to understand how discrimination was enacted in a different time? A grounded theory approach was used to identify patterns and codes from the data including student work, student interviews, and classroom observations. Findings reveal that students’ lived experiences served as a tool for understanding racial/ethnic discrimination and reasons why 1940s Mexican Americans claimed whiteness. At the same time, students’ lived experiences limited their ability to recognize language segregation in the 1940s. Having said this, students in this study view history through various lenses: 1) a racialized lens that recognizes White privilege; and 2) a language lens that reifies language discrimination. The authors conclude by presenting the complexity of students’ intersectional identities in shaping their historical analysis.