Revelations: Spotlighting East San José
Many are unaware that prior to the 1950's, most of San José's East Side was uninterrupted farmland. It stretched towards the east foothills. Its residents were mostly migrant agricultural workers. They lived in a patchwork of rural barrios without sewers, sidewalks, or streetlights. The east side was the area of town many turned to because they were able to find low-cost housing or because of gentrification, they were forced into this side of town.
Due to these contributing factors, very little has been mentioned about the east side in San José history. The San José Public Library's California Room would like to put a spotlight on San José's East Side with a series of blogs that will feature individuals, businesses, and community organizations with ties to the East Side. The California Room is doing this blog series in addition to gathering materials in preparation for creating an exhibit that chronicles the social, economic, and political development of San José’s East Side. The California room is also establishing a permanent archival collection at the library.
Sofia Mendoza: An East Side Legend
A United People Arriba March.
Sofia Mendoza was born on December 22, 1934, in Fillmore, California. As the eldest child, Mendoza grew up watching her father and mother work with labor organizers and their families. Her father followed activist and political theorist Saul Alinsky's teachings. Mendoza credits her father as the one who helped her find her path as an activist.
Mendoza's passion for organizing was present at a young age, but it wasn’t until her adult years that she really started making waves, especially when it came to issues affecting the East Side. As a devoted mother and housewife, Mendoza believed she had an equal responsibility to her community. She attended San José City Council and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meetings, rallies, marches, picket lines, and demonstrations with her kids in tow.
Mendoza organized to form the Family Service Association of Santa Clara County and founded United People Arriba. She served as a member of the Independent Police Auditor Advisory Committee, a social worker, and a member of the board of directors at the Community Child Care Council (4cs), prior to her death in 2015.
Roosevelt Walkout: A Fight for Equal Education
East San José Rally with Sofia Mendoza.
In the 1960s, while her son was attending Roosevelt Junior High, Mendoza took on the issue of unequal education practices. She had learned that children were being expelled or sent to juvenile homes for violating a rule against speaking Spanish on campus. Often, schools would issue minority students outdated textbooks, or refuse to issue them textbooks at all, claiming they would not be able to take care of them. Mendoza began to organize students and parents, helping to stage a student walkout that resulted in policy changes and the firing of the principal, vice principal, and 36 teachers.
Community Alert Patrol (CAP)
Sofia Mendoza speaking with police.
Mendoza was also passionate about police misconduct and brutality. In learning about the many East Siders who had been harassed and abused by police, Mendoza co-created the Community Alert Patrol (CAP), an organization which monitored interactions between police and the community. Together CAP's 1000+ members led the community in demanding change. Their demands were all met: a review of SJPD’s procedures, the hiring of a new police chief, and the creation of a more ethnically diverse police force that reflected the community it served!
A Legacy of Solidarity
The Roosevelt Walkout and Community Alert Patrol (CAP), are just two of Mendoza's many accomplishments. A strong believer in strength in numbers, Mendoza was able to unite her community with a message of solidarity. As local historian, educator, and author Nannette Regua explains in Sofia Mendoza: Mother of the Chicano Movement in San José, Mendoza was known for never saying, "I did this," or, "I led these community organizers". It was always, "We".
Sofia Mendoza's legacy is a testament to the power of solidarity. She is an East Side legend.
Please join us again for, "East Side Revelations – Part 3," where we will place the spotlight on another East Side legend.