La Casa Bernal

From left: Irene Bernal's childhood friend Irene Shaw Broden, Irene Bernal, Nicole Bryant, Marie Theresa Bernal."

Joseph Bernal, Irene Bernal, and Marie Theresa Bernal observe their fathers legacy as a pioneer of individual rights

Wednesday night the FPL hosted a symposium on one of the earliest successful housing discrimination lawsuits in the US. It is a story that happened in Fullerton.

In 1943 Alex Bernal and his wife Esther purchased a home in the Sunnyside development in Fullerton. Some of their neighbors tried to have them evicted from their home on the basis that they were of Mexican decent (Alex was born just 24 miles away in Corona).

In 1943 there was some other racism going on in the world. Germany was displaying the greatest example of racial collectivism ever. It was their credo, their philosophy and their religion. But nobody liked the results, and we were fighting the Germans. This war, half a world away, may have actually effected the court case here in Fullerton. The plaintiffs were German.

The very interesting court case was portrayed in the “March of Time” series by Time® and featured in Time® magazine. It was international news, but in Fullerton it was forgotten, and is oddly missing from books on civil rights. More of all this is explained in Gustavo Arellano’s article Mi Casa Es Mi Casa.

Tonight the Bernals were back. Maria Theresa and Irene, the daughters of Alex and Esther, and Joseph Bernal, Alex’s son from his second marriage sat onstage and answered questions about their father.

Alex Bernal was the man of the evening. His children talked about his wonderful work ethic. “Where there is a will there is a way”, “You have to fight for what you believe”. But they did not know what kind of fight he had been through himself. The story was not retold in the Bernal household.

There were even reunions tonight. A voice called from the back of the room when Irene Shaw Broden came to see her childhood friend Irene Bernal. They had not seen each other since they were small but you could almost see the years melt away when they embraced.

Velda and Joe Johnson, who had sold Alex the house, were in attendance and discussed the controversy from their own perspective.

Local historian Luis Fernandez, who discovered the case, and OCWeekly Managing Editor Gustavo Arrellano were chairing the discussion and answering questions.

But the night belonged to Alex Bernal. He was the tireless individual who taught his children well and showed all of us how to defend our rights. He was a Fullertonian.

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