East L.A. Walkouts
During the 1950s and 1960s, Chicanx took part in the national quest for civil rights, fighting court battles and building social and political movements. This became known as the Chicanx movement, similar to the civil rights movement but for Chicanx individuals battling for equity and equality.
In the Spring of 1968, 3 years after more than 600 protesters marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A few months after that, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be signed into law.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, the largest Latino community in the United States had more than 130,000 students attending area schools. And their prospects were dim. Graduation rates were one of the lowest in the country. The dropout rate at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles was a staggering 57.5%. Average class sizes in area schools were 40 students and the ratio of school counselors to students was one counselor to 4000 students. The graduation rates were even worse for Chicanx college students. Put simply, the students were being held down, which created a breeding ground for the frustration that would eventually boil over.
The civil rights movement in the US has always been interconnected. From the march on WA to the protests of today, when one community is held down all see it as a call to action. Which brings us to out topic today, the East L.A. Student Walkouts.
It took six months of planning. The walkouts were coordinated to take place on March 6, 1968, at 10 a.m. The students organized one-on-one. They had to plan after school and on the weekends. In between homework and jobs. They built up support amongst East L.A. schools and the student bodies were ready. All told, an estimated 15,000 students walked out of classes from Woodrow Wilson, Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Belmont, Venice and Jefferson High Schools.
It took six months of planning. The walkouts were coordinated to take place on March 6, 1968, at 10 a.m. The students organized one-on-one. They had to plan after school and on the weekends. All told, an estimated 15,000 students walked out of classes from Woodrow Wilson, Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Belmont, Venice and Jefferson High Schools. Esparza (one of the original organizers) recalled the violence:
“These were high school kids who were peacefully protesting for their rights. They were children. And they were brutalized. There are blows that were recorded on film that were like death blows. It was really, really awful. And when that footage was finally discovered in 1995, when the research was being done for the PBS documentary Chicano, it was astonishing to us that that footage had survived.
Following the walkouts, students were able to meet with the board of education. At this meeting, student leaders presented a list of demands that addressed what they felt were the most pressing issues within their schools that affected their education. That list of demands covered an array of topics that were broken down into academic, administrative and facilitative. Here is a portion of that list:
No student or teacher will be reprimanded or suspended for participating in any efforts which are executed for the purpose of improving or furthering the educational quality in our schools.
Bilingual-Bi-cultural education will be compulsory for Chicanos in the Los Angeles Unified School District where there is a majority of Chicano students. This program will be open to all other students on a voluntary basis.
A) in-service education programs will be instituted immediately for all staff in order to teach them the Spanish language and increase their understanding of the history, traditions, and contributions of the Mexican culture.
B) All administrators in the elementary and secondary schools in these areas will become proficient in the Spanish language. The monies for these programs will come from local funds, state funds and matching federal funds.
Administrators and teachers who show any form of prejudice toward Mexican or Chicano students, including failure to recognize, understand, and appreciate Mexican culture and heritage, will be removed from East Los Angeles schools. This will be decided by a Citizens Review Board selected by the Educational Issues Committee.
Textbooks and curriculum will be developed to show Mexican and Chicano contribution to the U.S. society and to show the injustices that Mexicans have suffered as a culture of that society. Textbooks should concentrate on Mexican folklore rather than English folklore.
Every teacher’s ratio of failure per students in his classroom shall be made available to community groups and students. Any teacher having a particularly high percentage of the total school dropouts in his classes shall be rated by the Citizens Review Board composed of the Educational Issues Committee.
Print media helped students and their allies spread their call for change through Los Angeles during the blowouts. Long before the advent of online social media, student publications were a powerful catalyst for discussion about the role of the protests in the nascent Chicano movement.
Raul Ruíz, a student at Garfield, managed two of these publications: Inside Eastside and Chicano Student News. Students from all of the East L.A. High Schools wrote articles for these newspapers, which highlighted the deficiencies of the public schools and other injustices experienced by Chicanos. Tanya Luna Mount and Mita Cuarón distributed flyers on high school campuses to spread similar messages.
Newspaper ads and bumper stickers were later used to show support for Sal Castro after he was arrested and suspended by the school board. The printed word served as a powerful extension of the physical mobility that students exercised during the walkouts.
Following the student walkouts of 1968, change was painfully slow. Media coverage had been minimal, so the issue of institutionalized bias in the school system soon faded from the broader public memory. But for those on the front lines, the seeds had been planted. And those seeds steadily grew.
Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Los Angeles schools began to see more Mexican-American educators, administrators, and even superintendents. But the core issues still remain unresolved.
The fight for equality takes many forms. But at its most fundamental level, there’s often a central, key point: equal access to opportunity. And in few places has this disparity in opportunity been more glaring than the educational system.
The Los Angeles student walkouts of 1968 were a crucial flashpoint in the movement to achieve equality for Chicano students in the LAUSD. A movement that would affect students of all backgrounds and heritages. But social change is seldom quick. It would take 40+ years for district policies to officially grant these and other minority students the right to college-readiness programs, programs that unfortunately still lack the funding they need to be successful today.
“Latino/a Mobility in California History” by
Genevieve Carpio, Javier Cienfuegos, Ivonne Gonzalez, Karen Lazcano, Katherine Lee Berry, Joshua Mandell, Christofer Rodelo and Alfonso Toro
“The East LA blowouts of 1968, mapped
The most pivotal locations in the development, execution, and aftermath of the student protests” by Gustavo Arellano
“Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice” by Mario T. Garcia
“East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The day high school students helped ignite the Chicano power movement” by Louis Sahagún