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Simpson Street Free Press

East L.A. Student Walkouts Propelled the Chicano Movement

The 1960s was a time of change for many underrepresented communities in the United States. Between the civil rights movement and racial conflicts occurring, many people took the opportunity to strongly voice their basic needs. An example is the East L.A. walkouts of 1968, a series of protests led by Chicano students that advocated for the improvement of their education.

Obvious flaws in the Los Angeles school systems were always apparent to Chicano students. The unfurnished buildings could not support the growing population, hence leading to overcrowding; and much of the staff were inadequately trained for teaching. The lack of education quality denied many academic and career opportunities for Latinos that were readily available to white students. Nearly 130,000 Latinos made up 75 percent of East L.A.'s student body, but due to the lack of support, the number of school drop-outs mounted to 50 percent or above. Although Chicano students contacted their school administrations to fix the flaws, nothing changed.

Students, however, were not alone in the fight against the discriminatory issues they faced. In particular, Sal Castro, a Mexican-American social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, encouraged Chicano students to dwell more on their culture and take pride in their identity. In 1967, Castro, and community members, began organizing protests and helping students walk out of their classes to march in the streets. Many Chicanos from East L.A. schools and concerned parents joined. Together they created a list of 39 demands, such as employing more Latino staff, allowing bilingualism to be used in classrooms, and an increase of Mexican and Mexican-American history lessons.

Over the week of March 1st, 1968, 15,000 to 20,000 students from seven schools around East L.A. walked out. Police and school staff made efforts to keep students inside the buildings using violence. Later that month, the Los Angeles Board of Education met with the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee, arranged by students, teachers, and parents. Even though thousands of people participated in the walkouts, the demands were denied due to the lack of money. On June 2, 1968, two months following their detainment for public disturbance charges, Castro and other walkout leaders were released on bail.

To this day, many students and teachers who engaged in the L.A. walkouts have addressed their experiences and shared the story of the events leading up to the protests. As seen in many past and current cases, speaking up and non-violent actions have had biased and unreasonable consequences.


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