Conference Commemorates 40th Anniversary of Chicano Student Walkouts
by Tracy Bueno

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It has been 40 years since Chicano students organized week-long walkouts in public high schools across East Los Angeles, California. On Wednesday, February 20th, “Blowout: A 40th Anniversary Conference on the 1968 East Los Angeles Chicano Student Walkout” was presented in the McCune Conference Room at the Humanities and Social Science Building.

Speakers included Sal Castro, an essential figure who served in the walkouts, UCSB Chicano Studies professor Mario T. Garcia, and former students who experienced it first-hand.

This one-day conference celebrated this historical event and its powerful impact, leaving others to think about current repercussions. Garci­a, an author and Chicano/a Studies professor at UCSB, gave a brief history of his involvement with Chicano students who planned and organized these blowouts in various East Los Angeles high schools such as Lincoln, Wilson, Garfield, and others within the Los Angeles Unified School District. “I began to talk to people of a massive walkout that would force school officials, including the Board of Education, to listen to student grievances. The plan was to inform the students and others about this specific idea of a walkout and to begin preparations for it,” he explained.

People came and went throughout the conference, enjoying the informative and nostalgic atmosphere with poster boards detailing media coverage that spanned the Chicano Movement, including the walkouts and the reinstating of Sal Castro back to his teaching job at Lincoln High School. During the 1960s, Chicanos experienced discrimination and lack of an equal education, assimilating into a school system that prohibited Mexican culture. This caused them to take drastic action. These students became activists in their own right and these stories were recently made into a film for HBO titled Walkout that depicted over 20,000 students who participated in the March 1968 protests. “As the bell rang out, out they [the students] went, out in the streets with their heads held high, with dignity. It was beautiful to be a Chicano that day,” said Professor Garcia.

The conference also featured Chicano Studies Associate Professor Tara Yosso commenting on how Chicano and Chicana students were treated in the public education system, and discussing how they were told that they did not possess the cultural capital to succeed in society. She emphasized female involvement in the demonstrations, citing how women were given an opportunity to show resistance to subordination and oppression.

This conference was a platform to reminisce the events of that historical day for the Chicano community. Sal Castro was a central figure during the walkouts and he continues to be an inspiration. He cared about what his students wanted: an education, an opportunity to become someone in life. He risked his life and career to make sure school officials listened to his and the Chicano students’ demands. At the conference, he was honored for his contributions. One of the highlights was a speaker panel of former high school and college students who took part in the protests. Their experiences were different and demonstrated their persistence in having their voices heard. This unique panel included Bobby Verdugo, Mita Cuaron, Vicki Castro, Harry Gamboa, Henry Gutierrez and Yoli Rios. I was impressed in hearing their thoughts about making history.

“That’s why I dedicate myself [to working with them] to show that we are involved. Fathers, Latino men are involved in their kids’ lives,” said Bobby Verdugo, a social worker who contributes to an organization helping teen fathers. He elaborated on his experience as a dropout in Lincoln High School and how he was fortunate to have parental support in the demonstrations, while explaining how Latino fathers were depicted as myths because they weren’t involved in their children’s lives. Then Verdugo thanked Castro for having faith in him to succeed and enabled him to pursue an education and go onto UCLA later on.

The title of this article was part of Mita Cuaron’s story. As a student at Garfield forced to drop out, she went on to pursue a nursing degree in addition to her GED and now works as a Mental Health Counselor for the County of Los Angeles. Cuaron recalled her father being on trial for allegedly disrupting the school due to his concern that she was not receiving a proper education, which led to his arrest and being jailed for two weeks. Holding in emotions as she spoke, Cuaron assured the audience it was worth doing what she and her family to make a statement. She hopes for more films like Walkout because there are many untold stories, and stresses that there is much more to be done. “The struggle continues because the conditions today have worsened. You stand tall with your heads up and know that what we did was for future generations. I just marvel at seeing all of you because of the fruits of our struggle. You have the fruit that will ripen to reach your dreams after the others who get be born.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. Is Chicano Studies really a major? What does one do with a Chicano Studies degree??? Work at Taco Bell? Apply somewhere forced to hire lower quality people due to affirmative action under the guise of soft variables such as the UC Systems? All that a Chicano Studies degree gets you is a bunch of the same rhetoric from teachers: The White man is bringing Mexicans all down, ghetto parties perpetuate stereotypes, the borders should be opened up because MExico is so pathetic and stupid that it can’t fix any of the corruption so all mexicans should come to America because they ALL work hard and OF COURSE… none of them steal, threaten or vandalize pepople or people’s cars such as in IV. The 5 kids they support on minimum wage salaries doesnt keep perpetuating poverty and crime within their communities either. ITs a good idea to keep having that many kids because it is part of their culture and one shouldnt mess with culture even if it perpetuates failure of a race.

  2. Wow mr, your bigotry and racism could not be more obvious. No wonder you decided not to use your real name. You are a small fraction of a human who proves how the internet is so often abused by anonymous hatred. You use these posts to validate your own existence, but don’t fool yourself. You are nothing.

  3. To follow up my last post, I would also like to say that this is a well-written piece on an important topic. Tracy has shown a great deal of skill as a writer and a reporter in this aritcle.

  4. i actually think this is a great piece… and mr just to let you know
    mexicans steal because of the situation theyre put in.. and what excuse do white rich people have to do drugs?. Also its not their fault they arent highly educated. i bet you if they had the oppotunity (finacially) they would… And there is more corruption here in the US if you really think about it… dont spit into the air because it will land on your face and youll regret saying that

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