Dear Future Teachers,
As Latinx Heritage Month continues, I wanted to acknowledge Latinx contributions to the U.S. education system. In my experience (and in the experiences of my friends from various locations), the Latinx experience was rarely mentioned in K-12 curriculum. I am Puerto Rican, and never even heard the island mentioned until I was in my 10th grade American History class, and even then it was a disappointingly brief conversation. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, yet our history is barely even covered in some schools. Latinxs in general have been a large part of U.S. history, but only some schools mention Dolores Huerta, Sonia Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente, and other influential Latinx individuals in U.S. history. Latinx history IS U.S. history, and it deserves to be talked about! To disrupt the erasure of Latinx impact in the U.S., today I would like to share about the 1968 L.A. Blowouts.
Similar to school segregation of white and Black students, Latinx students were also segregated into different schools than their white peers. The Latinx schools were of poor quality compared to the white schools, as they lacked resources, quality teachers, and appropriate facilities. Seven years before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, another Supreme Court case, Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County (1947) had ruled that forcing Mexican American children into separate schools was unconstitutional.
Even though segregation of Mexican American students had been declared unlawful, Mexican American students still faced a large amount of discrimination. There was a lot of racism surrounding Mexican Americans. People would refer to them as "dirty", "dumb", "poor", or despise them for "taking jobs". These stereotypes would not stop at the doors of East L.A. schools. One teacher, named Sal Castro, had noticed that the Mexican American students in his school weren't as involved in campus activities, they were steered away from academic courses, and teachers would openly insult Latinx students. The dropout rate among Mexican American students was disproportionately high. Mr. Castro decided he wanted to make a change, helping his Mexican American students connect with and embrace their culture.
Students of Mr. Castro developed an awareness of their abilities, and a pride in who they are as Mexican American, or Chicano, students. Mr. Castro wanted to take things a step further by organizing students to make a change. Thus, the idea of a student strike was born.
The students made a list of demands, including more representation of Latinx identities in teaching staff and more representation in school curriculum. Not having their demands met, the students decided to participate in a walkout. A walkout is when students leave their classes in the middle of instructional time, in protest of the injustices they are experiencing. After months of planning, the students decided to begin their walkout on March 6, 1968.
The first day of "The East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts of 1968" saw around 10,000 students participate. Parents, too, were supportive of the movement and showed up to protest with their children. The participating schools were: Lincoln High School, Roosevelt High School, Garfield High School, Wilson High School, Belmont High School, Jefferson High School, and Venice High School. Protestors were met with some brutal police violence at Roosevelt High School, but it did little to deter the movement.
The walkouts lasted for several days, peaking at 22,000 student participants. Eventually, after a few meetings, some of the students' demands were accepted by school administrators. Some student organizers were arrested, as well as Mr. Castro, but even more people showed up to get them released.
While the students had drafted a list of nearly 40 demands, ranging from more Mexican American teachers to smaller class sizes, only a few of the demands were met by the schools. The schools did hire more Latinx teachers, introduced bilingual classes, and ethnic studies. The next year, the Mexican American student enrollment rate at UCLA jumped 1800% (source). Eventually L.A. saw a rise of more Latinx school administrators and superintendents, showing that the effects of their movement were long-lasting.
Not only did the L.A. walkouts benefit the participating schools in some way, but it set a precedent for all other Mexican American and Latinx students in the U.S.. They deserve an equal education, they should to be treated with respect, and they take up space in the classroom. Even though it's not talked about in many schools today, the L.A. Blowouts can inspire Latinx individuals all across the country.
Even though our country has a long way to go before true equity is reached in our educational system, I wanted to share this piece of history because it is so inspiring to see students fight for a positive change in their educational experiences. It is a powerful statement of thousands of students willing to brave police resistance and risking arrest to fight for what they believed in. I also wanted to bring light to an event that had such profound impacts on the Latinx experience in education but isn't discussed as much today. We deserve to know our history, and I'm glad that I could share a little piece of it today. I encourage you to read more about the L.A. Blowouts, and I have attached a link to a video my incredible Profe at UNC shared in our class. Happy LHM!