By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service
More than 1,000 high school students walked in to the California State University, Los Angeles campus on Friday as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 East L.A. Walkouts.
The “Walk in to Higher Education” was part of two days of events on March 1-2 at Cal State LA exploring the educational legacy of the walkouts that included panels, speakers and a historical photography and newspaper exhibit chronicling the monumental protest through the perspective of Chicano media.
The East L.A. Walkouts, or Blowouts, began in March 1968 as students at five high schools on Los Angeles’ Eastside and their supporters protested against prejudice and inequity in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The walkouts were a seminal event and helped ignite the Chicano civil rights movement in Los Angeles. Many of the walkout leaders and participants, including Lincoln High School social studies teacher Sal Castro, were Cal State LA alumni or students.
At the time, students were forbidden from speaking Spanish in school and largely steered toward vocational careers instead of college. By the time the walkouts culminated, more than 20,000 students—including African Americans, Asian Americans and whites—had walked out of classes across Los Angeles. The actions ultimately led to educational reforms in the nation’s second-largest school district.
Students from the high schools that took part in the walkouts in 1968—Belmont, Garfield, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Wilson—as well as Mendez, Solis and Torres high schools, filled the Luckman Theatre at Cal State LA on Friday. They heard from university, LAUSD and elected officials and watched student mariachi and spoken word performances before heading into an afternoon of workshops exploring the legacy of the East L.A. Walkouts.
“Our future is going to be led by you,” Octavio Villalpando, Cal State LA’s vice provost for diversity and engaged learning and chief diversity officer for academic and student life, told the students. “We want to make sure you get the opportunity to learn how to ensure that change continues and that we continue to open educational access for all of our communities around the state.”
As hundreds of students carrying commemorative banners streamed into the Luckman, they were greeted by LAUSD Board of Education President Mónica García, Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez and Local District East Superintendent José Huerta.
García led the students in energized call-and-response cheers of “Student power!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”
“L.A. Unified has been the place where the Chicano civil rights movement was ignited and it was ignited by students who loved you and believed in you and saw the future where you would be at a great institution like this one,” García said to the students in the theatre.
Cal State LA President William A. Covino emphasized how the thousands who walked out in 1968 paved the way for the students of today to succeed in higher education at universities like Cal State LA, which is ranked number one in the nation for the upward mobility of its students.
“You are the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams,” Covino said. “Fifty years after the walkouts, East L.A. and Cal State LA have the most successful students in the United States. So, congratulations to you.”
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, whose 27th District includes parts of Los Angeles’ Eastside, celebrated the accomplishments of the walkouts, but she acknowledged there is more work to do to improve education. She pointed to the need to reduce class sizes, increase the number of bilingual teachers and lessons, and update textbooks.
“Don’t agonize, organize—organize with the power of your voice, organize with the power of your activism,” Chu said. “We are counting on you.”
Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Cal State LA alumna whose 51st District includes the university, gave a rousing speech to the high school students. Carrillo, who attended Roosevelt High School, shared the story of her path from undocumented student growing up on Los Angeles’ Eastside to elected official in Sacramento.
Chu and Carrillo both highlighted the recent actions by teenagers across the country walking out and protesting gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“You have to find that voice within you that tells you, ‘I will no longer stand for injustice and I will stand up for those that need a voice,'” Carrillo said. “None of us are voiceless.”
She ended with a call to action for the students to get involved: “If you are not at the table where the decisions are being made, guess what? You are on the menu.”
The day of workshops for LAUSD students followed an academic conference the day before. The event featured a keynote address by Cal State LA alumnus and former student walkout leader Carlos Muñoz Jr., a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.
Among the many panels was one that focused on women in the movement, which featured two alumni: Vickie Castro, who later was elected to the Los Angeles school board, and Rachael Ochoa, a retired educator. Other panelists included walkout leaders Paula Crisostomo and Cassandra Zacarias. The session was moderated by Cal State LA Professor Dolores Delgado Bernal, who has researched the topic.
On Thursday evening, hundreds of guests packed the University Library for the opening of “Eastside Blowouts: Through the Eyes of Chicano Media.” The photography and newspaper exhibition displays articles and photos captured by a community of Chicano journalists documenting the moving and turbulent moments of the Mexican American civil rights movement in Los Angeles.
“We honor one of the most significant events of the 1960s civil rights movement: the East L.A. Walkouts of 1968,” Cal State LA alumnus Félix Gutiérrez, a USC emeritus professor, said at the reception. “Tonight we open a powerful visual display that documents the Blowouts as they were seen by Chicano media.”
The exhibition, curated by Cal State LA alumnus and Cal State Northridge emeritus professor Raul Ruiz, will be displayed in the library through May 31.
Photos: Above, LAUSD Board of Education President Mónica García, far left, greeted Roosevelt High School students during their walk in to Cal State LA. Middle, Historical photos displayed during the “Eastside Blowouts: Through the Eyes of Chicano Media” exhibition. Bottom, left to right, Cal State LA Professor Michael Soldatenko, Cal State LA Vice Provost Octavio Villalpando, Cal State LA Provost Lynn Mahoney, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, Local District East Superintendent José Huerta, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, Cal State LA President William A. Covino, LAUSD Board of Education President Mónica García, Angelica Hernandez, district representative for State Sen. Ed Hernandez, and Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez. (Credit: Ty Washington/Cal State LA)
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 28,000 students and has more than 245,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.