East L.A. walkouts
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The East Los Angeles Walkouts or Chicano Blowouts were a series of 1968 protests by Chicano students against unequal conditions in Los Angeles Unified School District high schools. The first protest took place on March 6. While the students who organized and carried out the protests were primarily concerned with the quality of their education, they were also inspired by the high minority death toll in the Vietnam War and the civil rights campaigns of the Chicano Movement.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Mexican Americans took part in the national quest for civil rights, fighting important court battles and building social and political movements. Mexican-American youth in particular became politicized, having taken advantage of many opportunities their parents never had.
In a radio interview, Moctesuma Esparza, one of the original walkout organizers, talked about his experiences as a high school student fighting for Chicano rights. Esparza first became involved in activism in 1965 after attending a youth leadership conference. He helped organize a group of Chicano teenagers, Young Citizens for Community Action. This group eventually evolved into Young Chicanos For Community Action, then later as the Brown Berets, still fighting for Mexican-American equality in California.
Esparza graduated 12th grade in 1967, and enrolled at UCLA. He and fellow Chicano students continued organizing protests. He and eleven friends started a group called UMAS. UMAS traveled around to universities recruiting Chicano students who wanted to help increase Chicano enrollment in colleges. UMAS members decided to split up into smaller groups, with each group to mentor students at particular L.A. high schools with high minority enrollment. Wanting to do something to improve their school system, the students decided to organize. Esparza and a few other UMAS members, along with teacher Sal Castro, helped organize hundreds of students to walkout of classes in 1968 protests to highlight conditions they faced. After a few days, they were joined by numerous additional protesters. These students gained the attention of the school board, and eventually improved treatment for fellow students.
Many of the student organizers became prominent in their fields. Moctesuma Esparza, one of the 13 charged with disrupting the schools, later became a successful film producer. He helped recruit more Chicanos to Hollywood. Harry Gamboa, Jr. became an artist and writer. Carlos Montes, a Brown Berets minister, was charged with arson at a hotel during the Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. Paula Crisostomo became a school administrator, where she continues to fight for reform. Vicky Castro was elected to the Los Angeles Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., went on to a distinguished teaching and research career at the University of California, Berkeley.
The student actions of 1968 inspired later protests that used similar tactics, including the 1994 student walkouts against California Proposition 187, the 2006 student walkouts against H.R. 4437, the 2009 walkouts against Arizona's SB1070, and 2007 walkouts in support of the proposed Cesar Chavez holiday.
- "Walkout: The True Story of the Historic 1968 Chicano Student Walkout in East L.A.", Democracy Now[dead link]
- The Santa Barbara Independent UCSB Conference Looks at 1968 East LA Walkout, 2008
- "Walkout" recalls key event in Chicano history, IBL News[dead link]