45 years of the Chicano Movement

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the East L.A. walkouts. Generally regarded as one of the foundational events of the Chicano student movement, the walkouts represented one of the first mass actions of Chicano (Mexican American) youth in U.S. history. Certainly the scope–eventually involving more than 10,000 students in the Los Angeles area alone–makes it noteworthy in the span of Chicana/o history.

There is a story of politicization and organization behind these walkouts. However spontaneous they may have seemed to city officials, they were anything but that. On Friday, March 1, 1968, when the first students walked out from Wilson High School in East L.A.–the largest Chicano barrio in the United States, at the time–plans were already in the works for a multi-school protest the next week.

As important as it is for us to understand that the student walkouts were the result of a specific political and social history, so, too, is it important for us to understand their powerful impact. The act of walking out of class and surrounding your school en masse was the first political act for many of the involved students. Even for those already connects to the analysis of racism facing their communities and the organizational planning to address it, the walkouts further inspired collective action as well as the development of a critical analysis of power and race in society. It also fundamentally helped shaped what it meant to be “Chicana” or “Chicano” for the generation of brown baby boomers coming of age.

One of the most dynamic historical sources to offer us a window into these multiple processes and evolutions is the list of demands presented by students to the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education.

What do you see in their list of demands? What surprises you? How does it reflect an emerging sense of political and cultural change?

  1. No student or teacher to be reprimanded or suspended for participating in the recent demonstrations.
  2. Compulsory bilingual and bicultural education in all East Los Angeles schools, with teachers and administrators to receive training in speaking Spanish and Mexican cultural heritage.
  3. Teachers and administrators who show any form of prejudice toward students, including failure to recognize cultural traditions, will be transferred.
  4. Textbooks and curriculum should be revised to show Mexican contributions to society, to show injustices they have suffered and to concentrate on Mexican folklore.
  5. Class size must be reduced so teachers can devote more time to individual students. Team teaching should be used.
  6. Counselor-student ratios must be reduced and counselors must speak Spanish and have a knowledge of Mexican cultural heritage.
  7. The schools’ guidance program for counseling students on post-high school endeavors must be improved.
  8. Students must not be grouped into slow, average and rapid ability groups and classes based on the poor tests currently in use which often mistake a language problem with lack of intelligence. A more effective testing system for determining IQ must be developed.
  9. Only “pass or fail” grades shall be used, and students shall be advised of their grade progress monthly.
  10. Any teacher with a high percentage of dropouts from his or her classes will be identified to students and the community.
  11. Schools should have managers to supervise maintenance to allow administrators to concentrate on educational matters.
  12. New teachers should be required to live in the community where they teach during their probationary period.
  13. School facilities should be made available for community activities and recreation programs developed for children.
  14. No teacher will be dismissed or transferred because of his or her political or philosophical views.
  15. Community parents will be engaged as teacher’s aides.
  16. The industrial arts program must be revitalized to provide training for entry into industry; modern equipment and techniques must be provided.
  17. New high schools in the area must be built with renaming of existing schools after Mexican heroes to establish community identity.
  18. All condemned buildings will be razed and new structures erected.
  19. Library facilities must be expanded at all East Los Angeles high schools, and more library materials will be provided in Spanish.
  20. Open-air student eating areas should be roofed.
  21. Student lounges with jukeboxes should be provided and operated by paid students.
  22. All campuses will be open and fences removed.
  23. School janitorial services should be restricted to employees and not assigned to students as punishment.
  24. Corporal punishment, which is carried out only in East Los Angeles schools, should be abolished throughout the district.
  25. Teacher proficiency will be rated by students.
  26. Students should have access to any type of literature on campus.
  27. Students who help teachers should be paid or given credit.
  28. Students must be allowed to invite guest speakers to club meetings without approval.
  29. Dress and grooming standards will be determined by students, parents and teachers. Only administration-controlled student body officers, PTA representatives and teachers now do this.
  30. Student unions should be provided and run by students, and free speech areas designated on campuses.
  31. Student body offices should be open to all students and a high grade average not considered a prerequisite for eligibility.
  32. Restrooms should be open to students.
  33. Lighted athletic fields should be provided at Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin high schools.
  34. Cafeteria menus should have more Mexican dishes and mothers should be allowed to help prepare the food.
  35. All East Side schools should have swimming pools.
  36. All school athletic activities should be free.
  37. Student suspensions will be made by area superintendents instead of principals in order to prevent indiscriminate use of this action.
  38. Presentation of non-academic programs at the expanse of class time should be prohibited.
(From Jack McCurdy, “Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed,” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1968, pp. 1, 4, and 5.)
For further reading, see Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement, by Carlos M<uñoz Jr.; Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Haney-López; Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975, by Jorge Mariscal; and Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, by Alma M. García. The semi-fictionalized movie Walkout is also a great introduction to the event itself.

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