Thursday, March 12, 2015

East L.A. Blowouts: Walking Out for Justice in the Classrooms | Highland Park | Departures Columns | KCET

East L.A. Blowouts: Walking Out for Justice in the Classrooms | Highland Park | Departures Columns | KCET

In 1967 Mexican American students throughout the Southwest held a 60% high school dropout rate. If they did graduate, they averaged an 8th-grade reading level. Due to Anglo-centric internal school policies many Chicano students were fielded to vocational training or classes for the mentally disabled. Prejudice from teachers and administrators, both liberally-minded and outright bigoted, instigated stereotypes of Mexican Americans that discouraged the students from higher learning. These inequalities in education led to the 1968 East Los Angeles Walkouts, also known as the "Blowouts," which displayed the largest mobilization of Chicano youth leaders in Los Angeles history.

During the 1950s college educated and professional Chicanos, as part of the Education Committee of the Council of Mexican Americans Affairs, challenged the school system through proper channels, including P.T.A. participation and meetings with school officials and legislators. In 1967 Julian Nava was elected as the first Latino to serve on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board of education. Despite these efforts, however, Mexican American students continued to trail behind in the classroom.
The 1960s gave hope for social justice within the Chicano community, as civil rights leaders across the nation demanded change and equal opportunities for people of color. Leaders like Ceasar Chavez, Reiss Lopez Tijerina and Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales were shaking up injustices in the labor system, presenting Chicano youth in Los Angeles with role models to emulate. Meanwhile, a developing iconography of cultural pride and beauty was empowering Chicanos with art and murals throughout East Los Angeles communities.
To combat the failed efforts toward progress in education, young Chicano activists looked to the changing political climate for a more direct approach for action. From March 1 to March 8 1968, approximately 15,000 students walked out of classes from Woodrow Wilson, Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Belmont, Venice and Jefferson High Schools, all demanding an equal, qualitative, and culturally relevant education. The protesters were blocked by administrators barring doors to the outside, and helmeted police officers either jailed or escorted students to their principals. Two student beatings were reported during the March 6 walkout at Roosevelt.

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