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October 23, 2018

1968: A New Generation of Chicano Fighters

Sal stood strong and tall as he observed his Lincoln High School Chicano students with their indignant fists in the air, yelling at the top of their lungs demanding they be treated equally by the education system. At Roosevelt High School, protesters watched as some of the more aggressive activists ran as fast as they could from the riot police force sent by the city of Los Angeles. Other students were arrested with smirks on their faces, a flush of satisfaction filling their complexions because they knew that what they were standing up for was right. And right they were. Tears rolled down Sal Castro’s face as he witnessed the blowout he had helped spark: “It was a very emotional time for me. Damn, it was beautiful.” This was the essential push Mexican-American and other Latino students needed in order to make a change.1

Latino students attended old school buildings with creaking ceilings, weathered-down stairs, hand-me-down textbooks in limited quantities. They lacked space for a cafeteria and their classrooms were too small, among other things. Latino students were often taught in Spanish and used less English, which hindered their learning. These same schools dedicated most of their curriculum to teaching vocational studies. As a male student, one learned things like carpentry and plumbing; as a female,  one learned the art of the homemaker. Whatever the case, you worked with your young hands from the age of ten, at school.2

In other schools in Los Angeles Unified School District, Anglo, Asian, and even some African-American students attended larger and more aesthetically-pleasing school buildings with distinct classrooms and gently used books. In those schools, students were taught only in English, which nurtured their vocabulary. You had the advantage of playing on a big playground, and your cafeteria had tables for everyone to eat on. You learned the four distinct subjects of Mathematics, History, Science and English. Most importantly, there was an expectation for you to graduate on time and go on to gain a higher education.3

However, the Latino student experience was the reality that young Salvador Castro and many other Mexican-Americans grew up in. Sal was Mexican-American; his mother was born in the United States and his father in Mexico. It was in school where Castro experienced the discrimination and racism towards Mexican-American children in Los Angeles in the 1940s. At that time, Latinos were also excluded from “public facilities such as swimming pools and parks.” When he was growing up, Castro was employed as a shoe shiner downtown. There he experienced the Zoot-Suit Riots firsthand as a bystander. The aggression he witnessed towards Mexican-Americans left a lasting impression on him.4

Based on his experiences growing up in segregated schools with little encouragement, he chose to become a public high school teacher because he wanted to make a difference in Latino students’ lives. Initially, these steps came small and happened slowly, but overtime Sal hoped to achieve academic equality for his students. This began in 1963, when he landed his first job at Belmont High School, in downtown Los Angeles. Belmont was an integrated school; however, there was a problem. Despite the Latino student population, they were not encouraged to join the student council that was dominated by white students. After attempting to organize Latino students to advocate for their right to participate in the student council and unknowingly allowing them to break Belmont’s no-Spanish rule, Sal was deemed a troublemaker by the administration. They tended to discourage Latino students from aiming too high because, as Belmont’s principal put it, they possessed a “charming passivity.”5 Sal was defying this practice. They arranged for his transfer to Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles that same school year. However, it was at Lincoln High, a predominantly Latino school, where Castro’s goal of reaching a sense of academic equality for Chicano students would be put to the test. Little did he know that through Lincoln and its students, he would make history.

The year is 1968 and by this time, Chicano students are growing tired. Tired of the discrimination taking place in the classrooms, tired of the continued segregation in their schools, and tired of being seen as second-class citizens in the education system. Not only were Mexican-Americans being treated this way in society, but the prejudice was so fundamental that it affected their learning. In their schools, students were admired by white administrations for being charmingly passive. By this, they meant that Mexican-Americans conformed to all the limitations put on them. These students were rarely pushed to do better academically, and they were often discouraged by their teachers from even considering going to college. When Paula Crisostomo was thinking about going to college, she was explicitly told by a white teacher to give up that hope because she would most likely end up pregnant and drop out like the rest of her peers. Crisostomo’s experience as a Latina student at Lincoln was not unique. Teachers often stressed that the students go into handy professions, and become plumbers or seamstresses. The education system made these particular students feel like second class citizens by destroying their hopes and lowering their self-esteem, which in turn affected their futures as American citizens.6

Drawing of a Brown Beret | Courtesy of Pinterest, Brian King

Prior to the East L.A. Blowouts, the Chicano movement had just begun. The movement was never one solid and united group. The Chicano movement was a culmination of protests and movements within itself that used cultural nationalism to fight for Mexican-American rights. It is not surprising that eventually students would join the fight. In 1966, a high school student in Los Angeles, David Sanchez, founded the Brown Berets, which was a paramilitary group with a similar purpose to that of the Black Panthers. They symbolized a militant force willing to defend the Chicano youth in the war against the educational system that discriminated against them. Another prominent student group that formed at this time was the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA. This conference opened chapters in high school and college campuses at a national level. They stood for a “Mexican-American Anti-Vietnam War effort and pressed for a Chicano political party to lead electoral efforts.”7

When it came down to making a change, Sal was stuck. It was evident that the fight for Chicano student rights would be a difficult one, due to the long-standing obstacles and traditions of the school district. After all, how could change happen if, despite the 1954 ruling of the complete desegregation of Mexican-Americans and other Latino students, segregation still existed in fact in integrated schools.8 This was showcased through the lack of preparation provided by East L.A. schools to its Mexican-American students. Nonetheless, Sal aspired to be different and meet his students’ needs. During his time at Lincoln High, Sal worked with students and realized that there were “low expectations by teachers, a stress on vocational rather than on an academic curriculum, high drop-out rates, low reading scores, insensitive teachers and counselors, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of ethnic and cultural reinforcements.”9 These conditions were all due to the internalized racism from decades prior to the blowouts. It led Sal to have an important conversation with his father. He realized that the only way progress so far was being made in the Chicano Movement was through passionate forms of mass protest, as seen with Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers’ strikes. He began to inform his Latino students about his plan to organize a mass walkout in protest of the inadequate education system that set Mexican-Americans up for failure. Soon enough, not only was Lincoln High School organizing for the walkout, but so were other East L.A. schools.

An article about Sal Castro’s influence on the school blowouts | Courtesy of Pinterest, Joshua Mandel

On March 6, 1968, Sal Castro led the Lincoln High walkout, as another seven East L.A. high schools joined the march for their rights to an equal education. The East L.A. blowouts lasted a week, occurring one after the other. The schools included Garfield, Roosevelt, Wilson, and Belmont High Schools. Along with the protests came demands from Mexican-American students that included reasonable requests such as: “Smaller classes. New libraries. More bilingual counselors, teachers, and principals. Improved testing to distinguish between a lack of English proficiency and lack of intelligence. More lessons on Mexican-American culture, art, and history. And no corporal punishment.”10 According to Diego Vigil, the “retention of Mexican identity and bilingual skills has a positive impact on the education of Mexican American youths.”11 It was important for students to be able to keep their culture because it helped build their confidence and to an extent made them feel more accepted; they could be themselves.

When they walked out of their classrooms and created a demonstration on the streets of their campuses, the Chicano students were determined to gain a change for the improvement of their education, and ultimately, their futures. The blowouts paid off. As Rosalio Munoz, a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) student at the time, recalls:

“The blowouts shocked universities such as UCLA into recognizing how few Chicanos attended college in the L.A. area. Pressured by the blowouts to respond, UCLA, as well as the other schools, began to implement stronger affirmative-action programs to recruit Chicano and black students. In one year the Chicano enrollment went from a couple of hundred to more than two thousand!”12

This alone met one of the student activists’ demands: access to higher education.

1968 Newspaper article of the East L.A. Blowouts | Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

During a school board meeting, the board members “agreed outright to two of the demands—more bilingual personnel and smaller classes.” However, they used “lack of funding” as an excuse to not meet the rest of the reasonable demands put forward by the Chicano students.13 Overall, these passionate students fought for general Latina/o student rights including:

“The right to bilingual educational programs, increased efforts for the integration of Latina/o students, equal distribution of educational funding sources, and the constant struggle against alienating schooling practices such as tracking, standardized testing, the mainstream curriculum, and access to higher education have also been important issues.”14

In later years, the fight for Chicano student rights would cause Central American students to demand “a widening of the concept of Chicano Studies and the creation of courses on Latino(as) in United States and Central American history.”15 Furthermore, in 1993 more students became active in “politics that both challenged and overcame traditional Chicano campus politics.”16 Students rejected the idea of Chicano studies remaining institutionalized because it took away the political drive. This took away from the movement because Latino students still did not have complete academic equality. The cause was still present and moving, not simply a part of history.

The young Chicano students across Los Angeles that participated in the blowouts in March of 1968 were brave soldiers that protested for more than their education, but their natural-born rights as Americans while being treated as second-class citizens.

As David Sanchez said, “With better education, the Chicano community could control its own destiny.”17 And they proved to do just that.

As Latino-Americans, a decent education is something that is often taken for granted. We forget that fifty years ago, schooling for Mexican-American and Latino students was in a very different place. Although progress has been made, it is important to keep pushing for educational reform so that every student has access to proper schooling, no matter their socioeconomic status, religion, or ethnic background.

  1. Latino Americans, episode 5, “Prejudice and Pride,” directed by David Belton and Sonia Fritz, aired September 17, 2013, on PBS,
  2. Philippa Strum, Mendez v. Westminister: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2007) 15-18.
  3. Philippa Strum, Mendez v. Westminister: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2007) 35, 47-49.
  4. Mario T. García and Sal Castro, Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 4.
  5. Salvador B. Castro, “Teaching Is a Fight,” Interview with Gilda L. Ochoa. Personal Interview. June 2010.
  6. Latino Americans, episode 5, “Prejudice and Pride,” directed by David Belton and Sonia Fritz, aired September 17, 2013, on PBS,
  7.  Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2013, s.v. “Chicano Movement,” by Ernesto Chávez.
  8. Philippa Strum, Mendez v. Westminister: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2007) 158.
  9. Mario T. García, and Sal Castro, Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 3.
  10. Louis Sahagan, “East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The day high school students helped ignite the Chicano power movement,” Los Angeles Times, (2018).
  11. Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa, Latino LA: Transformations, Communities, and Activism (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 2005), 307.
  12. Mario T. García, The Chicano Generation: Testimonios of the Movement (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015), 224
  13. Louis Sahagan, “East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The day high school students helped ignite the Chicano power movement.” Los Angeles Times, (2018).
  14. Margarita Berta-Ávila, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Julie López Figueroa, Marching Students: Chicana and Chicano Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2011), 189.
  15. Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa, Latino LA: Transformations, Communities, and Activism (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 2005), 247.
  16.  Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa, Latino LA: Transformations, Communities, and Activism (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 2005), 249-250.
  17. Louis Sahagan, “East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The day high school students helped ignite the Chicano power movement,” Los Angeles Times, (2018).

Tags from the story

Chicano Movement

East Los Angeles Blowouts

Sal Castro

The Year 1968

Recent Comments

Didier Cadena

This was a very interesting article. I am unfamiliar with this Chicano movement, so it was nice to be able to read a little bit about it. It was great to read about a movement that showed students standing up for better learning opportunities and break down what they were stereotyped to do. The article does a great job of putting the information together and still make it interesting to read.



7:52 am

Ximena Mondragon

I really like this article because it is part of history we never learn in school. You never really hear about the struggles that Chicano students had within the school system. They fought and organized despite the lash back they got. I am proud to learn of history that I can identify with. Overall, this article is very interesting and well written.



7:52 am

Rylie Kieny

I had never heard of this movement before reading the article. I think it was well researched and provided the reader with good information to help understand the events going on in the article. Education is very important to me and therefor I believe everyone should have excess to the same level of education no matter what. Its inspiring to see that minorities stood up for things they knew would better their future and quality of life. I think it is important to share stories such as these because it showcases the powers we as humans have when we band together and exercise our rights.



7:52 am

Jose Sanchez

This article was very interesting and a great read. I really enjoyed reading up on the history of my people. I believe that it is important to tell and retell these stories so that we do not take for granted what we have today. It is important to note and I think many people forget that Latinos had their own fight for equality separate from the fight of African Americans.



7:52 am

Lyzette Flores

I don’t understand why some whites did not want Mexican Americans, as well as African Americans, to receive the same education as whites. They always viewed them as different just because of skin color. I am glad Sal Castro witnessed the discrimination and did something about it. He knew what it was like to be discriminated and did not want others to feel the same. He knew it was not right. We all have the right to a proper education and Castro saw that.



7:52 am

William Rittenhouse

This was a great article that definetly deserves an award. Congratulations and being nominated for the 5th ever award ceremony because this article definelty deserves an award. The title was great as well the imagery and word choicwew. The descriptions really made the article become alive and engaging to the reader. Again, congratulations on being nominated to the 5th ever history media project award ceremony and I hope it wins an article.



7:52 am

Richard Morales

This article was overall a great read. I enjoyed learning of Sal Castro and how he stood up for his cause and fought against racial discrimination. Being hispanic myself, I am thankful for the fact that these brave people fought for equality and educational rights. The Lincoln High walk out was a very empowering movement to the frustrated youth and I am glad to have learned more about it through this article. Great work and composition and congratulations on your nomination.



7:52 am

Angel Torres

I have seen a couple movies regarding the Chican movements that originated in Los Angeles and it’s very unfortunate what Mexican Americans had to endure. The article highlighted some of the problems and stereotypes Mexican Americans endures in East L.A. I like how the author incorporated different characters such as Sal, David, and Paula. It’s quite shocking how Paula’s teacher told her not go to college because she would end up pregnant like all her other peers. Well written article.



7:52 am

Pamela Callahan

I have never heard of the Chicano movements before, but this article did a great job describing what they were and why they were started. It is hard to imagine that people in the past, and even some people now, are able to look at a person and see them as lesser than just because of the color of their skin. The color of your skin doesn’t define who you are as a person, and I am glad that our country has come to realize that and improve on the treatment of others although we still have a ways to go.



7:52 am

Mariah Garcia

Sal Castro witnessed discrimination and what makes him stand out from the crowd is his courageous act of doing something about it. He knew what it was like to be discriminated, he didn’t want others to feel the same, so he worked to have his voice heard. There are many stereotypes that are given to Mexican Americans in East L.A. and it is hard to read how people belittled and discriminated others because of their skin color. Castro was a strong voice for the minority and their education.



7:52 am

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