Above, The re-enactment of the March 11, 1968 meeting includes the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by former students who participated in the walkouts. (Photo by James Perry)
With current officials portraying their counterparts from generations past, the Board of Education on Tuesday re-enacted the historic meeting of March 11, 1968, when students from five East Los Angeles high schools presented their demands for social justice and an equitable education.
The meeting was one of a series of events held this month commemorating the 50th anniversary of the student demonstrations that sparked the Chicano civil rights movement. Disgruntled with inequities in educational programs and opportunities that impaired their academic progress, students from high schools in East Los Angeles built a grass-roots movement that demanded – and eventually won – significant educational opportunities and reforms.
“I am proud to be a daughter of East Los Angeles,” School Board President Mónica García said as she opened the special meeting. “Thank you to the heroes of 1968.”
The audience first viewed a black-and-white documentary of the late Lincoln High social studies teacher Sal Castro, who became a leader and role model for student activists. The video depicted the educational inequities of the time, and the demonstrations mounted by more than 15,000 students from Belmont, Garfield, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson High Schools.
The walkouts culminated with the board meeting in March 1968, when students presented District leaders with three dozen demands. They included the hiring of more Mexican-American teachers and administrators; an end to prejudice and harassment against Chicano students; and the expansion of bilingual education. It was that meeting the board re-created on Tuesday, with District leaders portraying school board members and administrators and current students depicting activists who were involved in the ’68 walkouts. They read from a script of the 1968 meeting, an echo of that historic day.
As a result of that meeting, the District began to enact reforms and expand opportunities for students of color. Officials noted that 18 months after the student walkouts, for instance, the number of L.A. Unified graduates accepted to UCLA skyrocketed from just 40 to 1,250.
After the re-enactment, several of the former students involved in those long-ago demonstrations recalled their experiences and the lasting impact of the movement.
“We were faced with racism and indignity,” said Margarita Cuaron, who attended Garfield High. “The only weapon I had was my voice.”
Added Montezuma Esperanza, “This was a historic movement, and it transformed education for the better.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina called herself a “follower of the great walkout” that showcased the ability of young people to effect change.
“This was courageous action,” she said, “and young people today need to be part of the action, to be part of a movement … It’s not about walking out of school but about making a difference.”