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Cal State L.A. commemorates 1968 student walkouts

LOS ANGELES — More than 1,000 high school students walked on to the Cal State Los Angeles campus March 2 as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 East Los Angeles student walkouts.

The “Walk in to Higher Education” was part of two days of events March 1-2 at Cal State LA exploring the educational legacy of the walkouts that included panels, speakers and a historical photograph and newspaper exhibit chronicling the historic protest through the perspective of Chicano media.

The East L.A. Walkouts, or Blowouts, began in March 1968 as students at five high schools on Los Angeles’ Eastside and their supporters protested against prejudice and inequity in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The walkouts were a seminal event and helped ignite the Chicano civil rights movement in Los Angeles.

At the time, students were forbidden from speaking Spanish in school and largely steered toward vocational careers instead of college. By the time the walkouts culminated, more than 20,000 students — including African Americans, Asian Americans and whites — had walked out of classes across Los Angeles. The actions ultimately led to educational reforms in the nation’s second-largest school district.

Students from the high schools that took part in the walkouts in 1968 — Belmont, Garfield, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson — as well as Mendez, Solis and Torres high schools, filled the Luckman Theatre at Cal State L.A. March 2.

They heard from university, LAUSD and elected officials and watched student mariachi and spoken word performances before heading into an afternoon of workshops exploring the legacy of the East L.A. Walkouts.

As hundreds of students carrying commemorative banners streamed into the theater, they were greeted by LAUSD Board of Education President Mónica García, Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez and Local District East Superintendent José Huerta.

García led the students in energized call-and-response cheers of “Student power!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”

“L.A. Unified has been the place where the Chicano civil rights movement was ignited and it was ignited by students who loved you and believed in you and saw the future where you would be at a great institution like this one,” García told the students.

Cal State L.A. President William A. Covino emphasized how the thousands who walked out in 1968 paved the way for the students of today to succeed in higher education at universities like Cal State L.A.

“You are the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams,” Covino said. “Fifty years after the walkouts, East L.A. and Cal State L.A. have the most successful students in the United States. So, congratulations to you.”

The day of workshops for LAUSD students followed an academic conference the day before. The event featured a keynote address by Cal State L.A. alumnus and former student walkout leader Carlos Muñoz Jr., a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.

Among the many panels was one that focused on women in the movement, which featured two alumni: Vickie Castro, who later was elected to the Los Angeles school board, and Rachael Ochoa, a retired educator. Other panelists included walkout leaders Paula Crisostomo and Cassandra Zacarias. The session was moderated by Cal State LA Professor Dolores Delgado Bernal, who has researched the topic.

The exhibition, curated by Cal State L.A. alumnus and Cal State Northridge emeritus professor Raul Ruiz, will be displayed in the library through May 31.