On March 7, 1968, 20,000 Chicano high school students went out on strike for respect, equality and an end to racist treatment in the Los Angeles public school system.
The “Blowouts” were the kettle whistle signaling that the simmering 120-year struggle of the Chicano people had reached a boiling point — a struggle that began with the U.S. annexation of the Southwest from Mexico in 1848.
The Blowouts were centered in East L.A. high schools like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson and Garfield. Support came from Black community high schools like Franklin and Dennis and Jefferson, as well as Belmont, which was largely Asian American.
Sal Castro, a teacher-leader of the Blowouts, describes a colonial atmosphere in the schools, where “white teachers, white administrators were running the schools in the barrios, with complete disregard for the needs of the community.”
East L.A., the country’s largest Chicano community, was home to more than a million Chicanos, yet there were almost no Chicano high school teachers, counselors, administrators. The curriculum was racist and de meaning. High school was a negative experience. As Moctezuma Esparza, now famous filmmaker, recalls, “The primary condition was expecting that the Chicano youth could not achieve.”
Before 1968, Chicanos were a people without professionals. We had no doctors, teachers, administrators, lawyers. That year the drop-out rate was 57% at Garfield alone. Of those who graduated, few went on to college. In 1966, Chicanos were 10% of the state population, yet only 19 Chicanos were enrolled at UCLA. That’s .007%!!! To the system, we were a source of cheap labor to be exploited, not educated.
In 1966-67 Chicanos were becoming aware that we were one people throughout the Southwest, wronged for 120 years. We learned from the Black experience, from the Civil Rights and the
Black Power Movements — and as a people, we stood up and militantly demanded our basic
rights. The Blowouts ushered in a new era of unity, national pride and creativity in the Chicano Nation. Too many of our people were being wasted. We were angry. We demanded immediate change.
Twenty years later this March 6, a commemoration of the Blowouts was held at City Hall with over 500 celebrants, in honor of Sal Castro.
Sal Castro himself expressed, “In 1963 they threw me out of Belmont and sent me to Lincoln. There I continued talking to young people. … By 1967 I knew that only a mass effort, a mass strike, a mass walkout would make any changes in the educational system.” He listed many who, because of the Blowouts, had the chance to go to college and develop a profession. “Would I do it again?” said Castro. “A trillion times over!”
Councilman Richard Alatorre, Al Juarez, Moctezuma Esparza and many others put this event together to honor Sal Castro.
This event, notes Al “ Juarez, “kicks off a two-year commemoration … of reflection, of introspection and perhaps a new dialogue between ourselves and the powers that be in educational circles of the United States.
Indeed, the conditions that gave rise to the Blowouts still exist in East Los Angeles, and today’s Chicano youth are still struggling for justice and equality. As Leticia Quezada of the L.A. school board stated at the 20-year commemoration, “ … if things don’t change, we will blow-out again!”
Roberto Flores was active in the Blowouts, as one of the few Chicano students then at UCLA. Fie was also a founder of the UCLA UMAS and the Oxnard Brown Berets.