The student walkouts at East LA Schools – 45 years later: Have things changed?

It is a time, an event, that is lionized in the mythos of Latinos in the United States and especially among the Chicanos of East Los Angeles. The first week of March 1968 when students at Lincoln High School and several other Los Angeles schools walked out of classes to protest the discrimination they faced on a daily basis and the inadequate resources in their schools. In the days that followed, thousands more students in other California schools, as well as other schools across the country, joined by walking out of classes to protest similar conditions in their districts.

The student leadership at Lincoln High School presented a list of 39 demands to authorities. It was the beginning of a golden age for Latino education in Los Angeles and California—right? Wrong! This is where the myth runs into reality.

The reality is that at the schools where the walkouts occurred, things have not changed that much. Dropout rates are as high, if not higher, today than they were in 1968. There have been some improvements in cultural recognition and physical sites but no real substantive changes.

Luis Torres, a leader of the walkouts and a broadcast news reporter in Los Angeles for over 25 years, even wrote in a 2008 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times commemorating the 40th Anniversary that the results of the walkouts were more perception than reality, “The Chicano walkout was about dignity…Forty years ago, the Los Angeles school board was the Man. Today, it is an ally with the community in the effort to improve education. We have come very far in many ways, but we have a long way to go.”

Looking at the Los Angeles School District State of the Schools Report, the LAUSD Performance Meter 2011-12, there is a long way to go. Latinos have about a 57% graduation, among English Learners that figure is less than 40%.

The basic reality is that while there have been cosmetic improvements in curriculum and programs, physical facilities, and cultural respect and toleration, the main purpose and results of the Los Angeles education system—graduating Latinos who are ready for college and for leadership positions at the local, state and federal level—have not changed significantly in the 45 years since the walkouts. Some of the individuals involved went on to brighter and better things, but most did not. College attendance and the higher paying jobs, that come with higher education, is still the exception rather than the rule.

There is nothing to suggest that the intended legacy of student walkouts will be achieved anytime soon. This goes not only for Los Angeles but for every urban school district in the United States with a sizable Latino component.

By Being Latino Contributor, Jeffery Cassity. Jeffery is a mostly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative Anglo male who is involved in his local Hispanic community as the widower of a 1st generation Mexican-American woman and his active, some would say hyperactive, membership in the local Council of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC).


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