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Background Essay on the 1968 Latino Student Walkouts

This short essay describes the social, political, and educational climate that resulted in the 1968 Los Angeles walkouts.

The 1960s were a period of social unrest in American history.  Student movements that helped shape larger struggles for social and political equality emerged from street politics and mass protests.  In 1968, people witnessed student demonstrations in France, Mexico and the United States.  Over 10,000 students followed suit in March of that year walking out of mostly Chicano schools in East Los Angeles to protest the inferior quality of their education.  This event, which came to be known as the East Los Angeles School Walkouts, was part of a Chicano/Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.  They were also a part of a longer history by Mexican Americans to improve their educational opportunities and include their culture and history into their educational experience.

During the 1960s, East Los Angeles schools had a “drop out/push out” rate of almost fifty percent.  Mexican American students were categorized as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed.  School buildings were in decay. Teachers were largely insensitive to the needs of working class Mexican Americans.  Students attempted in various forms to communicate their needs to teachers and administrators but were ignored.  Rather than giving up or remaining silent, students directed their anger and discontent into an organized protest.  This week-long protest, grew larger by the day, impacting schools, students, teachers, and parents.  Everyone was reminded of the importance of equal educational opportunity in their community.

Another significant characterisitc of this youth-led movement is that by 1960, nearly eight-five percent of the Mexican American community were citizens by birth.  They had been informed an aware by shifting terraine of politics in the Mexican and Mexican American community.  From the 1930s until the 1960s, politics were defined through “bread and butter” issues (wages, work conditions) and had much to do with union involvement. In the post World War 2 period, politics shifted as middle class leadership engaged with civil rights.  Laregly middle class, centrist if not conservative, groups sought to pursue politics, challenge Jim Crow, emphasize learning English, and naturalization. Their end goal was greater participation in electoral politics.

The civil rights movement transformed youth. There were several political flashpoints that reverberated through Mexican American commmunities and brought attention to the nation’s second largest minority group.  Here are a few:

These events represented the multi-faceted goals of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement: political representation, economic and educational equality, and cultural pride.  The enclosed chapter, “The Fight for Educational Reform” details one these seminal moments in civil rights history. 

Source | Sources: Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford, 1999); George Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (Oxford, 1995); and F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Arte Publico Press, 1997).
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Background Essay on the 1968 Latino Student Walkouts,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 18, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/509.

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