“Walkout!” The Role of Institutions During and Following the East L.A. Student Walkouts (by Jovani Azpeitia)

STANDARDS

History-Social Science Content Standard

11.11 – Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American Society.

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

Key Ideas and Details

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Craft and Structure

5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

OVERVIEW

The East L.A. Student Walkouts, also known as the Chicano Blowouts, highlighted student, parent, and community frustration toward the inferior education Mexican-American high school students experienced in the Los Angeles Unified School District. While the Walkouts in and of themselves were significant, so was the organizing and aftermath surrounding these events. The first goal of this unit will be to introduce students to the East L.A. Walkouts and the subsequent student demands to understand the context for the events that followed. Furthermore, through focusing on the responses of the Board of Education of East L.A. and the judicial system, another goal of this unit is to help students understand how community organizers highlighted racist underpinnings of these institutions in Los Angeles.  

Through reading primary sources regarding the Walkouts and watching a documentary, students will try to understand the sentiments the drove students to walk out of their high schools in 1968. Additionally, students will use secondary sources to use theories that will help them become critical of institutions (i.e., school district and judicial system) that claim to work for the interest of the people. Through these skills, students will become more critical of contemporary society and how current society continues to grapple with some of the concerns raised by the East L.A. Student Walkouts.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING

Students will analyze how the East L.A. Student Walkouts shed light on how certain institutions failed to serve the Mexican-American community.

QUESTIONS

  1. What were the East L.A. Student Walkouts?
  2. Why were the East L.A. Thirteen targeted following the Walkouts?
  3. How were the Brown Berets used as scapegoats?
  4. How did Chicanas contribute to the efforts of the Brown Berets?

GLOSSARY

Chicano – the chosen identity of some Mexican-Americans in the U.S., used to express “ethnic pride, cultural awareness, and a commitment to community.”

Sal Castro – teacher at Lincoln High School who supported the Student Walkouts.

East L.A. Thirteen – thirteen Chicanos arrested for conspiracy charges of organizing the Student Walkouts.

Brown Berets – formerly known as the Youth Citizens for Community Action, a militant pro-Chicano group that gained notoriety during the Student Walkouts.

INTRODUCTION

Frustrated with inferior educational opportunities and facilities, students from four East Los Angeles High Schools – Wilson, Garfield, Lincoln, and Roosevelt – with majority Mexican-American student bodies decided to take matters into their own hands. Realizing that schools received money based on student attendance, by staging a walkout, students could have a financial lever over their high schools. Students received support from community members, in particular, the Brown Berets and those who would later be known as the East L.A. Thirteen. Through this unit, you will learn about the events that came to be known as the East L.A. Student Walkouts and how subsequent events highlighted how local institutions at the time failed to serve the Mexican-American community.

Following the week in which more than 15,000 students participated in the walkouts, students presented a list of 36 demands to the Los Angeles Unified School District. The demands covered a range of suggested school changes and improvements in the areas of academics, administrative, facilities, and student rights. Holding their ground, students and parents did not discuss these demands with the Board of Education of East Los Angeles until they agreed to hold a special meeting in East L.A. However, the schools suggested that such demands could not be met due to the finances and personnel needed but not available.

Police officers did not believe such a staged walkout could be organized by high school students, and thus they looked for potential outside culprits trying to taint the mind of youth. The Brown Berets were used as scapegoats given their militancy, when in reality, they were simply called to “back up, advise, and assist” the high school students. Police arrested thirteen young men for assisting in the planning of the mass high school student walkouts, whom later came to be known as the East L.A. Thirteen. Their bails were reduced once their educational backgrounds and community work were highlighted in the court room. However, the trial of the East L.A. Thirteen drew attention to lack of Mexican-American representation in grand juries due to discrimination on behalf of Mexican-Americans from judges only nominating people from their inner social circles, whom tended to be White and wealthy.

Lastly, even though local institutions were failing to properly serve the Mexican-American community in East L.A., Chicano groups such as the Brown Berets had their own pitfalls. In this unit, you will get to read oral histories from Chicanas involved in the Brown Berets. By shifting your traditional views of what leadership entails, you will learn how Chicanas were the backbones of the organization.

This unit will introduce you to the East L.A. Student Walkouts. Assignments in this unit will ask you to be critical of the institutions and organizations that were in place to help their local communities. As you begin to piece information together, you will come to realize that the Walkouts brought out important issues not only within the L.A. Unified School District but also within local government and the Brown Berets.

MATERIALS

  1. Chicano! – Taking Back the Schools
  2. Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed
  3. Board Will Hear Demands From 4 East L.A. Schools
  4. Bail Reduced for 9 in Walkouts at 4 Schools
  5. Mexican-American School Walkout Focused on Problem
  6. Grassroots Leadership Reconceptualized: Chicana Oral Histories and the 1968 East Los Angeles School Blowouts
  7. Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse
  8. “Mi raza primero!” (My people first!): Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978
  9. Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice
  10. Blank printer paper, poster paper, and markers.

ACTIVITIES

Day One

  • One homework assigned will be assigned before the start of this unit. Ask students to reflect on their educational experiences and write one paragraph describing a change or improvement they would have liked to see for the future of education. Students will bring these hard-copies of these paragraphs to class.
  • Students will get into small groups of 4-5 students and each share what their change or improvement was about and share their reasoning for it.
  • Provide each group with a piece of blank paper and one marker to write a list of changes/improvements their group came up with, without writing students’ names. Once each group is done, collect these sheets of paper.
  • Once all sheets of are collected, the teacher will create one large document with all students’ suggested changes/improvements, which will be printed and shared with all students the next day. The teacher will attempt to categorize items by themes.
  • For homework, students will watch “Chicano! Taking Back the Schools.”

Day Two

  • Students will get into small groups of 4-5 students and share what they found interesting, important, and inspiring from the documentary.
  • Following this discussion, teacher will share printed copies of the class’ list of suggested changes/improvements.
  • Students will also receive a copy of “Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed,” which they will spend some class time reading over.
  • Once students are done reading the list of their own class’ suggestions and the East L.A. 1968 student demands, facilitate a class discussion to look at the similarities and differences between the lists. Ask students what it would take for them to organize a walkout and whether they think their school districts would listen to their demands.
  • For homework, students will be asked to read Chapter 4 from “Racism on Trial” and pages 9-11 of “Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse.”

Day Three

  • Students will spend the first 5 minutes of class writing down any thoughts or reactions to the readings.
  • The rest of class time will be a facilitated class discussion about the Day Two assigned readings focusing on the how we can make sense of the readings through the following quote: “According to Guillory, schools, like the courts, maintain social inequalities but actually succeed by taking as their first object not the reproduction of social relations but the reproduction of the institution itself” from page 11 of the “Rethinking the Borderlands” reading.
  • For homework, students will be asked to read “Board Will Hear Demands From 4 East L.A. Schools,” “Mexican-American School Walkout Focused on Problem,” and pages 46-50 of “”Mi raza primero!” (My people first!): Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978”

Day Four

  • Students will split into groups of 4-5 students to discuss some of the conditions that led to the establishment of the organizations such as the Brown Berets and the Educational Issues Committee.
  • As part of a larger class discussion, students will discuss the implications of referring to student walkouts as the “Brown Beret cases.”
  • For homework, students will be asked to read “Grassroots Leadership Reconceptualized: Chicana Oral Histories and the 1968 East Los Angeles School Blowouts” and identify specific examples of how Chicanas participated in the five dimensions of leadership listed in the reading.

Day Five

  • Students will begin class with a drawing activity. Students will once again be asked to split into groups of 4-5 students, with each group receiving a large piece of poster paper that can placed on the wall, as well as a few markers. Given everything students have read so far, students will be asked to draw what a typical leader looks like.
  • Following this activity, small groups will share out to the class what they drew. Students will then receive a second piece of poster paper and asked to answer the same question, but this time, with a particular focus on the content from assigned reading for that day.
  • Students will then compare and contrast their own group’s drawings and then walk around, gallery-style, to look at other group’s drawings.
  • Class will end with a short class discussion of what they learned about their preconceived notions of leadership, particularly of the Brown Berets in the student walkouts, and their (potential) new understandings of leadership given the reading and class activity.
  • The final homework assignment for this unit will be a 3-5-page reflection paper guided the quote from Bernal’s piece on page 115. “Kenneth Kann writes that there are three types of history: “the kind you live, the kind you hear about, and the kind you read about.”‘ The second, when documented as oral history, transforms the first into the third: Lived history becomes written history.” Students will be asked to use previously assigned homework, in-class discussions, and activities as pieces of support in their paper; with a focus on how institutions and organizations shape these histories. The reflection paper must end with a paragraph with any questions they still may have and what their plan is to go about answering those questions. Students will also be asked to include at least one new primary source and at least one new secondary source as part of this assignment.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

Espinoza, Dionne. ““Revolutionary Sisters”: Women’s Solidarity and Collective Identification among Chicana Brown Berets in East Los Angeles, 1967–1970.” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 26, no. 1 (2001): 17-58.

Sahagun, Louis. “East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The Day High School Students Helped Ignite the Chicano Power Movement.” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2018. https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-1968-east-la-walkouts-20180301-htmlstory.html.

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