East L.A. walkouts

East Los Angeles Walkouts
Part of the Chicano Movement
Date 1968
Location Los Angeles, California
Goals Education reform
Methods Walkout

The East Los Angeles Walkouts or Chicano Blowouts were a series of 1968 protests by Chicano students against unequal conditions in Los Angeles Unified School District high schools. The first protest took place on March 1, 1968. The students who organized and carried out the protests were primarily concerned with the quality of their education. This movement (which involved thousands of students in the Los Angeles area[1]) was of the first mass mobilizations by Mexican-Americans in Southern California.[2]


During the 1950s and 1960s, Mexican Americans took part in the national quest for civil rights, fighting important court battles and building social and political movements. Mexican-American youth in particular became politicized, having taken advantage of many opportunities their parents never had.

In a radio interview, Moctesuma Esparza, one of the original walkout organizers, talked about his experiences as a high school student fighting for Chicano rights. Esparza first became involved in activism in 1965 after attending a youth leadership conference. He helped organize a group of Chicano teenagers, Young Citizens for Community Action. This group eventually evolved into Young Chicanos For Community Action, then later as the Brown Berets, still fighting for Mexican-American equality in California.

Esparza graduated 12th grade in 1967, and enrolled at UCLA. He and fellow Chicano students continued organizing protests. He and eleven friends started a group called UMAS. UMAS traveled around to universities recruiting Chicano students who wanted to help increase Chicano enrollment in colleges. UMAS members decided to split up into smaller groups, with each group to mentor students at particular L.A. high schools with high minority enrollment, as well as high drop out rates. Garfield, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Belmont and Wilson high school (all of which were involved in the walkouts) had among the highest dropout rates within the Los Angeles City Schools - Garfield being the school with the highest drop out rates in the city (57.5% of students), with Roosevelt having the second highest dropout rates in Los Angeles City Schools (45% of students).[3] Conditions at these schools also motivated the students to organize and walkout. These conditions were not only related to the high drop out rates of the high schools, but also were related to the fact that classrooms were overcrowded (with about 40 students in a classroom), reading scores for the students were low, school administration were understaffed leaving, at times, one school counselor to 4,000 students, classroom material not reflecting the realities of the majority Chicano/a students (such as within history classes), as well as the belittling attitude with which the teachers treated students.[4] The attitude staff held towards students was reflected in a letter written by a teacher at Lincoln High School, Richard Davis, which stated,

Most of the Mexican-Americans have never had it so good. Before the Spanish came, he was an Indian grubbing in the soil, and after the Spaniards came he was a slave. It seems to me that America must be a very desirable place, witness the number of "wetbacks" and migrants both legal and illegal from Mexico.[5]

Wanting to do something to improve their school system and the conditions with which they were being faced, the students decided to organize. Esparza and a few other UMAS members, along with teacher Sal Castro, helped organize hundreds of students to walkout of classes in 1968 protests to highlight the conditions that they faced. After a few days, they were joined by numerous additional protesters. Following the large number of students involved with the protest, the attention of the school board was gained, and they agreed to meet with students to listen to their demands.[6]


The student walkouts began in East Los Angeles High schools on March 1, 1968. The first students to walk out were from Wilson High School, which was among one of the high school in the Los Angeles area with the highest dropout rates (21.8% of students dropped out from Wilson high school).[7] Though students had been organizing for some time and were planning to engage in the widespread protest of walking out to demonstrate against what were deemed less than satisfactory conditions, the first of the walkouts at Wilson were unplanned, having been motivated by the schools principal cancelling a student produced play which was deemed inappropriate for the students to perform.[8] During this walkout at Wilson more than 200 students were involved; it was following this that students across numerous high schools in East Los Angeles also began the blowout process, with reported numbers of those involved in the walkout being between 2,000 and 5,000 students (within Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Garfield high school).[9]

Student Demands

Following the walkouts, students were able to meet with the board of education. At this meeting, student leaders presented a list of demands that addressed what they felt were the most pressing issues within their schools that effected their education.[10]

These demands included (but were not limited to) the following:

Academic Demands[11]

Administrative Demands

Facilities Demands


Many of the student organizers became prominent in their fields. Moctesuma Esparza, one of the 13 charged with disrupting the schools, who became known as the East L.A. 13, later became a successful film producer. He helped recruit more Chicanos to Hollywood. Harry Gamboa, Jr. became an artist and writer. Carlos Montes, a Brown Berets minister, was charged with arson at a hotel during the Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. Paula Crisostomo became a school administrator, where she continues to fight for reform. Vicky Castro was elected to the Los Angeles Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., went on to a distinguished teaching and research career at the University of California, Berkeley.[13]

The student actions of 1968 inspired later protests that used similar tactics, including the 1994 student walkouts against California Proposition 187, the 2006 student walkouts against H.R. 4437, the 2009 walkouts against Arizona's SB1070, and 2007 walkouts in support of the proposed Cesar Chavez holiday.[14]

See also


  1. "Student Disorders Erupt at 4 High Schools; Policeman Hurt". March 7, 1968 via Los Angeles Times.
  2. Torgerson, Dial (July 1992). ""Brown Power" Unity Seen Behind School Disorders"" via Los Angeles Times.
  3. "Educator Malpractice". September 1968 via La Raza yearbook.
  4. Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.
  5. "Educational Issues Walkthrough". September 1968 via La Raza Yearbook.
  6. "Walkout: The True Story of the Historic 1968 Chicano Student Walkout in East L.A.", Democracy Now Archived April 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. "Educator Malpractice". September 1968 via La Raza Yearbook.
  8. Castro, Sal (2011). Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice. University of North Carolina Press.
  9. "Student Disorders Erupt at 4 High Schools; Policeman Hurt". March 7, 1968 via Los Angeles Times.
  10. Castro, Sal (2011). Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice. University of North Carolina Press.
  11. "Education: School Disputes". March 17, 1968 via Los Angeles Times.
  12. Simpson, Kelly. "East L.A. Blowouts: Walking Out for Justice in the Classrooms".
  13. The Santa Barbara Independent UCSB Conference Looks at 1968 East LA Walkout, 2008
  14. "Walkout" recalls key event in Chicano history, IBL News Archived November 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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