Monday Marks 50th Anniversary of Mexican American Students Walking Out of East L.A. Schools, Igniting Historic Movement

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Fifty years ago, Mexican American students in East L.A. high schools walked out of class and launched a historic movement protesting substandard conditions in their schools.

Garfield High School, where the walkouts began March 5, 1968, commemorated that movement Thursday by ceding the stage to its current students. One group performed a musical history of the so-called blowouts: “We’ve got to walk out, walk out for justice. We’ve got to walk out, walk out for brown rights.” A young man recited a poem he had written about what it means to be Chicano in East L.A. today.

In 1968, students were trying to call attention to a host of problems in their schools, including massive class sizes, racist teachers and the use of corporal punishment, said Yoli Rios, who walked out of Lincoln High School half a century ago. She told hundreds of Garfield students gathered for a special assembly that her math teacher would put an assignment on the board, then pull out a putter and and practice his golf.

The walkouts brought almost immediate changes, Bobby Verdugo, Rios’ husband and a fellow walkout leader, said in an interview. Corporal punishment disappeared. Chicano college-going rates increased. But both Rios and Verdugo pointed out that students still face hurdles today. Black and Latino students still are often tracked into less academically challenging classes. Class sizes remain large. Schools in wealthier communities still have greater resources.

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