The Walkouts of 1968 and the Press

How La Opinión Met The Los Angeles Times

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Sal Castro, 1968.

Introduction

The March 1968 walkouts by Hispanic students in Los Angeles –a series of massive boycotting of classes that lasted more than one week—and their aftermath, changed the self perception of the Latino community in Los Angeles.  This was accomplished by promoting reform of the public school system and introducing Mexican American studies into the curriculum, promoting civic participation by area Hispanics, increasing available avenues of higher education to thousands of high school students, and reducing overall drop out and absenteeism for years.

These walkouts were part of, as well as connected to, a wider trend of protest that catapulted the youth of Europe, Latin America, and the United States to the forefront of the campaign for social justice, equality, and peace. During that same month, student protests in Italy led to the closure of the University of Rome; 10,000 students marched against the Vietnam War in London; students in Poland invaded their Ministry of Culture, Generalisimo Francisco Franco closed the University of Madrid following protests by Spanish students, and Daniel Cohn Bendit led massive marches at the University of Paris.[1] These separate but related incidents preceded even more dramatic events including a general strike in France which occurred in May, the Massacre of Tlatelolco in Mexico in October, and the “Cordobazo” riots in Argentina in May of the following year. In each, students initiated and were often the leaders of significant social movements.  However, at that time–as this paper will try and show—there was widespread rejection inside the Los Angeles Latino community to the walkout itself as well as the students’ demands, by an important sector of the Hispanic establishment at that time.  This was observed in the coverage of these events provided by La Opinión, the largest and most important Spanish language newspaper in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. La Opinión demonstrated its rejection by ignoring the motives of the movement, focusing instead on a perceived element of violence allegedly exercised by high school students against the Los Angeles Police. La Opinión consistently minimized the number of students involved, by claiming–as did law enforcement, school authorities, and television news– that the protests were inspired, named, and organized by a small group of non-student, radical, political agitators, or by just ignoring the events; in other words, by not covering them.

This paper will compare the coverage of La Opinión to the one provided by the Los Angeles Times, and examine how the events beginning March 5, 1968 at Garfield and Jefferson High Schools were reflected in the pages of both dailies. It will also examine coverage by The Modesto Bee, The Van Nuys News, and The Oakland Tribune.[2]

Walkouts and 1968: the framework

For years the walkouts of 1968 in East Los Angeles were largely ignored by the public perception of “1968,” and, instead, viewed as an isolated outburst of rage by some sectors of the Hispanic population.[3] But the walkouts were part of the cycle of “1968,” reflecting–in correspondence with the theses formulated by historians Carol Fink, Phillip Gassert, and Detlef Junker–a turn in the Cold War.  The global aspect of the protests was created by the connecting work of mass media; and the activists created “informal networks of… collaboration.”[4]

Even if one considers the demands to be more related to the everyday life of students than to a higher political consciousness, the mere abandonment of classrooms represented a challenge to established power, by breaking state law and creating a confrontation with authorities and public opinion alike. Coming from a community which until then was relatively absent from public discussion, and for which political participation was a much more radical departure when compared with the white non-Latino community, the walkouts can be considered as a defining moment, a watershed, an opportunity for a realignment of social relations. In that sense the acts by these students destroyed the limited frame of internal school demands and moved into the larger political realm. For historian Michael Soldatenko, “Students and the East Los Angeles community transformed the immediate struggle for educational rights into practices that disrupted the institutional imaginary and postulated a second order based on self-determination and participatory democracy.”[5] They had a temporary success and thus “for a crucial historical moment, the blowouts redefined Chicano/a choices and politics in Los Angeles.”[6]

In California, the walkouts, as Dolores Bernal defined them, were also “part of the struggle to end school segregation” against a ruling ideology defined by Anglo Saxon superiority, against the ideological needs of modern capitalism, and the theories of IQ intelligence that were then en vogue.[7] Those cultural tools served to perpetuate an ideology of inferiority internalized by residents of East Los Angeles. The demands of the youth –from junior high, high schools, and colleges- started from their own experience as part of a segregated, discriminated, and humiliated Latino minority. The 32 demands they presented to the Los Angeles Unified School District and ten others, elaborated two months earlier, were eclectic, ranging from the guaranteeing of free speech, amnesty for the participants of the classroom boycotts, to establishing bilingual education, Mexican American history classes, introducing Mexican food in school cafeterias and keeping restrooms open at all times. But they clearly reflected their views on their own conditions and their desire to change their own destiny.

In his epilogue to a work otherwise focusing on the first half of the 20th century, historian Eric Avila referred to the restless cultural and political climate in the second half of the sixties in Los Angeles, which developed along racial lines. He established a historical context for the walkouts even without mentioning them, by citing as examples of events that shaped cultural and political thinking. Among them were the debate over Chavez Ravine in 1958, the riots of South Central in 1965, the assassination of Robert Kennedy in June of 1968, the killings of the Manson family, and the killing of Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Salazar by police in 1970. The elite then viewed the class boycotts as part of a wave of violent protests and reactions that ultimately led to drastic measures like Proposition 13 in 1978.[8]

The walkouts, boycott or abandonment of classes lasted for one week, from March 5 through March 12, but their preparation took  months, and consequences continued for years to come. Contrary to an image of spontaneity present in popular perception, the walkout from classes as a tool of protest was already and extensively used elsewhere before and after[9]. The walkouts were a tool selected well in advance by local political organizations as a tactic to escalate their activities, grab the attention of the media, expand social consciousness among Chicano youth, and incrementally increase their influence. According to school officials, “they had received reports of a threatened student strike in the East Los Angeles schools for several weeks.”[10] These student groups, as historian Edward Escobar stated, “challenged many of the previous generation’s assumptions and tactics;” they represented, then, a schism within the Hispanic community between the old and the new.[11] And indeed, those were very young activists, almost kids, “primarily… young people of high school and college age who had grown frustrated with the sluggish pace of traditional reform politics.”[12]

In 1965, with the support of teacher Sal Castro, students from various high schools created the group Young Citizens for Community Action, with later changed its name into Young Chicanos for Community Action (also YCCA). They finally turned into two groups, the Brown Berets, a group modeled after the Black Panthers, and United Mexican American Students (UMAS). UMAS was especially active among University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) students, and between January 15, and February 15, 1968, launched a series of tuition hike demonstrations at UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles. A faction of UMAS and another group, first called the Emergency Support Committee, then the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee (EICC), later turned into the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MECha. Other prominent groups, later, were the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, an anti-war organization, and La Raza Unida party. All of them, wrote Escobar, “were reformist, not revolutionary”.[13] The walkouts were organized mainly by UMAS and the Brown Berets.[14]

The walkouts were the result of a combination of an increasing trend toward cultural awareness and political activism among Hispanic Americans that was in the works for years, with figures like Reies Tijerina, Rodolfo “Corky” González, Cesar Chavez, Bert Corona and Edward Roybal. Scholar Michael Soldatenko defined events like the UFW grape boycott, Cesar Chavez hunger strike, La Alianza takeover of Kit Carson National Forest, and the civil rights struggle of African Americans as the “environment” of the student’s action.[15] They indeed provided a living movement to identify with, compare to and learn from. Then, a specific organizing effort used walkouts as an escalating tactic provided a second needed component.[16] Finally, an immediate, spontaneous, unforeseen event—the first protest was not planned—spread the desire to act, and facilitated the insertion of thousands into the political process.[17]

The effects of the walkouts lasted for years. The decisions taken by the Los Angeles School Board under the students’ pressure included important political changes that reflected the demographic changes in the city and the increasing politicization and participation of Hispanics. The daily press of Los Angeles recorded and transmitted these events in ways that reflected their own positions, social origins, and professional shortcomings.

At the time of the walkouts of 1968, La Opinión was a much smaller daily than what it is now-the second newspaper in the area after the Times. But it was already identified as the main journalistic expression of the growing Hispanic community of this area. Initially from San Antonio, Texas, Ignacio Lozano established the paper in September 1926. The ownership passed in 1953 to his son Ignacio E. Lozano, who was the publisher by the time of the walkouts, and then, in 1986, to his granddaughter Monica and grandson José Ignacio. In 1980 a partnership with Times Mirror gave the Los Angeles Times a 50% ownership on the newspaper. By 2004 this partnership ended, and in 2005 La Opinión became part of a large conglomerate of Spanish media, Impremedia, still retaining Monica Lozano as publisher and vice-president of the corporation. With a 135,000 daily circulation, and almost 500,000 daily readership, it is the No. 1 Spanish newspaper in the country.  By the time of the Walkouts, La Opinión ran editions of 12 to 24 pages, with 24 additional pages for special Sunday supplements. The paper’s daily coverage concentrated on dispatches from the Vietnam War, especially those stating heavy Vietcong losses and American claims for victory, which ran almost daily on eight columns on its front page, with a patriotic tone, as well as information about the presidential campaign. During those months, that flow of information ceased abruptly during the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and, for three days, because of the student walkouts in Los Angeles.

During the Protests

In the movie “Walkout”, Sal Castro, then a teacher at Garfield High School who later became the main known figure behind the protests, tells his students who ask for his help, not to walk out, but instead to organize, as they did.[18] The depiction is accurate. A period of preparations that lasted a few months allowed for an organizing process and the influence of political Chicano groups from outside the school. All that was needed was a detonator, a catalyst, a special event. This particular incident could have been the seemingly arbitraryMarch 1st “cancellation by the Administration at Woodrow Wilson junior and senior high schools of a school play, ‘Barefoot in the Park’”,[19] and the protests surrounding it by 300 pupils, approximately 9% of the student body. According to Frank, it “served to convince the walkout leaders that the time had come.” (73)

But even if this was a watershed event, the mainstream press did not report it. The first sign of the protests in mainstream press came only on March 5, when a 300 word story in the Los Angeles Times informed readers that student groups at two high schools –Garfield and Jefferson – launched “separated boycotts of classes… to protest educational practices and cafeteria conditions”.[20] The story came with a picture on four columns, actually much larger than the copy. In it, a group of helmeted police officers is seen cordoning a line of students off the street, with the caption “Precaution–Sheriff’s deputies keep eye on Garfield High School students who boycotted their classes to protest educational practices”. The paper was mum about what “practices” were protested and that day did not mind to ask the students. Its only quoted source: Principal Reginald Murphy of Garfield High School.

The same day, La Opinión also reported on the boycott on page 3, with an even shorter story, no photo, but a four column headline at the top of the page: “Violence in Garfield school. Three students apprehended”.[21] Immediately, the perception created was of lawlessness in the school, a deplorable behavior, and an upcoming punishment. In the reporting itself, though, there was no mention of the word “violence” or its causes.[22] Instead of “2,700 of the 3,750” Garfield pupils demonstrating as cited in the Times report, La Opinión referred to just 700, of which “only a small minority were responsible for throwing eggs, rocks, and bottles.” The students were, “some said,” celebrating the “Day of Crispus Attucks”, the first African American killed in the revolutionary war, a fact denied “by school authorities”.

In the Times coverage, the event was stripped of its political and ethnic characteristics. The headline was neutral, not editorializing: “Classes boycotted by Student Groups at 2 High Schools”, but the action lacked known real motives, like it was a mysterious appearance. Instead, it was defined as a protest launched after “one cafeteria serving line was shut down due to lack of patronage”, an affirmation that per se turned the protest, for the reader, into something irrational and unjustified.

The next day became meaningful when protests expanded to Lincoln and Roosevelt High Schools and both sides—students and school authorities—attempted to find common ground and advance a shared proposal for some educational reform and increased student participation. A demonstration organized by UMAS in Garfield High delivered 200 students to a rally at nearby Atlantic Park, where they passed out flyers stating13 demands, which were later read by principal Murphy. He agreed with the demands. Additionally, between 800 and 1,700 students from Lincoln High School walked out and presented their demands directly to the Board of Education. They negotiated with Board officials and were promised a meeting with two members of the LASD for the 8th.[23] Instead, the Los Angeles Times account for that day emphasized clashes with police, not contacts or negotiations. The newspaper reported on around 400 students in Roosevelt High, and 250 at Garfield, boycotting classes.[24] There was though a reference to the fact that police was initiating violence: “violence erupted at Roosevelt after police called a tactical alert and attempted to break up a crowd that formed following the noon recess,” and the reporters of the paper kept distance from both groups.

In comparison, La Opinión ran the story as the main one, in eight columns, under the headline: “Disturbances in Four schools of Los Angeles”[25] Again, there was no interviewing of protagonists, but rather one-sided reporting, as if the writer was embedded with the police and fed by official releases. The paper stated “vague confusion” about the motives for the demonstrations, attributing that confusion to the students and not to its own failure to obtain the relevant information. This line loyally paralleled the police report: the students attacked the sheriff’s deputies with bottles and rocks, and some of them were detained. Number of students participating according to La Opinión: a total of 800, just 10% lower than that calculated by the Time.

An AP wire that appeared the same day in The Modesto Bee made the Brown Berets responsible for the walkouts “for inciting hundreds of high school students to boycott classes”.[26] The theme, also here, was that of a “violence” of which the police were  usually the victim. There was not even room for a description of the motives and demands of the high school students.

Where reports differed was when Blacks were involved. The English language press placed their story and demands first. Only then it mentioned those of Mexican Americans, exclusive to Hispanics. That was accordance with the dominant perception of African Americans as protagonists in protests for the civil rights. The phenomenon of young Hispanics vying for their own cultural identity was not grasped yet. While the Los Angeles Times recognized that the majority of students at Garfield were Hispanics, it nevertheless stated that Jefferson was “predominantly Negro.” On the other hand, that fact was never disclosed in La Opinión, for which the protests were always Hispanic.

Blacks in Jefferson High School, and whites in Venice and other high schools were influenced by antiwar organizations like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Some white students in Roosevelt who took part in the movement, and according to David Sánchez, then leader of the Brown Berets and later consultant for the film “Walkout”, even “Asians were involved in the walkouts, especially at Belmont.”[27]

That racial insight continued on the pages of the Los Angeles Times account, published the next day. Dwelling on the “sad eyes” of the Carver School principal while witnessing the windows in his institution broken by seemingly irrational youngsters ages 12 to 14. Their actions were attributed to “feelings throughout the minority community”. There was no word, on that day, of activity in other schools.[28] La Opinión expressed a similar position, stressing that there were “No Reports of Disruptions in the Los Angeles Schools.” [29] But paper went on to describe the failure of two small groups to convince their fellow students to leave class, thus adjudicating a small victory for school authorities, police, and the sheriff. The two groups, about 20 youngsters each, were described as non-students, carrying large photographs of Fidel Castro and shouting “¡Viva la Revolución!” Similar to the way the paper was emphasizing the large numbers of Vietcong fighters killed by Americans in Vietnam it focused on what it could perceive as the beginning of the end for the walkouts. Both were highly undesirable accounts.

But according to Frank, that day, at the headquarters of the LASD, 200 “student agitators”[30] demonstrated, and moreover, 1000 students from Lincoln and Roosevelt attended a promised meeting at the East Los Angeles office of the LAUSD. Julian Nava, the sole Hispanic member of its board, made then a commitment to discuss the students’ demands at a plenary meeting of the institution on Monday 11. (83-84)

The next day, the Los Angeles Times showed a photograph of Latino U.S. representative Edward Roybal “who flew here from Washington because of the demonstrations” while addressing the crowd at Hazard Park in the presence of Nava and another member of LAUSD. That day, according to the Times,  a total of 1,000 students “boycotted classes at four East Los Angeles high schools again.”[31] The paper went on to describe the negotiations between the student leaders and the school Board members. Finally, the Times described with accuracy the protesters requests: “including replacement of old buildings, more emphasis on Mexican cultural heritage in curriculum and textbooks, expanded student rights, bilingual instruction, smaller classes and a Mexican-oriented cafeteria menu”. In Jefferson High, black students met with the president and a black member of the Board, and complained “about the cafeteria, student rights, teacher attitudes toward Negroes and other educational matters.” Dr. Nava was on the record defending the protesters and saying that “this thing is fully controllable and is positive and constructive”.

And La Opinión? There was no report for the day. No story, no coverage at all. Like the walkouts never happened. Only an editorial piece. Apparently, the events were not important enough for the editors. Or maybe they were bound by their own assertions, a day before, that the movement was dead.

As for the School Board meeting on Monday, March 11, the Times reported that it agreed to “a number of student demands.”[32] The justification given to the concessions was the need to bring an end to the student unrest, then in six high schools: Garfield, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Belmont, Wilson, and Jefferson. In addition, that day, demonstrations were held at Venice High, were about 3,500 students were absent.  Positions among faculty were divided. In contrast with the opposition to concessions by Jefferson High teachers, Ray Ceniceroz, Garfield High faculty chairman said, according to the Times:

We feel disturbed and ashamed that these kids are carrying out our fight. We should have been fighting for these things as teachers and as community. Apparently we have been using the wrong weapons. These kids found a new weapon-a new monster-the walkout. If this is the way things are done, I’m just sorry we didn’t walk out.”

According to an AP dispatch published by The Van Nuys News, in the meeting also participated student representatives from John Marshall and Hamilton High schools.[33] The AP wire detailed a declaration by Jack Crowther, Superintendent of Los Angeles City Schools, in which he announced that “effective immediately,” 15 new positions “be assigned to the divisions of secondary education” to meet the students demands.

Again, there was no coverage of La Opinión on that day. By ignoring the events, so central in the life of the Latino community, the newspaper was either declaring its view on the lack of importance for the walkouts, expressing its acute lack of resources to cover the news, or both.

The disparity on the coverage on both papers –one detailing the numerous walkouts, protests, negotiations and other activities and the other almost ignoring the series of event in the Latino community—increased on the next day, March 12. The Los Angeles Times reported on the continuation of the boycott, although with a reduced rate of absenteeism, and on a big march of 1,000 at Venice High.[34] It also communicated that “student leaders from East Los Angeles reportedly met with students from Dorsey, Hamilton and University high schools… in an attempt to spur a sympathy boycott at the West Side Schools”, and about a walkout at Edison Junior High. The picture was one of escalation in the width of the protests, their tactics, and the people involved.

But La Opinión’s front-page, important story announced literally the end of the walkouts. The information used was that contained in the AP wire published the day before. The abandonment of classes by a thousand students ran by the Times on March 12 was only reported on March 15. In the content, there was, again, no evidence of serious independent coverage.[35] Two days later, the newspaper told that students formulated a list of nine demands. Among them, one asking to be allowed to smoke.”[36] Their only quoted source of the Spanish newspaper: the Principal of Venice High, Robert Bosanko.

By then, the bulk of the walkouts ended. How many people participated in the protests? According to Frank, Grand Jury and Police records showed that they were around 4,000. Frank Del Olmo, in an account written for the Los Angeles Times in 1980, repeated the same number for “when the blowouts reached their peak March 8, a rainy Friday when students marched off their campuses to an East Side park for a protest rally”[37] For Bernal, they were 10,000 (82). The same number was mentioned in an interview with David Sánchez in 2006.[38] In interviews leading to the opening of the screening of “Walkout”, the made for HBO movie, director Edward James Olmos claimed that there were 22,000.[39] La Opinión did not provide final numbers, but from adding those that it published, the number was less than 4,000.

Keywords and editorials

A comparison between the coverage of the Los Angeles Times and La Opinión is difficult, as the type of publication and the resources mobilized by both were very different from the beginning: apparently, the Spanish newspaper actually did not send reporters to the scene. Yet there is importance in the cultural images and moral values assigned by each newspaper to the protest activities.  In the coverage, La Opinión termed the protests as “violence”, “egg-throwing, bottles and rocks”, “disorders”, “brawl”, and referred to the protesters as “not-students”, “defiant”, “troublemakers”, “deserters” and “agitators”. The School District was cast under a more positive light, as “studying demands”, “conciliatory.” Police was supported as “the authorities”, “reacted”, “restrained”, “interrogation”. These stereotypes corresponded to a negative image of the students, and a mature, paternalistic and benevolent reaction of authorities. They did change, however, after the end of the boycott into a more conciliatory tone. La Opinión expressed suspicion that the leaders of the movement were external agitators. A source for these epithets as well as for the accusation against the leaders can be traced to the descriptions of the violent social conflicts in Central and South America at the time.  La Opinión referred constantly to revolutionary, members of the opposition, as guerilla fighters or “rojos, ” or just “comunistas.”

Meanwhile, the terms used by the Los Angeles Times to describe the events were “boycott of classes”, “otherwise orderly”, “violence erupted”, “unrest”, “carnival atmosphere”, “disturbance”, and “trouble”.  The students were “excited youngsters, yelling”, “crowd”, “stayed away from afternoon classes in orderly demonstrations”, “congregated”, “volatility”, and “held discussions.” School authorities “accepted”, “promised”, “kindly looking”, “sadly eying”, and Police was “knocked down”, “sought to disperse”, “attempted to break up a crowd”, “and attempted to clear”. The attitude toward the protesters was more benign; they were not taken seriously but considered by this use of language as too young to have a political point of view. There was an attempt here to underscore some neutrality.

There are difficulties and limitations in attributing agency and political positions to news coverage. But a more direct and feasible way to compare and contrast both papers could be using their editorial pieces on the walkouts. Here it is meaningful that while La Opinión had the first of two editorials already on March 9, the Times waited until March 15.[40] The Time piece was an exercise in diplomacy. The few African American schools that participated in the boycott were  again mentioned first, as if this was their initiative, while in reality they staged an act of solidarity. At the same time the demonstrations were dubbed for the most part “non violent”, the students were commended for not falling into the destructive path of “student power”. Then, the Times considered “luckily” that  only a minority of East Los Angeles students participated, but then lamented the destiny of Hispanic students, whose future “leads only to unemployment, poverty, and welfare”. The paper allegedly identified with most of the student demands, and then: “the problem must be met in a responsible manner… It can never be solved by strikes, boycotts and demonstrations”.

In contrast, La Opinión editorial from March 9 was flatly opposed to the walkouts and repeated the arguments by police and City Hall spokespersons.[41]

At a few schools in Los Angeles there were this week student demonstrations that in some cases, actually few, degenerated into violent actions, timely repressed by the forces of order. Hundreds of youngsters abandoned their classes, apparently set on by non-student agitators and by militant leaflets entered in a concealed way to the facilities.” (My translation, G.L.)

The newspaper went on to claim that there were [other] ways to express grievances, without the need to leave classes or “to provoke police”. Those walking out “defeat the fundamental aim of schools, waste public funds and put the security of society under risk”. La Opinión asked the students to “be firm against the incitement of professional agitators”, and “if they have a cause for legitimate complains, state them in an orderly fashion, because we are sure that they will be met by the schools authorities”.

On March 16, La Opinión published a second editorial, this time vague and with an intent to show some sympathy to the problems that caused the protests.[42] The title: “The Responsibility is Everybody’s”; this was a call to “do something”, because, it accepted, it was not true that “nothing happened”. But the newspaper refrained from mentioning what were the grievances, demands or solutions given by the students: not even a word on bilingual instruction or Mexican teachers, or the high rates of dropout. The youngsters were lauded for their interest in solving their own problems, “without recurring to violence”, but in the next sentence, as the Times, La Opinión commended those students that stayed in class and broke the boycott. As for the problem, according to the editorial, those were the “recent economic policies from Sacramento” that withdrew from the educational system money needed to “build new schools, with new equipment… and to obtain the greatest number of teachers and counselors.”

When the first in depth analysis of the walkouts was published, it was in the Los Angeles Times, in a four page special.[43] In it and for the first time, the paper recognized the leading role that Mexican Americans played in the walkouts. La Opinión remained silent and did not have an analysis of the events for many months.

The attitude of both newspapers was not very different from that of the TV stations, especially confronting the topic of police brutality. “The coverage”, said Moctezuma Esparza, one of the student leaders and a film producer today, in an interview with Amy Goodman of Pacifica,

was extraordinarily censored… following the lead of the district attorney and the mayor and the power structure… the fact that CBS and NBC and all of these corporate stations that had tremendous news coverage capability and were there, and all of these photographers that were there for the Los Angeles Times and the Herald, they did not publish or show or comment on the police violence.[44]

An exception to this rule was KMEX (Channel 34), the Spanish-language television stations, which allowed its reporters to interview people in the streets of East Los Angeles about police brutality and “provided airtime to Chicano community activists”.[45] The News director of KMEX (and a columnist for the Los Angeles Times) was Ruben Salazar, who was killed in 1970 during an anti-war march by a sheriff.

The polls

As we see from the example of La Opinión, support for the Walkouts among the Hispanic community was not nearly uniform, but far from it, according to Frank, who wrote on three small polls conducted in East Los Angeles. The first “was a brief telephone survey taken by Director Sam Gonzales of Boyle Heights NAPP[46]. (95) In it, “85% to 90% of the community was opposed to the walkouts.” Another survey, that of Dr. Tirso del Junco, that Frank called “professional” calculated the opposition to the walkouts at 77%, with no further detail. The third poll was conducted by Frank herself, with a phone sample of 164 persons in East Los Angeles. Of those, 6% supported the walkouts, 26% were unfavorable to it and the others either did not hear of walkouts (35%), were indecisive, hung up or had no opinion. As for those with an opinion, 24% supported the boycott, and 76% opposed it.

The two first polls were highly controversial. The first questionnaire included only people who owned telephones in 1968, excluding lower income families, who were the majority in the area, and there was no information as for the number or identity of people surveyed. Del Junco, born in Cuba, was and is one of the best known conservative Latinos in the country, a banker, diplomat and a physician, not a pollster. His observation could hardly qualify as “professional”. And Frank’s polls’ sample was quite small. It is the opinion of this author that although none of these carried scientific value, they nevertheless added up as anecdotal evidences of a mind frame. They showed that La Opinión was not a lonely voice. Furthermore, many prominent Latinos like Judge Leopoldo Sanchez, Fernando de la Peña, chairman of the Education Comité of Greater East Los Angeles, and others, went public in their opposition. In 1980, the then principal at Garfield and vice principal in Lincoln High in 1968 said candidly that she did not identify with Castro’s position, as she never felt discrimination as a Mexican American. “I disagreed with Sal because I could not relate with what he was talking about”, said Jesse Franco.[47]

Conclusion

In 1980, Frank Del Olmo, an editor and writer who for many years was the Latino face of the Los Angeles Times, revisited the Walkouts. His was an opportunity to observe the events through the prism of some of the participants, 12 years later, with a point of view that was lacking in the coverage of the newspaper in 1968. According to Del Olmo and his sources, the “blowouts” were beneficial, especially for reducing the dropout rates, establishing bilingual education, and opening the door for many Chicanos to college studies. The main casualty, he wrote, was Sal Castro, who “is regularly passed over for promotions and special assignments he seeks. Castro has heard from several school district sources over the ensuing years that at least some Los Angeles school administrators have blackballed him.” By 1980, Castro was teaching, for the 10th consecutive year, in Belmont High School. Some of the student leaders contacted by Del Olmo could not make up for the classes lost and did not complete High School; others could not go further to college, or had to move out of town because of the pressures. All of them nevertheless considered the walkouts the pinnacle of their lives.

The walkouts changed the Hispanic agenda of Los Angeles. They placed in the center of the debate the questions that we know today. Together with other factors as demographic growing, and economic improvement, they made the idea of Latino civic participation acceptable. Speaking Spanish at class was prohibited and bilinguism was considered a “cognitive disability”, a “language deficiency” (Bernal 80). Through their direct intervention, the students and their points of view acquired an agency, which previously, until then, was flatly denied. While many of the problems pointed out by the students still remain today[48], some of their demands for changes as more Mexican teachers, Chicano studies as part of the curriculum, and access to universities for Chicano studies[49] seem to be permanent. The conservative view of the protests, though, considered the implementation of those demands  as “designed to be impossible”.[50]

Both the Los Angeles Times and La Opinión harbored editorial views opposing the participants in the walkouts. But while the Times considered them as part of a political game in the city, and the protesters as servicing the personal interests of a few, La Opinión was worried about the negative effects that the demonstrations could have on the perceptions of Latinos. According to the Spanish language daily, students were either violent or instigated by professional agitators, and it called for a prompt return to classes.

La Opinión, while hesitant in the first days of the protests on the width of its coverage, slightly increased it later, including in it two editorial pieces and six cartoons, which were the only voice of support and understanding for the students demands but appeared weeks after the facts. Although the paper was, as it is today, the most recognized voice in the Hispanic community, its type of journalism did not consider necessary to deploy reporters in the field. This situation continued until as late as the late 70’s and early 80’s. “We had columnists, we had editors, but we did not have reporters”, said candidly Silverio Gutiérrez, a copy editor who started working for La Opinión in 1978.[51] “For news we relied exclusively on wires, gossip, personal contacts, and press releases.”

The editorial position was against the walkouts. La Opinión publishers considered it a mainstream regional newspaper that happened to appear in Spanish and its hard core constituency a group of middle class, legal residents or American citizens who preferred from identity reasons to keep informing themselves in Spanish. There was no acceptance of terms like “multiculturalism” or “diversity”; the norms sought were those of the dominant white elite.  As part of that middle class, La Opinión experienced what Avila termed a rekindling of “earlier aspirations to a social order based on class harmony, suburban respectability, and racial homogeneity.”[52]

These were momentous times, with Cesar Chavez in the midst of a 29-day hunger strike, the war in Vietnam raging, and La Opinión seeing red –“rojillos”- everywhere in Latin America. It described Francois Duvalier of Haiti as a respectable leader against whom an illegal coup d’etat was launched.  Concurrent with the walkouts, the activities engaged in by founders of the Chicano movement were really a unifying call for Hispanics. By 1968, this mindset penetrated into area high schools, expanded slowly to the communities-the barrios where their families lived, the places where they worked, the centers where they gathered for social activities- and never left them.[53]


[1] “1968: Students Revolts and Revolutions in Europe and America Timeline”, CSULA History 499 Class Syllabus.

[2] The Los Angeles Times was accessed online from the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database through the California State University Los Angeles Library, and other periodicals through the internet database Newspaperarchive.com. Old issues of La Opinión were found viewing microfilms at the newspaper archive in its offices in Los Angeles, thanks to the help of archivist Georgina López.

[3] , This could change as the event was recently resuscitated for public opinion by a motion picture –“Walkout”, by director Edward J. Olmos, which was first broadcasted on cable TV channel HBO on April 24 2006. The critique of the movie itself was not exempted of historical mistakes. For example, The Hollywood Reporter writer Ray Richmond implied on March 17 that while looking for material for the movie, Olmos and his partners began “a search for the former students who took part in the walkout” and found Moctezuma Esparza, who then, he argued, became executive producer of the movie. But Esparza is a well known producer for some time. Among his titles, “Selena”, “The Milagro Beanfield War”. It also said that current Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa participated in the walkouts. But Villaraigosa himself denied that in a conversation with me, saying that “I was there a year later”.

On the other hand, the timing for the screening of “Walkout” could not be more meaningful, in the midst of Hispanic youth demonstrations and massive immigrant protests in Los Angeles, during April and May of 2006. This parallelism merits an attentive look as the migrant movement unfolds and develops.

[4] Carole Fink, et al, “Introduction”, in 1968, The World Transformed, Carole Fink, Philip Gassert, and Detlef Junker, Ed, p. 3.

[5] Michael Soldatenko, “Mexican Student Movements in Los Angeles and Mexico City, 1968”, in Latino Studies, Vol. 1 (2003):284-300, p. 291.

[6] Margaruite Marin, “Social Protest in an Urban Barrio: A Study of the Chicano Movement”, Lanham: University Press of America, 1991, p. 1, quoted in Soldatenko, 292.

[7] Dolores Delgado Bernal, “Chicana/o Education from the Civil Rights Era to the Present”, in The Elusive Quest for Equality. 150 Years of Chicano/Chicana Education, Jose E. Moreno, Ed. Harvard: Harvard Educational Review, 1999. pp. 77-108.

[8] Eric Avila. Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight. Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, pages 222-230.

[9] This author participated as a high school student in similar activities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during 1969 and 1970, and already they were a “tradition”.

[10] Jack McCurdy, “Student Disorders Erupt at 4 High Schools. Policeman Hurt”, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1968, p. 3.

[11] Edward J. Escobar. “The Dialectics of Repression: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Chicano Movement, 1968-1971”. The Journal of American History, March 1993, 1483-1514.

[12] Escobar, 1503.

[13] Escobar, 1492.

[14] Escobar  claims that the Brown Berets were so debilitated by police harassment that in 1972 officially disbanded. (p. 1506)

[15] Soldatenko, 293.

[16] Frank, 34-69.

[17] And after the walkouts? On June 1, Sal Castro, the person most identified with the events, together with another 12 defendants, was indicted, charged with a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, a felony carrying up to twelve years in prison, after the LAPD and the City transferred to a Grand Jury created by the Department of Justice the material of their investigation. Consequently, Castro was dismissed from teaching and assigned an administrative job. Subsequent protests and demonstrations, in which mostly adults belonging to religious, political and social organizations participated, led to Castro’s reinstatement. The “East Los Angeles 13” were exonerated by September by an appeals court, “long after Castro had become a symbol of the blowouts, and his legal case a cause celebre to Chicanos” (Frank Del Olmo, “No Regrets, Chicano Students Who Walked Out Say. ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe”. Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1980, p. D1).

[18] In “Walkout”, he is quoted as telling a reporter he was not the one organizing the events, but according to Frank, he was the UMAS person in charge of the planning; (Frank, 62) by March 5, the students had signs ready (85). Castro was gathering support among his associates and other political organizations as UMAS in Cal State Los Angeles, UCLA, USC, and San Fernando Valley State; MASA (Mexican American Student Association) at East Los Angeles College, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and the Concil of Mexican American Affairs (CMAA), all of which supported the walkouts before they happened, around February 1968. (67).

[19] Frank, 70.

[20] “Classes Boycotted by Student Groups at 2 High Schools”, The Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1968, p. 3.

[21] “Violencia en la escuela Garfield. Tres menores fueron aprehendidos”. La Opinión, March 6, 1968, p. 3.

[22] Usually, writers or reporters send their copy without headline, which is added typically by editors, to enhance uniformity of the page or section, or to denote a particular pattern or even opinion. It may have been the case here.

[23] Frank, 76.

[24] “Student Disorders Erupt at 4 High Schools: Policeman Hurt”, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1968, p. A1.

[25] “Disturbios en cuatro escuelas de LA. Abandonan las aulas cientos de colegiales.” La Opinión, March 7, 1968, p.1

[26] “Student Boycott in LA Erupts Into Violence”, The Modesto Bee, March 7, 1968, p. A-7.

[27] David Sánchez, Interview with Ross Plesset, posted at http://la.indymedia.org/ news/2006/03/151160.php, accessed 4/28/2006.

[28] “Ken Reich, Walks Alone Through Debris: Principal Calm Amid Excited Carver Junior High Students”, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1968.

[29] “No se registraron disturbios en las escuelas de Los Angeles”, La Opinión, March 8, 1968, p.3.

[30] The term is of The Los Angeles Citizen News reporter, ran on March 8, p. 1, quoted by Frank, 68.

[31] Jack McCurdy, “1,000 Walk Out in School Boycott”, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1968, p. B1.

[32] Jack McCurdy “School Board Yields to Some Student Points in Boycotts. But Won’t Remove Police”. Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1968, p.1.

[33] “No Actions Taken on Grievances”, The Van Nuys News, March 12, 1968, p. A-1-A-12.

[34] “Venice High Youths, Police Clash”, The Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1968, p. 1.

[35] “Terminó el boicot escolar. Se estudian quejas de los seis planteles”. La Opinión, March 13, 1968, p. 1.

[36] “Condiciones normales en las escuelas”, La Opinión, March 15, 1968, p. 3.

[37] Frank Del Olmo, “No Regrets, Chicano Students Who Walked Out Say. ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe”. Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1980, p. D1.

[38] David Sánchez, Interview with Ross Plesset, posted at http://la.indymedia.org/ news/2006/03/151160.php, accessed 4/28/2006.

[39] Interview for UC San Diego News, http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/ events/walkout06.asp

[40] “School Boycotts Not the Answer”, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1968, p. A4.

[41] “Los disturbios estudiantiles”, La Opinión, March 9, 1968, p. 6.

[42] “La responsabilidad de todos”, La Opinión, March 16, 1968, p. 6.

[43] Dial Torgeson, “Start of a Revolution?” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1968, p. B1.

[44] Moctezuma Esparza, interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now. Accessed at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/03/29/154216 on 5/15/06.

[45] Escobar, 1504.

[46] Neighborhood Adult Participation Project, one of the programs of the ‘War on Poverty’ administered in Los Angeles by the Economic and Youth Opportunities Agency of Greater Los Angeles since 1965.

[47] Interview with Frank Del Olmo, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1980.

[48] In Nyle Cortland Frank’s Appendixes, there is a copy of a poster or leaflet distributed by the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee, a group created after the Walkouts to follow on the implementation of the student’s demands, with the header “Why do they Drop Out?”, which states that “Over half of students DO drop out of school”. The percentage, that according to David Sánchez in his interview went down to 15% in the years after 1968, is today around 50-55%, according to Harvard College reviews used by Los Angeles current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to pitch his quest for control of the School Board.

[49] David Sanchez, interview.

[50] Frank, 62.

[51] Personal interview with Silverio Gutierrez, on 5/12/2006.

[52] Avila, 13. Avila specifically mentions the support by La Opinión editorial to the concession of the Chavez Ravine to the major-league team, the Dodgers, in May of 1958.

[53] Días de Cossio, Roger. Los mexicanos en Estados Unidos. Mexico: Sistemas Técnicos de Edición, 1997,pp 53-75.

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