Five panelists, in dedication to the 40th anniversary of the East Los Angeles Walkouts, came together to speak about the contribution the San Fernando Valley students gave to the walkouts in 1968.
The event was held at CSUN on March 11 at the Shoshone room in the Satellite Student Union.
In 1968, 4,000 students from 16 East L.A. high schools walked out to protest against unequal education in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Two key activists from the original walkouts, two people who were CSUN students at the time, and a current student who participated in the 2006 walkout served on the panel.
The San Fernando Valley students helped initiate the Chicano/a studies program at CSUN and other universities.
“In Spring 1968, we had no chicano studies on campus at that time, no Chicano studies classes, no Chicano studies department, there (was) no EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) yet,” said panelist Everto “Beto” Ruiz, a Chicano/a studies department professor.
Ruiz said he formed CSUN’s United Mexican American Students chapter with about 15 to 20 students, which later on became MEChA.
In 1971, students from CSUN invited Sal Castro, a high school teacher at the time, who motivated the 1968 walkouts. But because of an accident that dislocated two discs in his body, he overdosed on Valium, Castro said.
“Here is Northridge, this big ceremony they are going to have, they even made a wooden plaque with a seal on it, the best award I would ever get and I didn’t make it,” said Castro, one of the panelists and now director for Chicano Youth Leadership Conference, Inc.
Castro spoke about Mexican American’s history in the U.S. and how it’s rarely taught about in the education system. He talked about how no building at CSUN is name after Mexican-Americans that lived nearby in the past.
Castro quoted Edward Murrow’s words, “you can deny a people’s heritage, but you cannot deny the responsibility of the results.”
Castro explained the quote, “what he is saying is if you don’t teach the kid his American history, then your destined to have these kind of negative results.”
Students don’t know about this history but they need to know about it since it’s an integral part of America.
Irene Tovar, a CSUN student from 1968 and now executive director of Latin America Civic Association, spoke about her activism with the walkouts.
Only five full-time Chicano students attended CSUN during the walkouts, she said.
She was part of the Valley students that joined the walkouts with the East L.A. students, Tovar said.
When she was a child, she said a teacher would punish a girl by slapping a ruler on her hand for speaking Spanish.
A similar story was told by Harry Gamboa, a faculty member of the Chicano/a studies program and a walkout leader from Garfield High School.
“I walked in on my first day of kindergarten as being a monolingual Spanish speaking student?and [the teacher] grabbed me by the hand?and took me…to borrow some construction paper, and I figure it was going to be my first art project…,”said Gamboa.
But instead, it was to create a cone hat that the teacher…told him he couldn’t take it off, until he learned to speak English, he said.
“I kind of view it as declaration of cultural war. As a 5-year-old, I decided that ‘maybe I don’t speak English now, but I am going to learn it better than you, Ms. Flint, and I’ll use it against you as a weapon, in fact I am going to make sure you don’t treat any other student like you treated me,'” said Gamboa.
At the end of his presentation, Gamboa noted the lack of students in the audience. He said professors should have brought their classes.
Danny Santa Ana, a panelist and student activist from MECha, spoke about the 2006 walkouts.
Students walkout in 2006 to protest against the HR-4477 bill, said Santa Ana. The bill was aimed to target anyone that had a relation to an undocumented immigrant.
The media portrayed students as not knowing why they walked out by interviewing students that didn’t organized the walkouts, said Santa Ana. They only showed 3-second clips on the students who did know about it.
“We definitely need to remember what happen in the past,” said Santa Ana, “but we also have to use that to empower us to do the work we have to do today in the future.”
The moderator of the event, Elias Serna, also spoke about when his students from Santa Monica High School walked out for him in 2001, after the principal fired him for teaching students Chicano Literature, he said. The students walkout and brought him back to the high school and the program is still running.
At first the event was supposed to be a small celebration of the walkouts, said Alberto Gutierrez, professor of Chicano/a studies program at CSUN. But then Erika Meraz, a psychology and Chicano/a double major, told Gutierrez that her godfather was Sal Castro, he said.
Other than the panel, the film “Chicano: Taking Back our Schools” was presented to give a history of the walkouts before the panel started.