Even though retired since , he's still fighting the good fight. It is a privilege to have him with us today. How many times have I introduced Sal like this over the last ten years or so, ever since he started speaking to my History of the Chicano Movement class and then to my larger Introduction to Chicano Studies? He comes to do this at least three times a year, including for my summer class. This is serious stuff. But Sal Castro is also a kind of stand-up comedian who integrates wonderful humor into his sober message. He can have me and the students rolling with laughter one minute and then making us feel uneasy as tears come to his eyes as he chokes up when he recalls the courage of his Chicano students in I have heard Sal talk—give his stump speech—so many times that I practically know it by heart.
I find myself in my own lectures speaking like Sal What the hell is going on? And well I should. I have been living with his story for some ten years, ever since we started our oral history project, which laid the foundation for this book—Sal's story, his life and struggles in his own words. The historic Chicano struggle for educational justice forms the backdrop to this text, but this is first and foremost a story of individual historical agency.
This means that Sal Castro, through his idealism, commitment, and courage, made history. He is not a victim of history but a maker of history. It is a story of the role of the individual in history. Sal's story reminds us that people make history and that one individual can make a difference. Sal Castro is one of those individuals, and I am honored to present his story.
Sal Castro, although unknown to most Americans and, indeed, to most other Mexican Americans and other Latinos, is a major figure in the Chicano struggle for educational justice in the United States. Educational justice, in turn, has been a centerpiece of the larger Chicano struggle for civil rights.
As one of the few Chicano teachers in the L. It was Sal—as he is popularly called—who, as a playground director in the late s and then as a young teacher in the s, recognized the problems affecting Mexican students in the schools: low expectations by teachers, a stress on vocational rather than an academic curriculum, high drop-out rates, low reading scores, insensitive teachers and counselors, overcrowded classrooms, and lack of ethnic and cultural reinforcement, among many other problems.
Castro's own experiences attending public elementary schools in East L. Castro's recognition that the schools were more of a problem than a solution also was influenced by his personal and family history.
Born to Mexican immigrant parents in L. Mexicans, perhaps a million or more, flocked over the border, in search of the many jobs being offered by U. In addition, many were also feeling the ravages of the Mexican Revolution of , Mexico's major civil war. Yet America's welcome was short-lived, due to the Great Depression of the s and the unfortunate scapegoating of Mexican immigrants as being part of the causes of the mass economic downturn.
Other Americans blamed Mexicans for taking badly needed jobs from real Americans, despite the fact that many Mexicans had lived in the United States for many years and had contributed blood, sweat, and tears to building the country and, certainly in the case of farmworkers, to feeding Americans. Many possessed legal resident status. In addition, many, as in the case of Sal's parents, had U. Despite all of this, close to half a million Mexicans were deported or repatriated to Mexico from the early to the mids. This included Sal's father, who did not have all of his papers. His mother was not affected, and she stayed in L.
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Yet the split in the family produced tensions that led to divorce. This resulted in Castro being raised predominantly by his mother and her extended family in East L. These early public school experiences exposed him to various forms of discrimination and racism against students, like himself, of Mexican American background. As a kid, Castro further encountered exclusion in public facilities such as swimming pools and parks. Moreover, in , he personally witnessed the Zoot-Suit Riots, when rampaging American sailors rioted in downtown L.
As a shoeshine boy in the downtown area, Castro observed these attacks, which left a permanent impression on him. A few years after his graduation from Cathedral High School, a Catholic institution, in , near the end of the Korean War and after his mother had remarried, Castro was drafted into the U. He was not sent to Korea, but Castro in his two years of service experienced further exposure to racism, both in and out of the military, especially in southern states such as Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Upon his return from the army, he married and started a family. Wanting more education and a professional job, he attended L. Through working with kids in the public playgrounds to earn money while attending school and through his own research when he worked on his teaching credentials, Sal came to understand many of the obstacles to an equal and good education for Mexican Americans, and these experiences convinced him that he could possibly make a difference by becoming a public high school teacher.
At his first regular teaching assignment, at Belmont High School in downtown L.
East L.A. walkouts
After he organized some of the students to campaign for positions on the student council, from which they had been excluded, he learned just how difficult even such modest reforms could be, as he faced opposition from his own school administration. Not wanting an uppity Mexican on the staff, the Belmont principal forced a transfer for Castro to Lincoln High School on the east side.
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At Lincoln, into the s, Castro continued to learn from his students about the problems in the schools, and at the same time he encouraged the students to begin to empower themselves. Part of this empowerment came as a result of Castro's involvement in the organization of what were initially called the Mexican American Youth Leadership Conferences held at Camp Hess Kramer in the Malibu Mountains. Beginning in , he and other Mexican American conference leaders listened to student complaints about school conditions and developed dialogues with the students about how to change these conditions.
These influences, in addition to the political climate of the s involving civil rights, Black Power, the anti—Vietnam War movement, and a general counterculture in the country, all facilitated the rise of a more questioning and critical Chicano Generation by the late s. This new generation of high school students and the small number of Chicano college students, in L. In East L. As a teacher, he encouraged his students to think critically, to be proud of themselves, and, most important, to believe in themselves, and that included the idea of going on to college.
No other teacher or counselor—or very few—were talking about these ideas. Castro knew that the schools had to be forced to change, not only for his students but also for those who would come after them. But what to do?
By early , Castro had an answer. He would organize or encourage the students to organize, not only at Lincoln but also at the other Eastside schools, a mass action.
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Influenced by the civil disobedience tactics and mass protests of the black civil rights struggle as well as of the white student demonstrations against the Vietnam War, Castro concluded that a walkout—a strike—of Chicano students, or at least the threat of a walkout, was the only viable strategy to bring about educational change and justice.
Beginning on March 1, —the year of major national and international events and protests—thousands of Chicano students walked out of their schools for an entire week of protests. These actions brought the Eastside schools to a standstill and shocked not only the L. Yet here were thousands of young Mexican Americans engaged in such protests. Popularly referred to as the blowouts, the East L.
East L.A. walkouts - Wikipedia
Could the blowouts—one of the largest mass protests by high school students in U. No leader is ever completely indispensable, and yet it is my belief that without Castro the walkouts would not have been as widespread and as effective. As a responsible and committed leader, he had the utmost confidence of the students.
They believed in him and he believed in them. Castro gave legitimacy to what the students did. He passed his courage on to them and they, in turn, sustained his courage. Both empowered one another. Did the blowouts change conditions in the schools? Many of these conditions regrettably still exist, but some reforms did take place—in the curriculum, through initiatives such as Chicano Studies; bilingual education; more Chicanos entering the academic tracks; more going on to college; and more Chicano teachers, counselors, and administrators.
But these reforms did not constitute all of the changes. Most significant, a new spirit, a new attitude, a new politics—Chicano Power—in the Chicano community was led by a new generation of activists. This generation—the Chicano Generation—would no longer accept invisibility, irrelevance, marginalization, discrimination, racism, and second-class citizenship.
Embracing a new empowered identity and a new sense of their human worth, Chicanos, including many in the larger community, now would not be taken for granted. They would not be denied respect and their rights. They would make history, not someone else. Sal Castro did not start all of this, but certainly in the case of the blowouts and the Chicano struggle for educational justice, he played a major role. But Castro's place in history is not just because of the blowouts. Indeed, for over four decades and even to this moment, he has continued the struggle for educational justice—as a teacher, as a counselor, and as the driving force behind the revitalization of what are now called the Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences at Camp Hess Kramer.
Castro's leadership has touched thousands of students, many of whom have gone on to become major leaders and role models themselves.
So who is Sal Castro? He is a major figure in U. He is a major American leader and one who deserves just recognition. This is who Sal Castro is and more, as his story will reveal. The early chapters chapters 1—3 cover his coming of age years in L. Leadership does not emerge in a vacuum.
There are elements of a future leader's early life and culture, in addition to personal traits, that help explain this leadership. Castro's early years as a teacher, his initial confrontation with the school system's discriminatory treatment of Chicano students, and, of course, his role in the blowouts and his subsequent arrest and career reprisals for his involvement in the walkouts are treated in chapters 4—8.
Chapters 9—11 detail Castro's additional teaching experiences and championing of Chicano educational justice up to his retirement in What emerges is a picture of a teacher whose pedagogical values centered on using education to empower students to think for themselves and to be critics of their own education—a teacher who not only taught history but who made history. Sal Castro's story has to been seen within the context of the Chicano Movement and, indeed, within the wider context of the s social protest movements.
These years, beginning with the black civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. An entire new generation of young Americans began questioning the direction of the country, the policies of both Democratic and Republican administrations, and the very nature of the American system.
This new generation wanted to know why, despite the wealth and power of the United States, there was still so much poverty, inequality, racism, and sexism and a military-industrial complex that threatened nuclear annihilation and engaged in wars of imperial intervention, such as in Vietnam.
Students in particular questioned why their universities, instead of being champions for human rights and a critical consciousness, focused on producing men and women to fit into this system without questioning it. Where was the university's sense of humaneness and morality, when it helped to produce weapons of mass destruction? What had happened to the stated American spirit of democratic values? Such questioning helped to propel social action, what was called the new insurgency.