Subversive Mobility in the East L.A. Walkouts by Joshua Mandell
In March of 1968, thousands of East Los Angeles high school students walked out of classes to protest the poor quality of their schools. At marches and demonstrations throughout Los Angeles, the protesters gave the U.S. Chicano population new visibility and influence. During these protests, which came to be known as "blowouts," the students' freedom to move was challenged on many fronts. The Los Angeles city government believed that these students did not have a legal right to exercise mobility during school hours, and tried to suppress the blowouts with a forceful police response. The environment of East L.A. also posed potential threats for marching students. Their protests demonstrated subversive mobility, meant to undermine dominant power structures and reshape the landscape of Chicano Los Angeles (Mitchell 1996, 58-82). This multimedia exhibit traces patterns and forms of mobility during the blowouts of 1968, and aims to show how physical movement contributed to the formation of an political movement for Chicano civil rights.
This Google Map illustrates significant places and events of the East L.A. Walkouts. The five major participating high schools (Belmont, Garfield, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson) are represented by colored stars. Other nearby schools that saw walkouts occur are represented by pins. More icons displayed on the map explain how a different community organizations, student groups, and political figures influenced the protest movement. Additional information can be found by clicking on any of the icons.
One unique aspect of this map is its representation of the actions taken by United Mexican American Students (UMAS) groups to support the students' mobility during the blowouts. UMAS chapters from many Los Angeles area colleges and universities traveled to assigned high schools to provide physical protection from violent police (Castro 2011, 143). High school students faced some serious restrictions to mobility that are outside the scope of this map. Sal Castro, a teacher who helped organize the blowouts, feared that marching students would be endangered by crossing through gang territory. Along with UMAS, he enlisted the help of the Brown Berets, a Chicano paramilitary organization, to protect students from gangs, and the police.
This photograph from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner archives vividly illustrates one of the limits on mobility that protesters faced during the blowouts. Although the demonstrations were generally peaceful, dozens of students were arrested by police, and a some of them were beaten as they were taken into custody (Balchunas 2008). The use of police violence was not only a means of suppressing the civil disobedience as it occurred; it was also meant to intimidate students who had not walked out of school, and discourage them from joining the movement (Castro 2011, 161).
Before the walkouts began, in East L.A. students were angered by school conditions that denied them any freedom of movement, reflecting the distrusting attitude of school administrators."Why do they have a fence guards at the doors, square cars in the streets?" One Garfield student complained. "We’re supposed to be students, not criminals" (Ruiz 1968). Another student expressed similar sentiments: “[Garfield is] a prison in a sense that we are fenced in and locked in" (Garcia). The blowouts can be seen as an act of rebellion against the oppressive atmosphere in East L.A.'s "Chicano Schools." Without permission, the students left school environments designed to restrict their movement, and then moved together en masse through the streets of L.A.
Print media helped students and their allies spread their call for change through Los Angeles during the blowouts. Long before the advent of online social media, student publications were a powerful catalyst for discussion about the role of the protests in the nascent Chicano movement (Castro 2011, 144). . Raul Ruíz, a student at Garfield, managed two of these publications: Inside Eastside and Chicano Student News. Students from all of the East L.A. high schools wrote articles for these newspapers, which highlighted the deficiencies of the public schools and other injustices experienced by Chicanos. Tanya Luna Mount and Mita Cuarón distributed flyers on high school campuses to spread similar messages (Ibid., 342-343). Newspaper ads and bumper stickers were later used to show support for Sal Castro after he was arrested and suspended by the school board. The printed word served as a powerful extension of the physical mobility that students exercised during the blowouts.
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