By Elisabeth Macias, Re-Imagining Migration Teacher-in-Residence
On March 1st, 1968, hundreds of East Los Angeles Chicano students walked out of Wilson High School to protest the rundown condition of the school, lack of preparation of Chicano students for college, and indifferent or racist educators. In the weeks that followed, thousands of students from seven East Los Angeles schools joined them. These students called for culturally affirming education including the teaching of Chicano history, Chicano educators in schools, bilingual education, and more.
The East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights was home to many of the students who walked out of their school in the March protests. Boyle Heights’ history as a multiracial neighborhood where Jewish, ethnically Mexican, African American, Russian, and Japanese and Japanese American residents made their homes was due in large part to their exclusion from housing in westside neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Neighbors in Boyle Heights built relationships and friendships across color lines. When Mollie Wilson Murphy, an African American teenager who lived in Boyle Heights, saw her Japanese and Japanese-American friends forced to leave their homes and incarcerated during World War II, she maintained these friendships through extensive letter writing. In the post-war era, Mexican and African-American mothers organized together to improve public housing conditions in their neighborhood. In the late 1960s, Chicano students in the area were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and the burgeoning Black Power Movement.
Many of the students who participated in the Boyle Height walkouts adopted a Chicano identity, embracing Brownness and rejecting claims to whiteness. Writers for the Los Angeles Chicano newspaper, La Raza, participated in the walkouts and covered them in the newspaper at a time when there was little about Chicano issues in mainstream publications. Exploring La Raza’s coverage of the walkouts can help with understanding what Chicanos were fighting for and how they understood Chicano identity. The newspaper’s pages reflect the community in the letters to the editor, coverage of local events, and pieces exploring what it means to be Chicano. This source sheds light on how Chicano identity and ideology helped to mobilize young people to fight the injustices that had long faced residents of Boyle Heights.
Connection to the Re-Imagining Migration Learning Arc:
- How do local cases of migration relate to global patterns?
Turning to Action
- How might we use our voice and spheres of influence to create and sustain inclusive and welcoming societies?
Teaching Objectives and Learning Outcomes
- Through analyzing primary source excerpts from La Raza, students will deepen their understanding of the civic actions taken by young Chicanos to create culturally affirming schools and improve educational outcomes for Chicanos.
- Students will reflect on how neighborhoods like Boyle Heights have been shaped by governmental policy and discriminatory housing practices.
- One goal is for students to learn about Chicano identity and how it shaped the actions of the Chicano students who walked out by analyzing primary source excerpts from La Raza newspaper.
Resources for the Lesson
- Background reading about the multiracial history of Boyle Heights.
- La Raza excerpts
- Google Slides from the Re-Imagining Migration Hispanic Heritage Month webinar, “The Chicano Movement and Boyle Heights: Teaching Student Activism”
Essential and Guiding Questions
- How does Boyle Heights reflect other communities of color in the United States?
- How can one’s identity influence taking action to build inclusive and equitable communities?
- How might we use our voice and spheres of influence to create and sustain inclusive and welcoming communities?
- What can we learn from this about tools young people have to make social change?
- As a warm-up activity, have students use the see-feel-think-wonder thinking routine with the image of the mural on the first slide of the PowerPoint. This mural, which is located in Boyle Heights, can help introduce students to the types of messages, imagery, and community participation that were and are important in the Chicano movement.
- Use slides four and five to begin introducing the local context and history of the Boyle Heights 1968 Chicano student walkouts to students.
- Ask students to independently read the background reading about the history of Boyle Heights and respond to the reflection prompts that accompany the excerpts. This handout contains excerpts from George J. Sánchez’s book, Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy. It also includes part of an interview with Paula Crisostomo, one of the student leaders of the 1968 student walkouts in East Los Angeles.
- To debrief, you might have students use the making-sense-of-a-text thinking routine followed by discussing the guiding question for the reading: How does Boyle Heights reflect other communities of color in the United States?
- As you transition to focusing on the Chicano movement, slides 6 and 7 could serve as starting points for discussing Hispanic, Latinx, and Chicano identity.
- To introduce the La Raza newspaper excerpts, ask for student volunteers to read the guiding questions, background information and timeline included on the La Raza excerpts handout. Let students know that La Raza means “the people.” Project slide 9 and historian Virginia Espino’s description of the newspaper. Ask students about the significance of comparing the La Raza newspaper to a camera phone. What does that tell us about the purpose of the newspaper?
- Ask students to read the excerpts linked in the La Raza excerpts handout. Students can use the step-in-step-out-step-back thinking routine that supports responsible social and cultural perspective taking. Slide 10 includes an introduction to the thinking routine.
- Once students have read the excerpts, ask students to share their answers to the step-in-step-out-step-back thinking routine in pairs or as a whole group.
- For the final debrief, you could have students discuss the takeaway questions from slide 12 or write down their responses as an exit slip.
- George J. Sánchez’s book, Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy, https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520391642/boyle-heights
- PBS documentary video clip and teaching ideas about the LA Walkouts, https://reimaginingmigration.org/chicano-la-school-walkouts/
- Global Nonviolent Action Database of Swarthmore College resources on the East Los Angeles Blowouts, https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/east-los-angeles-students-walkout-educational-reform-east-la-blowouts-1968