Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Blow Outs! Chicano Students in East Los Angeles Mobilize for Quality Education

Growing increasingly discontent with educational inequities and a biased Eurocentric curriculum, Chicano students from five East Los Angeles high schools made history in March of 1968 in what would come to be known as the East LA blow outs. For nearly two weeks, the students organized and participated in picketing, sit-ins, walkouts, speeches, and in some cases, minimal acts of violence to express their dissatisfaction with administrators and public schooling. Significantly, their struggle for a culturally sensitive, challenging education became a cornerstone of the Chicano Movement, and the blow outs themselves are among the most monumental expressions of student activism in Los Angeles history.

Leading up to the blow outs, Chicano students at Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles became alarmingly aware of the inferiority of their education after participating in an exchange program at an affluent, predominantly white, high school in Los Angeles. With their new-found awareness, the students went to their teacher, Sal Castro, telling him they were upset about their education and wanted to protest. Castro validated the students' frustrations, but discouraged them students from acting without some level of organization. He made them aware of the importance of developing clear demands, planning speeches and peaceful protests, and establishing coalitions with other schools--while consistently emphasizing their right to insist upon a quality education.

Soon students at the five predominantly Chicano high schools in East Los Angeles (Lincoln, Wilson, Garfield, Belmont, and Roosevelt) were organized into a solid network that was ready to call for staunch demands for a better education. Specifically, the students wanted Mexican and Mexican-American history and literature incorporated into the curriculum, they insisted the school district hire more Mexican American teachers and administrators, they wanted improvements in instructional equipment and facilities to more closely resemble those in affluent high schools, and most importantly, they wanted a challenging education that emphasized college preparation instead of industrial trades.

The anticipated activism was spurred suddenly when the administration at Wilson High School unexpectedly cancelled a play the students were eager to attend. The administration's decision came at a moment when students were more than ready to take their concerns and demands to the board of education. Angry and ready to speak out, the pent up frustrations of weeks of organizing erupted at Wilson High School, and soon throughout East Los Angeles. The days of organizing were marked by poignant speeches made by students, as well as marches and demonstrations that were attended by at least 10,000 students and supporters. They were also met by brutal action on the part of the police who were responsible for beating and arresting several student activists. Sal Castro, who emerged as the teacher spokesperson for the students, was also arrested with twelve student organizers under the charge of conspiracy to commit various crimes. The charges were soon dropped.

After several days of sit-ins and demonstrations, tensions began to ease and students slowly returned to school. Most importantly, their days of action made a significant impact upon administrators in Los Angeles. As a result, several student demands were met. Mexican American studies and literature were implemented in the curriculum and a careful longitudinal evaluation of the quality of education received by Mexican American students in the public schools ensued. What began with awareness and organized discontent on the part of Chicano students later contributed to the significant educational reforms for bilingual and multicultural education in California.


Acuna, Rodolfo (1988). Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. New York: Harper and Row.

Jimenez, Carlos M. (1994). The Mexican American Heritage. Berkeley: TQS Publications.

Prepared by Alison Kreider (UCLA)

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