with Sal Castro by Diane Velarde-Hernandez (Part II)
Sal B. Castro
has been a life-long Los Angeles school teacher. In the
1960s and 1970s, he became a leader in the tumultuous school
battles of East LA, culminating in the 1968 school “blowouts”
in which thousands of students from schools such as Lincoln,
Roosevelt, Garfield and Wilson walked out to demand better
education and respect for the majority Mexican students.
Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Sal also lived in the
Belmont-Echo Park area. He attended Cathedral High School
in Chinatown. He dedicated his life to the betterment of
Xicanos and Xicanas everywhere. Diane
Velarde-Hernandez has been an educator at San Fernando
High School for almost 28 years. She has led many struggles
to advance educational opportunities for her students, particularly
in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
What was the straw that broke the camel's back and basically
led to the creation of the Chicano Youth Leadership Conference?
I have to go back to when I was a grad student at Cal
State LA. They organized a Mexican-American Education Committee
that was going to the Board of Education and made recommendations
about some problems in the schools. The LA County Board
of Supervisors ran the committee. When I joined I was the
youngest member. I met Irene Tovar, Miguel Montes,
Estella Torres, the wife of future congressman Esteban
Torres, Nestor Bravo, a doctor, and other prominent
was the chair. The committee came up with tame suggestions
on how to improve the schools. The Sheldon Study had
come out already, and then there was also a study
by the state-known as the F.E.P.C. These studies said
that Mexican kids weren't going to college-Mexican
kids were dropping out. They weren't succeeding. They
asked for several things to be done, but the Board
more or less rejected all of them, except one. They
started a thing called Urban Affairs Liaisons. But
it was like another wall-you could open a door and
close it kind of thing. That's about the only thing
they came up with.
I'd seen some of the recommendations. Interestingly enough,
I put some of these recommendations into the demands of
the kids four or five years later. I started talking to
the kids about how it was critical they write down their
concerns about the school-whether it was a good place to
eat, whether there was cover when it rained and they went
to eat lunch. I talked to kids from other schools that had
gone to the conference. They had the same complaints-the
exact same things were happening at the schools they were
coming from. The problems were universal across the board.
I talked to the kids at the conference about some of the
things that had to be done. I kept in touch with those kids.
Those kids wanted to get involved, so we started having
meetings at different people's houses back in 1966 and '67.
hot issue was bringing in college students to help the
kids learn how to read. I said no-if you're going to
bring in college students to help them read, don't bail
out the teachers. The teachers need to teach the kids
and help them to read. Also, some of these teachers
wanted the college students to help without paying them.
I said I'd pay the students for their help. I went around
to the different colleges-UCLA, East L.A. College, Cal
State L.A., even Long Beach State-and I started talking
to the students. I said, "Hey, don't be suckered into
that reading program. If they want you there, tell them
to pay you, okay? Because what you're really doing is
bailing out the teachers. It's their problem that they've
been too pendejo to deal with the kids."
did I say that? Because if a teacher is interested in dealing
with a kid, they need to believe that the kid can read,
simple as that. If you give him the confidence to believe
that he can read, if you motivate him in a positive way,
the kid will read. It's not difficult. It's not like brain
surgery. You can do that, teachers can do that, but instead
they say Mexican kids don't know how to read. They can't
read! Well, teach them how to read-simple as that. But they
used this as an excuse to bring in the college kids.
a result of my talks with students, we got around to saying
that something had to be done. I even remember talking to
my father. He was an organizer in Mazatlan, Mexico among
railroad workers. He had been thrown in jail for organizing.
Later, I went to Riverside to the Mexican American Political
Association (MAPA) Convention. That's when all these
guys with red flags took over the convention. They took
over the stage and I saw this little dude. That was Cesar
Chavez. I talked to him and I thought, this dude knows
of Part II
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III will be continued in the next issue of Xispas.com