April 3 marked the official opening of the CSRC exhibition The 1968 Walkouts: Selections from UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Collections at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. The exhibition was installed in the school library as part of a ten-year loan from the CSRC. The opening commenced with music provided by Roosevelt’s own mariachi group. Students, parents, school staff, and members of the community walked around the library to view the forty-one photographs taken during the walkouts, many of which were taken at Roosevelt. Some of the older community members looked at the images and reflected on their involvement in the walkouts and other civil rights actions.
After the mariachi performance, Monica Garcia, president of the LAUSD Board of Education, spoke about the significance of the exhibition for Roosevelt High School students and the Boyle Heights community. She noted that the school’s students made history in 1968 and that it was important for students today to be aware of their activism. Then, several current students presented research projects on the walkouts that they had created in their ethnic studies courses. Two students read the list of student demands that had energized the 1968 protest. They noted where progress has been made but also where the public education system continues to fail the Chicana/o community.
As I sat listening to school staff and students, I began to consider that progress. A lot has indeed changed at Roosevelt, my alma mater, since I attended in the mid-1960s. In his introductory remarks, Ben Gertner, the school’s principal, spoke about Roosevelt’s efforts to help students succeed academically and to prepare them for college. Today the school is proud of the number of Roosevelt graduates who are college bound. I do not recall the principal ever mentioning high expectations for Mexican American students when I attended Roosevelt. In the 1960s, nearly 50 percent of Roosevelt students were pushed out before graduation. For many, their greatest ambition was to work in the service sector. Also, during my time at Roosevelt no teacher would have assigned a research project focusing on Chicana/o history, and there were no ethnic studies courses. Finally, as community members and parents commented on the presentations and exhibition, many spoke in Spanish. The Roosevelt I knew had a “No Spanish” rule for students, and because few staff spoke Spanish at that time, the school did not consider parents a resource. Needless to say, mariachi music on the campus was unheard of.
The CSRC is proud to share this exhibition with the Roosevelt community. It provides a look at a major event in Chicana/o history and demonstrates what can happen when a community demands change.
Carlos Manuel Haro
CSRC Assistant Director Emeritus
The 1968 Walkouts: Selections from UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Collections was curated by Carlos Manuel Haro and Bryant Partida, with assistance from Johnny Ramirez and Oscar Castillo. Partida and Ramirez graduated in spring 2018 from the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. The framed images in the exhibition are drawn from the CSRC’s La Raza Photograph Collection and Oscar Castillo Photograph Collection.