On December 9, 1969 Crystal City high school students walked out of their schools in protest over discrimination against Chican@s in the schools. They were led by two female students, Severita Lara and Diana Serena, and one male student, Mario Trevino. While their walkout was lesser known than those we often commemorate, these students complaints were similar to other Chican@ students protesting educational inequality around the country:
- the unfair banning of Spanish in schools, including during breaks and in the lunchroom which led to an erasure of culture and stigmatization
- equal access to counseling on advanced education and scholarships
- equal access to career guidance
- representation in the curriculum
They also wanted equal access to school leadership positions from which they had been historically excluded, like Student Body President, Homecoming Court, Sports Captain, etc.
In this clip, one of the leaders of the walkout, Severita Lara discusses what it meant to go to school without mentors, representation, or guidance:
The Crystal City walkout not only reminds us of the historical struggle for educational equality for Chican@s but also resonates with current events. The representative for Texas during the walkouts was George Bush senior. He met with Diana Serna about the walkout and all though he wrote her a pleasant toned note about her activism, he also warned her against participating in “anarchy.” His letter, copied below, subtly refuted the walkouts as a form of social justice activism and was only tempered later when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights became involved a year later.
(for full page photocopy of letter see here; co Cara Mia Theater, 2001)
30 years later, President Obama has nominated the first Latin@ to the Supreme Court. Puertoriqueña Sotomayor is one of many Latin@s who benefited from the educational reforms brought about by the walkouts as they expanded opportunities and educational information for all Latin@s not just Chican@s.
Even as we look to her example however, we cannot ignore the attempt to reverse these historic gains in places like Arizona who would do away with MeCHa and ethnic studies first at the middle and high school level and then in higher education. The legacy of the Bush junior administration has been an accepted reversal in the way identity studies and equity programs are viewed. He has taught an entire generation that equal rights are special rights and that diversity curriculum is anti-American and/or anti-white. These sentiments continue to be repeated in attacks on the educational system, faculty of color, identity studies programs, and even Supreme Court nominees who graduated at the top of their classes.
In a comment on this blog, Historiann asked who would take up the mantle for this generation now that we are losing so many of are exceptional ethnic history and ethnic studies scholars. I put the question to my regular 1,000 lurkers today, and to any of you who just stopped by today. Who has inspired you? Do you strive to inspire? Would you be willing to walkout?
A play about the Crystal City walkout entitled Crystal City 1969, was put together by the Cara Mia Theater in Dallas Texas. Severita Lara will be speaking there about her experience this weekend. For more info contact them here.