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icipants in 1968 in Los Angeles high school walkout to protest against school drop-out and paddle strokes for the speaking Spanish ended questions, a wave of Mexican-American youth activism say that they hear echoes of their demonstrations in the voices of the indignant students at marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a mass shooting.
“Just like we did, the students are taking a stand for their own humanity and they will not be stopped,” said Yoli Rios, 67, who ran the class from 50 years ago.
Park students have held rallies, confronted elected officials and promising to mobilize all eligible youth to register to vote, all in an effort to push lawmakers for tougher gun-control laws. A national demonstration is planned on Wednesday, when the organizers have called for a 17-minute school walkout in the memory of those who died in the last month.
“It’s amazing. They have that spirit which we, as 50 years ago,” said Bobby Lee Verdugo, 67, who is married with Rios.
The East Los Angeles protests began when the Mexican-American students of different schools, started speaking with each other about the bad school, and conditions of all the camps. Eventually, after school administrators refused to listen to their concerns, students of several high schools held collective walkouts at the same time.
A national outrage ensued after the police beat peaceful student protesters with clubs and threw them on the ground for the control of the bloody teenagers on the buses. Latino students in New Mexico and Texas followed with their own walkouts that historians say helped to create the “chicano” Movement and encouraged Mexican-Americans throughout the Southwest to run for public office and press for change.
“A lot of us, were nervous. And scared,” said Carlos Munoz, Jr, a student of the demonstrators and is now professor emeritus of the “chicano” Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “People were not accustomed to be a part of massive protests and things like that.”
Munoz was one of 13 activists charged with disrupting schools and faced 66 years in prison to the California State Court of appeal ruled that the charges against them violated their free speech rights.
In March 1968 photo provided by the UCLA chicano man Studies Research Center of the protesters driving a car with a sign with the text “For the Police From the Schools Now!” during a walkout by students of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles.
(Devra Weber/La Raza Photo collection/UCLA chicano man Studies Research Center via AP)
Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., a history professor at the University of Houston and author of “Let All of Them Take heed: Mexican Americans and the Quest for Educational Equality,” said both the East Los Angeles and the Park movements were fuelled by a sense of despair by students who felt no one was listening.
“On a certain moment…de students noted that their efforts had been in vain and they had to take more radical steps,” San Miguel said.
San Miguel, said the East Los Angeles protests galvanized the Mexican-American communities and encouraged youth activism against police brutality, discrimination and the War in Vietnam.
East Los Angeles students and people in other walkouts succeeded in convincing the school districts to hire more Hispanic teachers, the introduction of bilingual and ethnic studies classes and the end of the public swatting for speaking Spanish in the classroom.
It is unclear whether the Park movement will also lead to major changes in gun control reforms, San Miguel said.
As the Los Angeles walkouts, Rios said she sees parallels with how some have tried to discredit the Park students by calling their “crisis actors” or plants.
“I remember someone going on TV and calling us Communists and said that we were influenced by a number of small red book,” Rios said, referring to the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong’s writings. “I had no idea what that was, so I went to Chinatown and got myself a copy out of curiosity.”
Munoz said: social media is helping the Park effort in a way that the students in East Los Angeles would never have imagined.
“With all due respect for my generation back in the’ 60s, the children of today are much more articulate,” Munoz said. “My God, I was so impressed by these young people that confront people as the US (Sen. Marco) Rubio on television and in public places and confront the president of this country … (the) voice is strong, it is vibrant and I am very optimistic.”
A Park student, Emma Gonzalez, has been catapulted in the national spotlight for her passionate and shrill appeal for change.
After Verdugo saw Gonzalez on television at a Florida rally angry criticism on politicians that campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association, he told her picture on Facebook next to a photo of his wife as a 17-year-old.
“She has the same energy of Yoli,” Verdugo said. “Nothing stopped Yoli, and nothing will stop Emma. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”