The Senate introduced its landmark comprehensive immigration reform bill on April 16, with passage expected before the August recess. This represents a remarkable political turnaround for a measure that was politically dead only one year ago. While most attribute its revival to Latino voting patterns in the 2012 election, we would not be on the verge of passing immigration reform had student DREAM ACTivists not inspired the broader movement through their own powerful acts of activism in recent years. I do not know how many DREAMERS knew longtime Los Angeles teacher Sal Castro, but his encouragement of Latino high school students to “walkout” of classes in 1968 in protest of unequal education was a forerunner of DREAM ACTivism. Castro died on April 15, and his legacy lives on in the drive for comprehensive immigration reform and Latino political empowerment.
The 2006 HBO film “Walkout
,” portrays the powerful, courageous, and inspiring activism of a heroic teacher and the students who he inspired. Sal Castro was a social studies teacher at Los Angeles’ Lincoln High who refused to accept the unequal educational opportunities for Latino students, and encouraged students to take dramatic action.
The Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful obituary of Castro
that captures his idealism and personal sacrifice for Latino civil rights. A key point I want to emphasize is that Castro was put in jail for organizing students, was fired for protesting discrimination against Latinos, and was continually transferred to schools with non-Latino enrollments.
Mind you, these blatant and racist attacks on a teacher standing up for Latinos’ rights to an equal education occurred not in Mississippi or Alabama, but in Los Angeles.
Nobody would have faulted Castro for not making such personal life sacrifices for the greater struggle. Just as everyone would have understood if DREAM ACTivists stayed in the shadows rather than publicly announcing their undocumented status.
The HBO film inspired student walkouts in many cities, and is credited with encouraging a new generation of Latino activists. Among those inspired by Castro’s activism in 1968 was a young Chicano high school student named Antonio Villaraigosa, now ending his second term as Los Angeles mayor.
Sal Castro was among many of his generation who sowed the seeds for the rise of Latino political power, and thanks to the film, his activism will not be forgotten. A high school in Los Angeles is named after him, a fitting tribute to a man who never stopped believing in the power of education.
Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook
and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century