Salvador Castro: Chicano Movement Leader Dies at 79


Early March marked the 45th anniversary of the East Los Angeles walkouts, generally regarded in U.S. history as the foundational event of the Chicano (Mexican American) Student Movement. The Chicano Student Movement grew as an extension of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, which blossomed in the United States around the 1940s.     

Pivotal to the execution of this 10,000-strong student movement was Salvador Castro, a then social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The prominent figure, known to most as “Sal,” guided student walkouts at five predominantly Mexican American schools on the east side of the city, faced arrests and conspiracy charges from state and federal governments, and prompted a subsequent flood of community activism in the city. On Monday, the L.A. district announced he passed away at age 79. 

“He will be remembered as a teacher, counselor, leader and courageous adult who stood with students in the 1968 walkouts and ever since dedicated his life to learning and leadership,” board President Monica Garcia said in a statement. “Sal Castro’s courage and dedication will continue to be inspirational to future generation of students and educators.”       

The 1960s protests stemmed from a demand for bilingual education, for ethnic studies, and for other changes in recognition at a time when the Los Angeles curriculum largely ignored Mexican American history and when educators often steered Chicano students towards menial jobs instead of college dreams despite whatever strong academic capabilities the students possessed. The primary results of the protests were: bilingual education, the end to the practice of corporal punishment, increased hiring of Mexican-American teachers and staff, and the impetus for Chicano Studies classes and programs at many colleges and universities.

The 1960s “blowouts,” as they’ve since been titled, have also recently been compared to the 2006 walkouts, which were committed as statements in opposition to the Illegal Immigration Control bill.

The Salvador B. Castro Middle School opened in 2009 to commemorate Castro’s role in Chicano history. Since the activist’s death, the school has offered services for remembrance and other acts of gratitude. The Los Angeles county Superintendent John Deasy labeled Castro’s work “heroic” and said it would continue to inspire district efforts for years to come to insure that all students graduate equally prepared for college and for careers.