- Blowout! Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice by Mario T. García and Sal Castro
Set against the historical backdrop that was the urban Chicano movement of the late sixties and early seventies, Mario García provides a compelling story of individual courage and commitment personified by Sal Castro, a Los Angeles high school teacher for forty years, primarily in the city’s eastside barrio working with Mexican American students. Utilizing the testimonio, an oral history of oppositional political activism often used in a Latin American context, Mario García highlights the invaluable leadership provided by Sal Castro in the struggle for educational justice, culminating in the student “blowouts,” or walkouts, of March 1968, at a number of eastside high schools. The interviews with Sal Castro, transcribed and presented in his own voice, are also supplemented with periodic inserts, or voices, provided by other historical actors involved in these walkouts and other displays of political activism that poignantly convey a larger collective process.
Mario García skillfully employs the concept of liberation education identified with the work of Brazilian educational philosopher, Paulo Freire, in an attempt to better understand this galvanized political consciousness displayed by Sal Castro [End Page 239] and eastside students. At the core of Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is the notion that both student and teacher engage in a dialectical process whereby each learn from each other through trust, constant dialogue, and shared experiences. The resulting conscientización, or critical consciousness, is then a powerful tool in “problem-solving” mass action directed at larger social, political, and economic contradictions. The annual Chicano Youth Leadership Conference held at Camp Hess Kramer, north of Los Angeles, exemplified this methodology. Indeed, Mario García sheds light on these relatively unknown, yet instrumental, conferences and their critical role in fostering cultural pride and empowerment, student leadership, and social activism. The initial moderate agenda emphasized at these conferences, first held in 1963 under the name Spanish Speaking Youth Leadership Conference, increasingly embraced a more radical and activist approach that clearly influenced the student walkouts. Sal Castro himself described these conferences as the backbone of the walkouts since many of the student organizers were previous participants.
The basis for these walkouts was the substandard educational opportunities maintained by the school district. Moreover, the notorious tracking system, culturally insensitive teachers, a disproportionately large drop-out rate, and the lack of matriculation to four year colleges and universities were symptomatic of the larger structural practices found within American society that perpetuated a form of second class citizenship for marginalized communities. On more than a few occasions, Sal Castro experienced such discrimination firsthand. Sheer frustration motivated Castro to become increasingly outspoken after he acquired his teaching credential in 1963. He discovered a student population ready, willing, and able to utilize mass action in an effort to be heard by the school board and society at large. His legacy is the changed consciousness that affected many students over his forty years as an educator. That process is deftly conveyed by Mario García and Sal Castro. Together, they have collaborated on a masterful and inspirational life story that is brilliantly contextualized by the larger Chicano Movement. [End Page 240]