From School to the Streets

Note: this post is part of a series called #InspiredBy68 in honor of 50 years since the progressive activism of 1968.

Growing up my parents emphasized the importance of receiving an education because they believed it was the key to living the “American Dream.” They had fled their native countries in Central America so that I could have opportunities they did not, and they pushed my siblings and me to get straight-A’s and to always listen to our teachers.

They instilled a love for education although they knew the U.S. education system has not been kind to people who look like me. Although I went to a good school, I remember my college counselor telling me not to apply to a university — from which I graduated — because I wasn’t good enough to get accepted.

Fifty years ago, from March 1 to March 8, 1968, more than 15,000 Mexican-American students who attended high school in East Los Angeles walked out of their classrooms to protest the injustices they faced in school, including corporal punishment for speaking Spanish and a lack of adequate resources.

Recognized as one of the most influential movements for Latinx in the U.S., the East LA Walkouts mobilized thousands of Mexican-American youth. Latinx youth walked side by side with Black students to combat racism and inequality within the education system. Fast forward 50 years, similar issues still affect students of color.

Betsy Devos and the Trump administration continue to take away resources from students in low-income communities, communities with a large share of Latinx students. Back in March, the Trump administration proposed to cut the education budget by 13 percent — eliminating funding for teacher professional development and support, after school programming, art programs and other enrichment programs. Brown and Black students already face tougher odds navigating the education system than their White peers, and these cuts will only worsen their challenges.

Although the dropout rate for Latinx students fell 6 percentage points to 10 percent in 2016 since 2011, they lag behind their peers in graduating from 4-year institutions. Only 15 percent of Latinx students aged 25 to 29 have a college degree compared to 41 percent of white students, 63 percent of Asian students and 22 percent of Black students.

The challenges don’t end there. In addition to having fewer resources, Latinx students have to contend with hateful rhetoric in and out of the classroom with little to no recourse. Incidents such as a New Jersey English teacher telling her students that U.S. soldiers “are not fighting for [their] right to speak Spanish — they’re fighting for [her] right to speak American.” The president referring to Latinx people as “animals” and saying that Latin countries are “not sending their best” people to America is another.

Despite the challenges that continue to persist, Black and Brown youth continue to speak up for the injustices in their community. We are seeing more students who are not afraid to hold authority figures and people in power accountable for their actions. Students of color are on the streets leading protests for issues like immigration, criminal justice, and gun policy reform. Just like the students that walked out of their classroom to protest unfair treatment 50 years ago, today’s students are demanding quality education, equity, and respect. They are rising up and speaking out so that people of all races and backgrounds in their generation and future ones—can receive equal opportunities and achieve the American Dream.