Funeral arrangements have been announced for former LAUSD teacher Sal Castro, who led his students in the East Los Angeles school walkouts in 1968 to protest inequities in educational opportunities for Mexican Americans and whose efforts were documented in the HBO film “Walkout.” Castro died Tuesday , he was 79.
The educator and activist died peacefully at his home in Silver Lake following a tough battle with thyroid cancer, several of his friends told EGP.
News of Castro’s passing was met with an outpouring of emotion and memory filled statements from across the Hispanic community, including longtime Chicano activists, elected officials and former students.
Former state legislator and now Los Angeles City Council candidate Gil Cedillo said Tuesday via Twitter, “Today we lost a giant in the Chicano movement.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Castro “a courageous leader during the Los Angeles Chicano civil rights movement” who will “always be remembered for his zeal and commitment to improving educational opportunities for everyone, regardless of race.”
Castro worked at various inner-city schools before landing a teaching job at Belmont High School, where he taught social studies. But his activism with Spanish-speaking students led to him being transferred to Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles.
He was part of a committee that made recommendations to the county about ways of improving education for Latino students, and began working with students whose meetings became the Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences, which trained Latino student activists and leaders.
Castro became increasingly active in his criticism of inequalities between predominately Mexican American schools in East Los Angeles and other campuses. Unrest among activists and students led to walkouts – which were later dubbed “Blowouts” – that began in March 1968 with one school, then grew to include five campuses, including Lincoln. Chicano college students also joined in. The demonstrations eventually led to clashes between students and police.
Castro was arrested and charged with disrupting schools and disturbing the peace, although the charges were later dropped.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina compared Castro with Cesar Chavez.
“For Latinos in Los Angeles, Sal Castro was as influential and inspirational as United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez was nationally – an example of the power of organizing who personified the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds,” Molina said.
LAUSD Board of Education President Monica Garcia said Castro “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. Sal Castro’s courage and dedication will continue to be inspirational to future generations of students and educators.”
A middle school on the campus of Belmont High School was named Salvador B. Castro Middle School in his honor in 2009. He responded to the honor by saying, “I know that by naming a school after me you are really honoring the students who, more than four decades ago, tried to improve education with their courageous walkouts.
Recognizing the importance of the walkout was very important to Castro, according to former assemblyman and Los Angeles councilman Richard Alatorre, who on his Facebook page wrote that the last time he saw Castro he was in the hospital, and “All he could communicate was how important it was for the President to acknowledge the student walkouts.”
Alatorre said Castro never got the credit he deserved for bringing about change in L.A. schools. “We have lost a great friend and one of the most important leaders of our community.”
City Councilman Jose Huizar said Castro was a “warrior” for education.
“He put himself at considerable risk during a volatile time in our country’s history and never gave up the fight,” Huizar said. “I had the honor of getting to know him during my time on the LAUSD Board of Education. He was a true hero and an icon whose work continues through the countless people he inspired.”
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, called Castro “a tireless fighter and devoted public servant to our community.”
“His life’s work inspired a generation of activists to follow his lead in working to improve educational opportunities for all children, especially Spanish-speaking and minority students who had to overcome many barriers in pursuit of a good education to better their lives,” she said.
Funeral services will take place next week, starting with a Rosary at 7:30 p.m. on April 24 at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, 2660 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz. A funeral Mass will be held April 25 at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral, Our Lady the Angels, 555 W. Temple in downtown Los Angeles.
Information from CNS was used in this report.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified where and when Sal Castro was speaking.