Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Chicanos and supporters will celebrate 50 years since the 1969 West High Blowouts in Denver, Colorado. Fifty years ago, Chicanas/os engaged in social revolution in American society against the daunting and oppressive forces that had kept this group in quasi-slavery—what some refer to as a permanent working underclass. Institutionalized mechanisms of oppression utilized throughout history kept the Chicana/o as a vital work force that deepened the pocketbooks of industrialists and capitalists. It has always been in the best interests of the elite to develop and retain a reserve pool of cheap labor; public education was complicit in this endeavor as it systematically participated in the development of a polarized class structure. Segregation in public schools and racist curricula making it seem that certain groups were inherently inferior kept generations of Chicana/o students in the dungeons of educational inequity. Preaching a false narrative that anyone could climb the ladder of social mobility resulted in generation after generation of Chicanas/os sinking into the quagmire of hopelessness. When Chicanas/os failed, the blame was thrust upon them. Little did those in power realize that the roots of rebellion were kept in constant underground motion as Chicanas/os suffered from intergenerational poverty and the humiliation associated with this phenomenon and its unremitting outcome.
What has happened for half a century since this movement began? Have the social conditions changed? Has this group reached equality and justice? What can we expect in the near future?
The Chicano Movement emanated like many other movements and revolutions that our ancestors had experienced throughout its tumultuous history—out of horrible social conditions. One constant theme that remained was the incessant invisibility of Brown people in history books—except with minimal imagery that reinforced the many stereotypes lingering on in the unconscious of our collective soul, which eventually led to an incessant form of rage that youth could no longer tolerate. Invisibility kept Chicanas/os on the margins of society as inquisitive youth learned the Master’s narrative; but whose lives were filled with contradiction as they learned the lessons of life from their families—lessons that told different stories. Seldom did students view positive images and/or role models in school books regarding the many
contributions that their ancestors had made to this society. American educational systems attempted to further dismantle what was left of the culture, dating back to the 15th century conquest.
At West High School, located in Denver, Colorado, students filled to the brim with vim and vigor, decided to confront the system—imprisonment in educational institutions had reached its apex. Youth had heard the many tales of parents whose experiences in educational resulted into forms of chattel slavery as laborers in menial jobs with no future. Chicana/o families had been relegated into barrios where social conditions remained the same—neighborhoods without infrastructures, indecent housing, liquor stores on every corner and cigarette advertisements plastered on torn down tenements. Students were surrounded with negative iconography in society that had emaciated their collective self-esteem. They walked out of public schools in protest only to encounter Denver’s finest, dressed in riot gear, carrying batons and guns ready to engage in violence with innocent youth. The blowouts of 1969 are reminders of what Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales shouted out in protest, “Oppressed people have the right to revolution.”
What has happened for half a century since this movement began? Have the social conditions changed? Has this group reached equality and justice? What can we expect in the near future? Has the Chicano Movement reached an analytical impasse—unable to offer the masses of its oppressed people hope for the future?
Students from West High School Leadership Academy will symbolically relive the walkouts; but this time no one will be waiting outside of the front doors ready to tangle on the streets. Except for the growth of the School to Prison Pipeline fostered by police presence in many schools in order to curb violence and maintain order police departments have deployed their work forces into new barrios and colonias. The pernicious behavior of Denver’s police department are now in areas where Brown immigrants congregate, living in fear, imported from barrio to barrio as gentrification is imported into once thriving neighborhoods. The struggle for those immigrants from the south to achieve some type of citizenship status keeps them powerless as they struggle relentlessly to survive. They continue to endure what Chicanos/as have experienced for at least 150 years. We cannot preach freedom as long as portions of our people remain in bondage to a government that has lost its statutory commitment to designated portions of its populace.
Students will be able to walk out of what used to be the Westside barrio over to El Centro Su Teatro in West Denver, to imagine what things were like a half a century ago. I don’t think that it will require a lot of imagination to reconstruct the images of poverty, alienation, servitude, inequity and racism. They just need to clean the cataracts from their eyes, look into mirrors to see that not a lot has changed. Do students really have to symbolically march to Su Teatro or should it be a real protest against the continued emasculation of this group?
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 3-15-2019 Ramón Del Castillo.
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