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Blowout! Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice: review

12 May Blowout!

BLOWOUT!: Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.

by Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro


Blowout! is the testimonio of American educator and activist Sal Castro. A phrase adapted by a Garfield High School student from a jazz term that means “to be expressive”, Blowout! was heard from tens of thousands of high school students, primarily Chicano, as they walked out of their classrooms in 1968 in protest at the poor quality of education they were receiving in East L.A. Carried out over a ten year period, this book is the result of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations compiled by historian Dr. Mario Garcia with Sal Castro as well as with a wealth of other students, teachers, administrators, artists and activists who knew Sal personally, many of whom had also been part of the 1968 High School Blowouts.

These blowouts are hailed as the impetus of the urban Chicano Movement, following on from the rural Chicano Movement that had begun some time earlier with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers thus placing Sal Castro as one of the most important Chicano Civil Rights activists of the 60s and 70s. This is the first time his story has been written.

Garcia frames the main autobiographical text of Blowout! with an introduction and epilogue that situate Castro’s story within that of the larger Chicano Movement. In the afterword, Garcia outlines the strong links between Castro’s approach to teaching and the theories of Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist, Paulo Freire. While Freire is no stranger to most educators today, during the 60s and 70s his work was not widely read outside of Latin America. Castro was completely unaware of his work. However, the concepts of conscientização (conscientization or critical consciousness) are undeniably present as you read through the testimony of Sal Castro.

Unlike most other testimonios, Garcia peppers Castro’s accounts with quotes from different people and news articles. While there is the obvious danger of fracturing the narrator’s story, in this case it has worked quite well and the fluidity of the text is maintained. Moreover, Castro repeatedly emphasises his desire to empower the students and community, to have them speak out so the infrequent additions adds a symbolic connection between teacher and community that suits the text.

Blowout! tells the story of Sal Castro from his early childhood in Mexico to his present retirement. His firsthand experience of discrimination in the U.S. educational system as both a student and educator; in the U.S. Army where he experiences Jim Crow during his travels in the South; and society in general like when his father is returned to Mexico after WWII as part of the “repatriation” program thus forcing his parents to separate, which ultimately leads to their divorce, all provide insights into the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the U.S. at the time. These experiences would also help Castro as he critically assessed and challenged the U.S. education system. He gives personal accounts of the Zoot Suit riots, the Watts riots, the Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam and more. As a teacher of history and politics as well as his background in campaigning for various senators – including John and, later, Robert Kennedy – Castro masterfully contextualises the political and social climate of the 60s and 70s in the build up to, and the later repercussion of, the blowouts, all the while managing to maintain a sense of humour that can only endear him to the reader.

This book is a strong asset not only to Chicano Studies but also to U.S. History, Political Sciences and Education Studies. While it is the testimonio of Sal Castro, it is ultimately the story of young High School students who finally found a teacher who believed in them and gave them the courage and opportunity to protest the inequalities they already knew about and faced daily in their schools and colleges. Although many problems still persist in the education system, the enduring legacy of the blowouts is visible in the ever increasing enrollment of Chicanos and Latinos at third level institutions, a greater presence of Latinos as teachers as well as on educational boards and the emergence of Chicano Studies as an elective in High Schools.


Arizona immigration law comes under legal fire

30 Apr

There has been some major controversy in the last few days over new immigration law (SB 1070) signed into Arizona state law by Gov. Jan Brewer.

With everyone from Obama to Shakira hitting the headlines over the legislation, which is set to become law 90 days after adjournment of state Legislature (meaning August), just what is this new law and why is it so controversial?

First of all, the actual text itself Arizona Senate Bill 1070:

HTML version from a business law firm situated in central Phoenix, Arizona

PDF format from who describe themselves as a news wire for lawyers.

One of the main problems arising from this bill is the right of any law official to ask anybody they believe may be an illegal immigrant/alien for some form of identification. The type of identification accepted include a valid Arizona driving license, a valid Arizona nonoperating identification licence, valid tribal enrollment card or other valid tribal identification, or any US federal, state or local government issued identification. In other words common forms of identification are acceptable. However, opposers to the new bill are not opposing the forms of identification. It is the fear of racial profiling that has dominated debates surrounding SB1070. Moreover, if you are found to be an illegal alien, you may be arrested rather than simply expelled from the country as the bill makes being an illegal in Arizona a state crime. As some have pointed out, this law would assume that all persons have their ‘paperwork’ with them at all times – a point compared to fascist dictatorships by those who oppose the bill.

So who signed in Senate Bill 1070? Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who believes that God has placed her in a position of power so she can do good work(which may also help explain why she removed state domestic partner benefits). She also vociferously denies that the bill will lead to racial profiling and believes that the worry circulating about people getting arrested is all “hype.” What is most definitely not hype, however, is the backlash Ms Brewer will get from the Latino community in the upcoming elections if the bill does get through. As it stands, The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders are seeking an injunction to prevent authorities from enforcing the law, and fifteen-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar who works as night patrol in a heavily Latino area of Tucson has started proceedings for an injuction against officers stopping, questioning or detaining suspected illegal immigrants. These were the first two lawsuits in reaction to the bill. There have since followed a slew of others, including three cities within Arizona state – Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson – who are also considering lawsuits to block the law. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other Civil Rights organisations are also mounting legal challenges.

However, some argue that her support of the Bill comes in to balance the loss of support from Republican voters after her approval of the temporary sales tax earlier in the year. And indeed there are those, like the legislation’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Russell, Pearce, who are confident that the law will be supported when voters go to the ballot box (Once measures are approved in Arizona by voters it can only be repealed via the ballot box). And he is not alone in his sentiments; other border states have voiced support, with Republicans in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota stating that they will or hope to introduce similar legislation to their respective states.

Several polls have also indicated higher approval ratings for Brewer since she signed the bill – though some contest the validity of these polls as they either solely polled Republicans or were begun only days after the bill was signed. The long term affects are yet to be seen for either Jan Brewer, the Republicans or Arizona state.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon denounced the bill as discriminatory. Mexico has issued a state warning to its citizens not travel to Arizona as they could meet with hostility and for anyone in Arizona who gets detained by police officers to immediately contact the embassy. They have also called on their more affluent citizens not to holiday in the state. Tourism, according to the Independent, has already been hit, with people even from within the US canceling holidays and conferences. Other nearby states, such as San Francisco and LA have either stopped city employees from travelling to the state or are considering boycotting the state in some other manner. Mexico has also called for a boycott, with Mexico being Arizona’s main importer that would hit the state hard, but it would hurt Mexico just as hard.

Geography has also played its part in Arizona’s plight.

An occasionally-ugly history of race relations is largely an accident of Arizona’s geography. Its largely-unfenced southern border is one of the best-trodden routes for immigrants from Mexico to cross to the more prosperous US. As a result, around 30 per cent of the state’s population of 6.5 million are Hispanic. The Department of Homeland Security says roughly 460,000 of those are thought to be illegal immigrants – although the recession has seen their number decline by 100,000 since 2008.

The importance of immigration reformation has come to the fore with the President weighing in on the debate. Barack Obama has also criticized the bill, with the New York Times quoting him as saying that the bill would act “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” His emphasis is on a tackling immigration on a national level through law reform to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

With elections on the way and boycotts coming from both within the US and across the border in Mexico, will Arizoans look to how the bill deals with immigration or how it affects their state economy? And with immigration policy becoming a hot topic in Capitol Hill, will this affect the embattled Democrats in the November elections?

Some extra opinions since I wrote this piece:

Overview of Arizona Law (SB1070): Evaluation and Opinion by Immigration Attorney Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen Gadberry Summary

Huffington Post: The Arizona Immigration Law: Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Arizona Politics

Wall Street Journal: Untangling Immigration’s Double Helix