The protest method has a vibrant history in Latino youth communities.
Nancy Palacios didn’t wait for the official announcement. At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, after her first class, she left school and started walking towards Denver’s city center. “There are a lot of kids who are DREAMers here, and many of them didn’t know about this until today,” says Palacios, 17, referring to the Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end DACA (Deferral Action for Childhood Arrivals). “We want to make them know that we are here for them and that we are going to support them.”
What Palacios did wasn’t an isolated story, but part of a nationwide set of walk-outs at schools against the Trump Administration and its decision to end DACA (Deferral Action for Childhood Arrivals). In the absence of congressional intervention, this announcement means the federal government can progressively take away work authorizations and residence permits to thousands of young undocumented individuals, including many of Palacios’ classmates at East High School.
“They are disappointed, sad, but they also see the power and strength in them to keep going,” says Palacios. “That inspires us. They won’t give up.” In fact, hundreds of Latino students walked for hours towards Tivoli Quad, in Denver, where three local colleges are located. As the crowd was marching down the streets, Palacios saw other groups of students coming out from their buildings to join the walkout, in an elegant formation of coordinated walk-outs, across Denver, and mirrored in several other U.S. cities.
“This kind of protest is something that has been part of our history, and that we teach to other students,” Palacios explained. The origin of “walkouts” can be traced back to 1968, when more than 15,000 Chicano students left their classrooms and protested against racial segregation and inequalities suffered inside seven public schools in East Los Angeles, California.
During that time, U.S. educational policies were geared towards the English-speaking student population, and did not take into consideration the large number of first-generation Mexican-Americans that spoke Spanish at home, but were being educated in English. This is said to have influenced the high rate of high school dropouts in the Hispanic community, which reached 60% among them. To achieve their demands, the first students that joined the movement started to organize marches, and rebelled against the status quo that forbade them to speak Spanish at school or use the bathroom during lunch hours, among other rules.
This week, what happened in Denver also took place in Illinois, New Mexico and Arizona. It wasn’t just Latino students that participated, but also classmates from other backgrounds and teachers. In fact, more than 300 teachers in Phoenix’s unified school district are DACA recipients who may lose their jobs and be at risk of deportation once their benefits end.
“When we heard the news, our principal was crying, and many of my classmates were sad,” said Azucena Castro, a 17 year-old student at North High School in Phoenix. “But at the same time it was very exciting and empowering to see all of the students out there, protesting in 107-degree weather. I am so proud of being a student here for the past four years”.
These kinds of protests have not only become a part of Latino history in the U.S.; they have also achieved results. In 1968, the East L.A. walkout was a breaking point for Latinos in the U.S.: it was the first massive protest of Chicanos in Southern California, and it shed public light on their demands, such as the need for more Hispanic teachers and the inclusion of Spanish in the curriculum. Since then, walkouts have become a common vehicle for Latinos to protest. In 1994, walkouts were used to protest a California proposition that prohibited undocumented immigrants from accessing public education and health insurance. The proposition passed, but was halted by a court. In 2006, walkouts protested against George W. Bush’s immigration law, and in 2009 they were used to oppose Arizona’s SB1070 immigration bill.
“For me, the walkout is very powerful, there’s a history of students doing this. And here, they show that they can decide on their future, fight their battles, and also do this inviting their parents and their communities to be part of this,” explains Gabriela Hernandez, who is part of the walkout organizing team in New Mexico, and also a member of the NM Dream Team immigration organization. “This is an opportunity to come together, and for the community to know that they have a role, that they can protect themselves and achieve way more.”
This post originally appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.