Sophie Peterson, 14, from Sylmar, at a rally against gun violence in Los Angeles last month. Richard Vogel/Associated Press
Fifty years ago this month, amid the tumult of the 1960s, thousands of Chicano students from Los Angeles high schools walked out of class to protest racism and failing schools.
“I was pretty beat down,” recalled Bobby Verdugo, who was one of the student organizers. “I didn’t think I would amount to much. That’s what teachers were telling me.”
As Mr. Verdugo, 67, and other veterans of the Chicano walkouts made the rounds of events at schools here recently, to mark the anniversary, students told them about their own intentions to walk out of class next week, in solidarity with student activists across the country who have called for protests for gun control in the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“I couldn’t help but reflect back,” he said. “Before us, high school kids had never done that en masse.”
With the gun protests planned for next week, on March 14, commentators have invoked the historic parallels to the 1960s, when students protested against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights. The history of his own movement, Mr. Verdugo said, is often forgotten.
Writing in The Los Angeles Times recently, Gustavo Arellano, a columnist, said: “Those young people helped launch the Chicano movement in Southern California and created a generation of leaders.”
Mr. Arellano worries that the national news media coverage of the Parkland-inspired activists will ignore the Chicano walkouts, and focus instead on the youth movements against the Vietnam War and segregation in the South, and more recent youth-led protests against President Trump’s immigration policies.
But in Los Angeles this week no one is ignoring that history. Los Angeles schools have held a number of events, including a re-enactment on Monday of a famous meeting in 1968 between Cesar Chavez, the Chicano labor leader, and Robert F. Kennedy.
“Chicano history was not separate from American history, it was a part of American history,” Mr. Verdugo said.
One of the sparks for the protests here in 1968 was a high dropout rate among Latino students. And Mr. Verdugo, who was failing in school, left for good after the protests. But later that year he was admitted to U.C.L.A. under an affirmative action program.
“I walked out in March, dropped out in May, and in October I walked on to the campus of U.C.L.A.,” he said.
He never graduated, but years later earned a degree from another university and went on to a long career in social work.