VOICES

Bobby Lee Verdugo - 

Leader of the 1968 walkouts in East Los Angeles.
 
LOS ANGELES, Monday 18, 2017 - 
Interview by Norberto Urrea. norberto@laworks.com
 
Robert (Bobby) Lee Verdugo, is a 67-year-old retired social worker who participated in the historic walkouts that happened at several East LA high schools in 1968.
 
The walkouts were part of a movement lead by Sal Castro, a high school teacher and Chicano students in revolt against the inadequate education and resources being provided to them by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The event is viewed as a pivotal moment in history in which young minorities took a stance for equality and has been the inspiration for similar movements in the decades that followed.
 
Bobby recalls his experience as part of the effort to be inspiring and life-changing. At the time of the walkouts, he was a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School and to him, it was about taking a stance against oppression. “I blamed myself for failing, but it was the school failing us just as much as I was failing.” He explained how teachers would belittle him, telling him that he wasn’t good enough and that he would never graduate. “I started out strong all through elementary and middle school, I was a bright kid, but in high school things changed, my grades dropped from A’s to D’s and F’s.”
 
The movement wasn’t strictly Chicano Bobby said, “there were Asian and Black students in the mix as well, they were also part of this “Chicano” movement.” The guiding force among everyone was frustration, the upsetting feeling that in some way or another they were being overlooked and treated as second-class citizens.
 
For Bobby and many of his classmates the walkouts symbolized much more than a better education, but a chance for a better future. “It was a time of great change not just here but worldwide, Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated, MLK too, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing,” Bobby said. Tensions where high and the minority youth were in desperate need for equality, “If I didn’t graduate I was going to get drafted,” he recalls.
 
50 years later, Bobby admits he has lived a blessed life, he dropped out of high school in 1969 but was given the opportunity to attend the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) through a special minority help program. Although he only spent 2 years there, he appreciates the opportunity and says he learned a lot. He went on to have a long career in social work helping young fathers in need.
 
“Tom Brokaw says that my dad’s generation was the best, but we were pretty good too,” Bobby said. “Everyone I know from back then is either a police officer, teacher or social worker… it’s like this experience created a generation of people who want to give back to the community.”
 
As for the current political or cultural climate, Bobby admits that there is a lot of fear, “I would have never seen this coming back then, we were fighting for equality and better education, but kids today have it rough.”
 
However, he is hopeful and believes in the power of united voices, “I tell high school students today, dreamers, it didn’t happen overnight you still have a lot to do, but look at us my generation went through Nixon and Regan, and we are still here, and this fear will inspire one of two things it’ll cause you to stop and close your eyes, or get off your @$$ and do something.”