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Family And Friends Remember Sal Castro, Teacher And Influential Chicano Activist

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By Diego Rentería

Amid cheers of “¡Sí se puede!” and “¡Viva Sal Castro!”, family, friends, former students, contemporaries and numerous admirers gathered this morning at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for Sal Castro’s funeral mass.

Castro died on April 15 at age 79, months after being diagnosed with stage 4 thyroid cancer.

He was a social studies teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Castro was a central figure in the 1968 East L.A. Chicano Blowouts, in which he led students at Abraham Lincoln High School to walk out of their classes to protest a culturally-insensitive educational system that focused resources on predominantly white schools to the detriment of majority-minority schools and did not adequately prepare Chicanos for college, instead funneling them towards manual labor.

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The funeral service, led by Reverend James Mott, featured readings by his children and grandchildren and remarks of remembrance by former students and friends. Former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno, a student of Castro’s at Abraham Lincoln High School in the mid-1960s, remarked that Castro “inspired us, cajoled us, and threatened us.”

Moreno added, “Sal dedicated his life to education and for the betterment of educational opportunities for thousands upon thousands of young Chicano students.”

Paula Crisostomo, who was also a student of Castro’s at Lincoln High School and a leader of the 1968 Chicano Blowouts, remarked that Castro “could make it so that you thought he was talking to you” in a large lecture hall. Another former student, Myrna Brutti, said that Castro’s advice to students never changed in his long career: go to college, get advanced degrees, and return to your communities and use your words to change communities.

Many of those in attendance at Castro’s funeral mass had attended his lectures at schools or the Chicano Youth Leadership Conference, which he started in 1963 in response to "the harsh reality that Chicano students fared last in education, their dropout rates exceeded any other ethnicity and the likelihood of their attending a college or university was very low."

Mario Garcia, professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of "Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice," recalled Castro’s answer when asked how he wanted to be remembered: “first and foremost as a teacher.” He went on to say that Castro once remarked that he wanted his tombstone to read “Sal Castro, A Teacher.”

PBS produced a film on the Chicano student movement for the 1996 Chicano! A History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement series. Watch the full episode, “Taking Back the Schools,” below.

Related:
Remembering Sal Castro, Influential L.A. Educator