Chicano activist and educator Sal Castro wows the crowd with his past -- and presence


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Activist and educator Sal Castro knows how to make an entrance. The panel discussion ‘History, Identity & Purpose: California Chicanos & Beyond’ on Saturday at the Festival of Books began without Castro, one of the key organizers of the East Los Angeles walkouts in 1968.

Author Mario T. Garcia, who wrote ‘Blowout!: Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice,’ was midway through a description of the impact Castro’s actions have had on society, when in walked Castro. He was 15 minutes late, but that didn’t seem to matter to the crowd who gave him an ovation as he walked to the front of the room. Moderator Hector Tobar jokingly acknowledged that Castro showed up late just to get the warm greeting.


Garcia, who had spent the last 10 years working on the book, would have been a sufficient replacement to cover the life and times of Castro if Castro hadn’t shown. But some young ones in the crowd would have been disappointed, a testament to his staying power as an icon of Chicano rights and youth leadership.

Case in point: A group of 10-year-old Latino boys and girls were giddy just to see Castro’s name placard on the table. Expecting to hear that they were fans of the movie ‘Walkout’ directed by Edward James Olmos and starring actors Efren Ramirez and Michael Pena, I was surprised as they started discussing his educational effect on Latinos. Before they settled into their seats one said, ‘I’ve been waiting 10 years to see him.’ Finally Castro got an opportunity to speak -- and he didn’t disappoint.

He stood straight up, held up a movie poster of ‘Walkout’ and said that when producers approached him about doing a movie on his life, he said someone good-looking had to play him. He was happy with the choice of Pena. Castro kept it light, even though much of his life involved serious events such as being jailed for fighting for improved educational rights.

Aside from Castro’s larger-than-life appearance, other authors added to the discussion on Chicano history and identity. Former L.A. Times writer Daniel Hernandez talked about growing up in San Diego and Tijuana, the overarching theme in his book ‘Down and Delirious in Mexico City.’ And former Times Assistant Managing Editor Miriam Pawel talked about the profound contributions made by Cesar Chavez, the subject of her book ‘The Union of Their Dreams.’

-- Joshua Sandoval