ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – In Abilene back in 1969, speaking Spanish in the classroom often came with its consequences. At the time, Isaac Munoz was 14 years old and attending Franklin Middle School.
“I was in first grade, and the teacher asked me a question, I answered her in Spanish, because I didn’t know what she was asking me to begin, really. So she punished me by sticking me in the hallway,” said Munoz.
Leticia Alvarado was a student at Mann Middle School.
“Speaking Spanish, we would get ridiculed, even if it was, you know, to a friend or at lunch,” expressed Alvarado.
Munoz described the racial tension separating Mexican Americans.
“The inequalities that we faced, the opportunities we were not allowed to have, whether it be in, you know, academics, sports, whatever, it was just as just wasn’t the same for us,” shared Munoz.
Then, in October of 1969, life for Latinos in Abilene would be forever changed.
Many, like Leticia Alvarado and Isaac Munoz, were part of a Latino-led walk-out that started at Abilene High and involved students from Mann and Franklin Middle schools due to the treatment of Hispanic students in Abilene ISD.
“I was scared to get out because I didn’t want to get in trouble at home or by my brother, and that’s when she told me that my brother was leading the walkout. One of the leaders of the walkout,” explained Alvarado.
Some students wrote down 11 grievances in regards to wanting more bilingual programs and teachers, as well as changes they wished to see in the classroom.
“We needed to do something about the situation with the Hispanic community,” said Alvarado.
For ten days, hundreds of students put their education on pause to take a stand and, according to Munoz, paved the way for future students.
“Don’t take for granted what we have, because someone, someone paid a price… Walking out, you know, both in their, in their private and professional lives,” said Munoz.
One of those who paid the price was Leticia’s brother, Johnny Sanchez, who was an organizer of the walk-out.
“He knew he was smart, and for him to help with others all together, they all pitched in together to make this happen. You know, I was proud of him. I was proud,” expressed Alvarado.
Sanchez’s organization efforts even caught the attention of Senator Ted Kennedy.
“They told him that Ted Kennedy was on the phone to talk to him, and he just gave him words of encouragement,” said Alvarado.
Even after ten days of the walkout, students were still taking a stand.
“We were wearing armbands, brown armbands, you know, which symbolizes that we were still not happy with the situation. And so we wore those for about a week or two,” said Alvarado.
“It wasn’t till after the walkout. That a lot of it stopped the condescending, you know, the name calling, the looking down on us, not that it wasn’t still there. It just wasn’t in our face anymore,” added Munoz.
The walkout of 1969 forever serves as a reminder of how far Abilene has come.
“It’s history, you know, we’re not erasing history. We’re just reminding people of what happened back then. And now it’s better. We should be better. We need to go forward and try not to repeat our mistakes,” said Alvarado.