Remembering the West High School Blowout
50 years ago, students of color were oppressed due to their ethnicity, the way they looked, and the languages they spoke. Chicano students at West decided they’d had enough so they made a list of demands to stand up to the racism they faced everyday and to improve their education. They wanted bilingual education and Chicano studies integrated into their classes, and they wanted respect from teachers and staff. A walkout was coordinated with the help of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, the head of the Chicano organization Crusade for Justice.
On March 20th, 1969, approximately one hundred and fifty students walked out of class. Students marched to Baker and then back to West, where they were met by police officers. Tensions escalated quickly. Police reacted aggressively and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The next day, students of all ethnicities walked out of several other Denver high schools and met in front of West in solidarity. There were over a thousand protesters. Because of the clashes with police the previous day, the demonstration quickly exploded into chaos and violence, which is why the West High School Walkout became known as the West High School Blowout. In the end, 25 people were arrested and 6 were injured.
This week students participated in a variety of activities to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the blowout. We analyzed the poem “Yo Soy Joaquin”, which was written by Corky Gonzales in the 60’s, and explored our own identities. The band Los Mocochetes and the Su Teatro theater troupe performed for us. We learned from Lita Gonzales what is was like to be Chicano in Denver in the 60’s, and we compared and contrasted how things were then to how they are today. On March 21st, community members gathered in front of the school for a symbolic march to Su Teatro, reenacting the walkout of 1969.
Link to 9 News story about the blowout – This story features Principal Teresa Klava and Assistant Principal Mia Martinez, “daughters of two men who were a part of the West High School blowout”, both now leaders at West.