Love & Walkouts In 1968, thousands of students participated in a series of protests for equity in education that sparked the Chicano Movement. But for two of the students at one struggling high school, that civil unrest — which became known as East L.A. Walkouts — also marked the beginning of a 50-year romance. This week, Code Switch is cosigning that love story, brought to us by our play-cousins at Latino USA.
NPR logo

Love & Walkouts

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/711101017/711775449" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Love & Walkouts

Love & Walkouts

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/711101017/711775449" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

Thanks for listening to CODE SWITCH. We want to understand who's listening and how you're using podcasts, so please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey - that's one word - podcastsurvey. It takes less than 10 minutes, and it really helps support the show. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

What's going on, everybody? So over the last few months, as you've noticed, we've aired some very dope episodes that were not, like, officially from the CODE SWITCH family but from other podcasts that we really dig - episodes like "Perfect Son," which was from the folks at Nancy at WNYC or "The Return" from our play cousins over at Latino USA.

MERAJI: And judging from our inbox and our Twitter feed, you loved those stories. And we're going to take credit for putting you on to other great podcasts. You're welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: You're welcome.

MERAJI: And we're also going to keep signal-boosting by passing the mic every once in a while. It's something we're calling CODE SWITCH Cosigns.

DEMBY: Oh, CODE SWITCH Cosigns - I like the alliteration.

MERAJI: And this week, Gene, we're cosigning a love story.

DEMBY: Ayo (ph), ayo.

MERAJI: (Laughter) That's also a story about fighting for what's right, and it's from our homies at Latino USA. And we don't want to give too much away, so without further ado, here's host Maria Hinojosa with "Love & Walkouts."

MARIA HINOJOSA, BYLINE: The year was 1967; the setting, Abraham Lincoln High School, on the Eastside of Los Angeles - that's where two students, Bobby and Yoli, began to fall in love.

BOBBY VERDUGO: I always liked Yoli. I always liked her a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VERDUGO: Neither one of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend at that time, but we hung out together with the group, you know, the rest of the kids.

YOLI RIOS: He was always a joker. He was making everybody laugh. We were close. We had the same kind of circle of friends. But I really liked his friend, his friend Louis (ph).

VERDUGO: My best friend, actually. We would all go out together, the three of us, many times, you know. And I knew they liked each other, but I liked her, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Rios were both seniors at Lincoln High.

VERDUGO: Well, it was at that one particular Christmas party in '67. We were celebrating, and you know, we shouldn't be drinking, right? We're kids. But there was liquor there, you know, so we started drinking, so maybe that loosened up the anxiety a little bit. I think Louis had a little bit too much to drink that night. So I saw my chance. You know, she was standing there.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS' "ARE YOU ANGRY?")

VERDUGO: I asked her to dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS' "ARE YOU ANGRY?")

RIOS: Bobby actually sang to me - are you angry with me, darling? - you know, a Midniters' song. And I said, oh, my God, this guy sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU ANGRY?")

THEE MIDNITERS: (Singing) Are you angry with me, darling - with me, darling - with me, darling?

RIOS: We were slow dancing, you know? I said, oh, man, this guy's very romantic. I love it, you know? (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU ANGRY?")

THEE MIDNITERS: (Singing) That we met, that we met. Have you learned to love another, love another, love another?

HINOJOSA: As the two slow danced into the crisp December night, a 50-year love story began. And soon, something else began, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Viva la raza.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Chicano.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in Spanish).

HINOJOSA: A movement that was going to set the course for the rest of their lives together.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: We're taking you back to the late 1960s, when thousands of Los Angeles students participated in protests that were part of the growing Chicano movement. They're known as the East LA Walkouts or Blowouts. The majority of the students were of Mexican descent. And for most of them, this was their first experience with activism. They walked out of their classrooms to protest discrimination in their schools and to demand change. It was one of the first mass movements of Chicano youth in a major American city.

Throughout the country, 1968 was a year of tragedy, fury and hope in the civil rights movement. But for young people who lived it, the unrest was happening alongside their everyday lives. They were starting families or going to college or, like Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Rios, they were falling in love. Producer Janice Llamoca picks up the story from here.

JANICE LLAMOCA, BYLINE: Bobby and Yoli grew up on the Eastside of Los Angeles in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, Lincoln Heights.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: It was the 1950s, and the community was majority Mexican and tightknit. Here's Yoli.

RIOS: Our circles are very small when you grew up in the city, in the barrios. You know, we don't get out much.

LLAMOCA: Bobby and Yoli lived about eight blocks apart. They didn't know each other as kids, but they lived almost parallel lives - both from working-class families and both the oldest of their siblings. Bobby remembers his early years, when the neighborhood was one big family.

VERDUGO: In those days, I mean, I remember many of the mothers who were not mine, you know, pulling me by the ear, taking me home if they saw me doing or getting involved in some things that I shouldn't have been doing as a little boy. But I had a real good childhood. You know, I didn't feel some of the things that I would realize later about being oppressed and being treated as a second-class citizen, you know? Those kind of things I didn't realize until much later.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: In 1965, Bobby and Yoli met at Lincoln High School. At first, they were just friends, but...

VERDUGO: Yoli was beautiful. Man, I tell you, I immediately was drawn to her.

LLAMOCA: Yoli had dark, shiny hair that just brushed her shoulders, and her presence was warm and nurturing. Friends at school would call her Mama Yoli. Bobby was a football player, and he looked like one. He had broad shoulders.

RIOS: I thought he was handsome. He had a lot of facial hair. I said, oh, man, that's a man. (Laughter) That's a real man.

LLAMOCA: Before Yoli officially started at Lincoln High School, her uncle gave her one piece of advice.

RIOS: When you go to high school, you are going to demand to be a math major when you go see that counselor.

LLAMOCA: He was referring to the public school's tracking systems. You could take college prep classes or be placed on a vocational track, and Mexican-American students were generally put in the vocational courses to prepare them for things like factory or secretary work. But Yoli had the grades for college, so Yoli demanded to be placed in math classes.

RIOS: And I could tell it was different because my friends who didn't insist were taking typing and a little bit of bookkeeping and were all in the home economics, you know, and I was - I would never see them; I would never see my girlfriends.

LLAMOCA: In the fall of 1967, Bobby and Yoli began there last year at Lincoln High, and that's when they slow danced on that December night.

VERDUGO: That night we - you know, we hung out till the rest of the evening, you know, and then weeks after that, we started getting closer and closer, and kind of, like, unsaid words, but it was kind of exclusively seeing and talking to each other.

LLAMOCA: They started talking more and more over the phone. They had a few classes together. And Yoli would call Bobby at 7 in the morning to wake him up for school.

RIOS: Bobby, you know, he was in my class. And I don't think there was a day in class where he didn't crack a joke. And they would march him up to the front of the room and just - bend over, grab your knees, and boom - get paddled.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Bobby, Jesus - front and center.

LLAMOCA: What you're hearing is a scene from the 2006 HBO film "Walkout."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

EFREN RAMIREZ: (As Bobby Verdugo) What'd I do?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You spoke Spanish. You know the rules.

LLAMOCA: Which is based on the events in the Eastside schools in 1968. Bobby's character gets into trouble with the teacher.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Mr. Verdugo, you're first.

LLAMOCA: And just like Yoli said, he swatted in front of the class, with Yoli's character watching.

VERDUGO: As a young Chicano, I want to be tough, so you don't want to complain too much, thinking, you know, I - it's all right. I can take this. You know, go ahead, hit me. See if you're going to break me or anything. But it hurt the spirit, you know. Little by little, they were breaking me.

RIOS: It was humiliating. It angered you. I felt really powerless.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: Corporal punishment was common at Lincoln High, but there were other, more subtle ways that Bobby and Yoli felt mistreated. In her trigonometry class, Yoli noticed a complete lack of interest from her teacher. One day...

RIOS: ...Brang (ph) out this little green carpet, and it had a little putting thing at the end, and then he brings out some golf clubs. And he's at the front of the class, and he starts putting. And I said, wow, this guy is going to go golfing, you know. This teacher, this Anglo teacher, was teaching a Mexican school, so why even put forth the effort?

LLAMOCA: Like Yoli, Bobby was a bright kid, and he was active on campus. But as he got older, he started noticing a change.

VERDUGO: My performance level kind of tapered off. I wasn't getting the straight A's in the seventh and eighth grade that I used to. They turned to C's, D's. And my junior year, I realized I was in trouble.

LLAMOCA: Bobby said he was repeatedly told by teachers, many of them white, that he wasn't worth their time. And it stuck.

VERDUGO: So I started to believe it, and I started to perform likewise. So by the time I got to 11th and I'm going into my senior year, I started realizing I'm not going to make it. I'm not going to graduate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VERDUGO: And I realized I had to take responsibility for my actions or inactions. But there was a lot more to it than just me being a failure. I was being failed by the schools that my parents entrusted them to teach me. They weren't doing their job.

LLAMOCA: What was happening to Bobby was a common story at Lincoln High. In 1968, Lincoln had a huge dropout rate, almost 40 percent, and the kids affected, well, over 90 percent of the student body was Latino, mainly of Mexican heritage. And that segregation wasn't just by chance. Latino families had been pushed into Eastside neighborhoods like Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights and East LA, displaced by freeway construction and other development. The public schools in these neighborhoods were underfunded, overcrowded - sometimes 45 kids to a class. And teachers came year after year with low expectations and a lack of cultural sensitivity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) Now, now, now.

LLAMOCA: In the '60s, there was no shortage of inspiration for young people who felt mistreated. Communities of color that had been oppressed for centuries were crying out for revolution - the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and especially the farmworker strike led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez began to politicize Mexican-Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: Chicano.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting).

LLAMOCA: At the time, Mexican-American youth were calling themselves Chicano and Chicana, which historically was used as a derogatory term towards people of Mexican heritage.

RIOS: And we are going to take that negative terminology and make it revolutionary, making it to say that we're standing up against discrimination, against racism, against second-class citizenship. For me, I accepted that, that we were going to be a part of a movement of change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in Spanish).

LLAMOCA: And the discrimination Yoli mentioned? She heard stories from friends about police profiling young Mexican-Americans in the neighborhood.

RIOS: We knew when we would cruise down Whittier Boulevard, we were being stopped and searched and seized.

LLAMOCA: Underground newspapers were being passed around in the schools, newspapers like La Raza magazine, with articles informing the students about civil rights. Even the cartoons made a statement. One depicted corporal punishment; the saying - teach the best, spank the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: As they grew closer, Bobby and Yoli were also gaining a new understanding of social injustice in their community.

RIOS: They can't do that. They're violating your civil rights. So all of these things pique up, what are our rights? It was a quick jolt in our minds and in our consciousness.

VERDUGO: Not all the teachers were bad, though, and not all the teachers hit, and not all the teachers would say things that would try to dehumanize you. I had some very good teachers - Sal Castro, of course, one of them.

LLAMOCA: Sal Castro was Bobby's social studies teacher at Lincoln High. He was young, in his early 30s. Here he is being interviewed in archived news tape from the PBS series "Chicano!".

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHICANO!")

SAL CASTRO: Most teachers approach the Mexicans with a negative attitude, and - you have nothing to give to me. I am going to make an Anglo, come hell or high water, and whatever you have to say about it makes no difference.

LLAMOCA: He related to his students. He grew up on the Eastside. And he was Mexican-American, like many of his students.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHICANO!")

CASTRO: For years, the schools have rapped (ph) on blaming the Mexican home for not doing a good job in educating the kid. In other words, if the kid doesn't go to school, it's a Mexican parents' fault or the Mexican home's fault. It has never been the fault of the Mexican home.

LLAMOCA: Sal Castro, who died in 2013, became more than a teacher to Bobby. He became a mentor.

VERDUGO: It's OK to be angry, but what do you do about it, you know? And I think that's really what I learned from Sal.

LLAMOCA: Sal began to help Bobby, Yoli and the students at Lincoln High organize. It was time to demand more from the schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: Students from several Eastside high schools began getting together with the help of Sal Castro. Some of their parents and others helped, too.

VERDUGO: A lot of college students were the ones who were actually hosting, letting us into their homes to discuss these things.

LLAMOCA: And these college students, many of them had gone to high school on the Eastside and experienced the same problems. Even though Bobby had little chance at this point of going to college, he became one of the group's leaders.

VERDUGO: And my involvement was a very personal one. Even though I didn't think I was going to graduate, I said to myself, I need to be involved in this. I need to be involved in making change. It may be too late for me at this point - I'm a senior, I got a 0.15 grade-point average at this point, and whatever it was - I'm not going to make it, but I still need to fight to make some change.

LLAMOCA: As the students started to organize, they weren't sure of what actions they should take, but they knew it needed to be big.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: One of the first steps was smaller, though. They handed out surveys asking how the students felt about the schools.

RIOS: We were taking our cues as the information would come back. Again, our job was to communicate to our classmates.

LLAMOCA: Early in 1968, rumors began to swirl that a massive student walkout was in the works. The students were beginning to draft a long list of demands to present to the school board. They wanted bilingual education, more Latino teachers and an end to corporal punishment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: Bobby and Yoli and their friends continued organizing, and then, on Friday, March 1, something happened - at another Eastside high school, almost 200 students walked out. The blowouts had officially begun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: Coming up on Latino USA, the walkouts.

VERDUGO: Truthfully, I didn't even know if I was going to walk out. You know, I wanted to, but there was fear. There was real fear.

HINOJOSA: Stay with us. No te vayas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Gene.

MERAJI: Shereen.

DEMBY: CODE SWITCH Cosigns.

MERAJI: Back to Maria and Janice.

HINOJOSA: When we left off, it was March of 1968, and the Eastside walkouts had officially begun. Producer Janice Llamoca tells us what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: Bobby Verdugo, Yoli Rios and their classmates leapt into action that day when they heard that the students at another high school, Wilson, had walked out of class.

RIOS: There was a message that went out. People were calling each other on the phone or seeing each at school or going over to each other's house - we got to meet because Wilson walked out. What are we going to do?

VERDUGO: And we didn't anticipate that it was going to happen so soon. But there was a lot of agreement. And there were those who were really anxious.

LLAMOCA: So the organizers at Lincoln High School, including Bobby, started planning their own walkout. They had to do it soon if they wanted to continue the momentum.

VERDUGO: There was a sense of urgency about what we're going to do, and we needed to talk about what our goals were but also to realize what the consequences may be.

LLAMOCA: The students and organizers knew that the police could get involved, and it could get violent. On Tuesday, March 5, students from another Eastside high school, Garfield, walked out. The Chicano newspapers that were passed around in schools reported that over 2,000 students left their classrooms. The next day, it was Lincoln High School's turn. The organizers spread the word to other students - walkout at 10 a.m.

VERDUGO: Truthfully, March 6, that Wednesday, I didn't even know if I was going to walk out. I really didn't, you know. I wanted to, and I had been preparing for that moment, but there was fear. There was real fear.

RIOS: As I was heading out to school, I went over to my mom to remind her - Mom, don't forget. We're walking out today. And she was - (laughter) she turned around. Like, she had forgotten. So she goes, OK, mija. Well, just be careful. You know, she just said, be careful (laughter).

VERDUGO: My mom knew I was going to walk out before I did, you know? (Laughter). She was already waiting outside to make sure that I wouldn't get hurt, as were a lot of parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VERDUGO: My attendance record was never all that great, but I remember really wanting to be at school that day (laughter), you know, to walk out.

LLAMOCA: The timing, 10 a.m., was strategic. It was meant to hit the school where it hurt - its funding - because that funding was partly based on attendance. And since the teachers took attendance around 10 a.m., they'd have to report all the absences, and the school would lose money.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Walk out. Lincoln, walk out.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Walk out.

LLAMOCA: This is another scene from the HBO film "Walkout," which shows the students standing up from their desks and leaving their classrooms...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) All right, let's take attendance.

LLAMOCA: ...Right as the teachers took attendance.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Rodriguez, sit back down.

LLAMOCA: And student leaders running down the halls yelling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WALKOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Walk out. Walk out.

RIOS: We were just kind of, like, waiting to hear the call. You know, we weren't exactly sure who was going to - somebody was going to knock on the door or how it was going to go. But then we heard Bobby - you know, the different students coming by.

VERDUGO: I remember being in the hallways yelling, walk out, and being confronted by the vice principal telling me to go back to my class.

RIOS: One thing that was going through my head as we were walking out is, I could see - there was two teachers, and I can't remember their names, but they looked so sad. Because I had never seen that expression, you know, and I said, good. I interpret that expression as, good, feel bad because you have been discriminating against us. You've been - we have been abused. We have been treated badly, poorly, as second-class citizens.

VERDUGO: We walked out. And we were in the courtyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #4: (Chanting).

VERDUGO: All the students, 1,500-plus students in the courtyard, and we didn't know what we were going to do. You know, there was, like, no plan of action. And I wanted to stay, you know, by Yoli's side, and my brother seemed to make sure that they - nothing would happen to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #4: (Chanting).

HINOJOSA: While the student leaders were trying to figure out their next steps, one of their fellow organizers got on top of a water fountain in the courtyard.

VERDUGO: And started yelling, Chicano power, and this and started getting everybody all excited and being, like, the voice.

RIOS: You know, he got up and - just not saying, Chicano power. He was saying, we have the highest dropout rate. You know, we - it was a period of education for all the students to hear. These are the grievances. We are going to demand there should be no corporal punishment.

VERDUGO: And I think it was either he or someone made the decision, let's go outside. What are we doing in here? Nobody can see us in here. What kind of statement is this?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: They eventually spilled out from the courtyard into the streets and continued chanting, Chicano power, and, walkout. Over 90 percent of the student body from Lincoln walked out of their classrooms that morning. The students walked to a local park called Hazard Park about a 30-minute walk from Lincoln. The school board had an area office there. They swarmed the building, but there was only one superintendent there. And he wasn't able to address their concerns. Most of the students went back to class later that afternoon. But this was just the beginning.

VERDUGO: So it didn't last all day, the walkout itself, you know? We went back into school, which was interesting to see the - like Yoli said, some of the teachers looked sad. Some of them looked excited. Some of them came up to us and, without any words, you know, either hugged us or said, I'm glad, you know, you guys are OK.

LLAMOCA: Bobby said he heard that some of the teachers just ignored the protest.

VERDUGO: You know, let's just move on. You know, this is - you had your moment, you know? They didn't realize it was going to happen through the rest week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: So Thursday - more walkouts. At Roosevelt High School, students were arrested. And at other schools, gates were closed so students couldn't leave. But that didn't stop them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: On that Friday, March 8, thousands of students from all the Eastside high schools walked out. They peacefully marched to Hazard Park.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VERDUGO: Some of the schools had come greater distances. The estimates of the crowd vary, you know, whoever you talk to. But there were over 10,000 students from different schools meeting there at Hazard Park, rallying. It's pretty remarkable if you think about it because each school is a different neighborhood.

RIOS: There's these little mounding hills. You know, Belmont's coming over the hill. They would make announcements. You know, Garfield's coming up on the - you know, this street. And it was so good to see the unity and being able to have the district officials there to hear us out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: The students rallied and spoke about the poor conditions of their schools. And they shared their demands with members of the Los Angeles school board, who were there to listen.

VERDUGO: And by that time, the sun had come out. And it was, in many ways, you know - metaphorically and even, you know, physically, it was like Sal had mentioned.

LLAMOCA: Sal Castro, the teacher who inspired Bobby.

VERDUGO: It was beautiful to be a Chicano that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: After the walkouts, the Los Angeles school board finally agreed to listen to the students on their own turf - their schools. They organized a meeting that would take place at Lincoln High later in March. Meanwhile, Bobby and Yoli hit a new milestone in their budding relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RIOS: One day, you know, it was - my girlfriends were saying, well, are you and Bobby together? I said, I don't know, maybe.

VERDUGO: So the term going around meant going steady, you know, back in the '60s. And on that one particular morning where she called me, she said...

RIOS: Bobby, you know, it's already 10 minutes - 15 minutes to 7. You got to go to football practice. Oh, OK. OK. And Bobby, by the way, I have a question. I go, are we going around?

VERDUGO: Are we going around or what? 'Cause my friend - it doesn't matter to me - the classic line, right? It doesn't matter to me. But my friends are asking, are you guys going around?

RIOS: And then he said something to the effect - well - he goes, you know I like you. And I said, OK.

VERDUGO: Let me ask you. Do you want to go around with me? She goes, no.

(LAUGHTER)

VERDUGO: But, baby, she says, of course, yeah. But don't worry. It's just something I wanted to know for me.

(LAUGHTER)

VERDUGO: Oh, yeah. When I get to school, everybody's standing at the front gate, waiting for me to get there. And they say, happy going around day to you. So, yeah. I'm sure - yeah, I'm sure glad it was just between you and me here. So I gave her my ring, and we officially - that was March 23, couple of weeks after the blowouts. And that's when we became Bobby and Yoli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LLAMOCA: On March 26, the Los Angeles school board met with students at Lincoln High School. The meeting lasted four hours, and over a thousand people attended. The students were able to air 36 demands. They were published in the Los Angeles Times. They wanted mandatory bilingual and bicultural education, to abolish corporal punishment and for teachers and administrators to stop discriminating and be respectful of cultural traditions. As the meeting ended, the board agreed not to punish the students that participated in the walkouts. But overall, nothing much came of it. It may not have been the immediate outcome that the students wanted. But still, they had forced the powers that be to hear their voices.

RIOS: It was exciting to have these thoughts to think, we can do this. We weren't afraid of the challenge. We were ready to take it on.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS' "WHITTIER BOULEVARD")

LLAMOCA: Bobby didn't graduate that year from Lincoln High School with Yoli. He sat in the bleachers and watched. He did ultimately get his GED and attend college, but he didn't finish his degree until he was in his 40s. Yoli did go to college immediately after high school on a scholarship. And eventually, she became a union organizer. And Bobby became a social worker who mentored teen fathers. They got married in 1979. And for decades, the two of them worked to improve the same community they had grown up in and protested in.

VERDUGO: We may not be 16 or 17-year-old students anymore, but we're going to continue this fight and be there where we can and try to make some change even today.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS' "WHITTIER BOULEVARD")

LLAMOCA: After five decades, Bobby and Yoli still act like high school sweethearts. At least they did when I visited them. And I'm not the first person to ask them about their long relationship.

VERDUGO: There seems to be a particular interest in the fact that, God, they were boyfriend/girlfriend back then. And they're still together, you know? And I'm sure there have been challenges, and there have. But I think the work is a lot bigger than just us.

LLAMOCA: I asked them if the work, their activism, is the secret to their long-lasting relationship.

RIOS: So no matter what, in our relationship when we would get angry with each other - and it could be small things. Oh, he doesn't do his wash or he's always late or whatever. But when things are happening politically, you know, no matter what it was that, you know, upset you, an issue comes up that has to be discussed - boy, that goes away quick.

VERDUGO: I'm going to say thank you, Yoli. And I'm going to take that as a big forgiveness on a lot of things that I've done or not done in a good way all these years. Just the fact that here we are 50 years later - I mean, there were a lot of boyfriend/girlfriends who walked out together, holding hands. And I think a lot of it - to its credit or maybe to our credit, our work has kept us together - that passion for wanting to do well. And we seem to be able to do it better together than apart. It's kept us alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS SONG, "CHICANO POWER")

LLAMOCA: Fifty years have passed since Bobby and Yoli stood up together, walked out of their high school classrooms and made a mark in history. It's the type of history they would have loved to learn about in high school. And now, because of them and the rest of the Eastside students, Latino kids can.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEE MIDNITERS SONG, "CHICANO POWER")

HINOJOSA: Today Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Rios are both retired. And they've traveled around the country, sharing their experience as student organizers and participants in the 1968 walkouts. Now, while they weren't immediate, some changes were made at Eastside schools. Over the years, corporal punishment was banned. And college enrollment for Latino students spiked. At Abraham Lincoln High School, where Bobby and Yoli went, ethnic studies classes are now offered. And the dropout rate is only about 3 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICANO POWER")

THEE MIDNITERS: (Singing) Chicano power. Chicano power.

DEMBY: All right, y'all, that's our show. I don't know what you're doing right now. But what you should be doing is subscribing to Latino USA. You should've did that a long time ago. But you can do that by going to NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

MERAJI: It's never too late.

DEMBY: Never too late.

MERAJI: And this episode was produced by Janice Llamoca and edited by our former CODE SWITCH editor, the great Alison MacAdam. We miss you, Ali.

DEMBY: We really, really do. As always, we've got to shout out the rest of the CODE SWITCH familia. Did I say that right? - familia.

MERAJI: Yes, good job.

DEMBY: I'm getting better. I'm getting better.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: We will see y'all next week. I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

MERAJI: Peace.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.