Reflections on Mr. Sal Castro, Teacher
By Rita Ledesma, CSULA

Sal Castro 1968 during the student walk out.
Remarks presented at the UCLA Sal Castro and Chicano Youth Leadership Camp Symposium – May 2006

I was a student at Roosevelt High School in 1967-68, and I first became aware of Sal Castro, during the Blow-outs and at Camp Hess Kramer, at Chicano Youth Leadership Camp.  I was present during the meetings, rallies, and marches that followed the Walkouts and the arrests of Sal and others.  However, my relationship with Sal began during the summer of 1968, when I attended the Upward Bound Program at UCLA.  Sal was one of my teachers, and he was a teacher unlike any I had encountered during my 11 years of schooling.

When the Blow-outs occurred, I was already very disengaged from any educational process at Roosevelt.  I transferred to Roosevelt in fall 1967 after 10 years of Catholic school.  Although I was a good student for ten years, all I learned at Roosevelt was how to ditch school and cut class.  No one in the school seemed to notice or care.  Although I had some vague idea of going to college, I had no preparation and no vision about how to translate that unformed notion into any kind of meaningful reality.  By the time of the “Walk-outs” in March, I knew that I would be dropping out of Roosevelt.   Then, I met Sal.  When he spoke in meetings and at rallies about his beliefs and convictions, I felt like there might be a different path for me. I know now that the word for that experience is “inspired”; I was inspired by Sal, because he “cared”.

During that summer at Upward Bound, he taught Chicano history.  For the first time, I was exposed to different ideas and to the notion that we (students) could succeed and that we had something to offer.  Students at UCLA were organizing a new program for students who had potential for academic success, despite problematic academic records, and Sal talked to me about this program and encouraged me to apply.  He and Luis Ortiz were directly responsible for my entry into that program.  His belief in me transformed my life at a very critical time in my development. 

One of the fondest memories of my life is from that summer.  All summer, Sal provided us with education about our history as well as the opportunity to think and engage in dialog about our community, our identity and our future.  He instilled pride in our heritage by teaching us music, art and dance.  He coerced us to perform a program of dance, music and poetry for the Upward Bound community at the end of the summer. He helped us make our costumes, and he got us on stage. One of my fondest memories is dancing “El Jarabe Tapatio” at UCLA on a glorious summer day and remembering Sal’s beaming smile as he stood on the sidelines.  It was “a good day to be a Chicana” and Sal gave it to me.  Thank you, Sal, you’ve influenced me more than you know, and I’m grateful beyond words.