Sal Castro: Inspiration to a Generation

It feels like we have entered an era of turbulence.

On a personal level, my thoughts are about life-long Los Angeles educator Sal Castro. He passed away a few days ago. How do you explain who he was to someone who never knew him?

In a way, he was like LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar, who was killed in 1970 in East Los Angeles. Castro had a similar impact, but he did not die then. He inspired a generation. Most people know of him through the movie Walkout! But if that’s how they know him, then in a sense, they only know about six months of his life. Sal never stopped crusading for what some people call educational reform. What he really did was commence a campaign against educational apartheid. And that battle never ended.

In Tucson, we’ve been battling for seven years, and Sal was well aware of the struggle there, in Arizona. He wanted to speak in Tucson when Tucson Unified School District and the state decided that what he stood for was not welcome in this backward state. Still we invited him, but his health was already not in the best of shape. Two years ago, one of his brightest students, Paula Crisostomo, came in his place. And she was banned from speaking not by one, but two schools in Tucson (Tucson High and Cholla).

Still she spoke to my students at the University of Arizona. Her presence was powerful that year. After speaking to my students, she went to one of the most chaotic school board meetings in Tucson’s history. The entire school board, the building and its surroundings were heavily militarized. And she was there in the middle of it all, 40 years after having taking part in a historic battle with thousands of students throughout L.A. schools, she was right in the middle of another historic battle, this time, in defense of Raza Studies.

Sal was the essence of what it means to be a teacher. In some societies, a teacher is the highest example of what it means to be a good human being. A teacher imparts knowledge, imparts wisdom and sets an example.

Soon, I will feel compelled to write about him. A little more about him. At the moment, I am like many, attempting to digest the significance, the impact, of his life and his death.