In-Depth: Uvalde 1970 Hispanic student walkout teaching parents in a new protest for gun control

Posted at 1:50 AM, Oct 04, 2022

UVALDE, Texas — In 1970, Josué “George” Garza a popular Hispanic teacher was let go from his 5th-grade teaching job at Robb Elementary.

In-Depth: Uvalde 1970 Hispanic student walkout teaching parents in a new protest for gun control

The school board didn't renew his contract and hundreds of students walked out of school for weeks in what they called a stand against pervasive discrimination.

"I had to stand up to the principal, one day I saw a teacher pulling a little girl by the ear," said George Garza.

The 83-year-old remembers those days clearly. In tears, he shares the story of injustice that he took a stand for that would cost him his job.

"She was speaking Spanish in the classroom, she just came from Mexico," George Garza said in tears.

In Texas, dating back to 1918 speaking Spanish in school was against the law.

In 1968 the federal government passed the Bilingual Education Actwhich aimed to establish language programs for students learning English. The bill was introduced by Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Bilingual Education Act was an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Being one of the few Hispanic teachers in Uvalde, and dealing with a systematic racism issue in the 1970s, the first-generation American had to choose his battles.

"I came to Uvalde with my parents in 1955," said George Garza.

Born in San Antonino Garza came from a family of Immigrants. His dream was to go into education and beat the odds against him.

"Sometimes we would face discrimination, but we were too strong to be held back," said George Garza.

As a child, Garza was told to "speak English or go back to Mexico." But his community would encourage each other to keep going.

He would enlist in the Army for two years and later would finish college. That was a goal his teachers thought would never be accomplished.

"I told myself over and over I'm a champion," said Garza.

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in 1953. Still, Uvalde’s Mexican American children were sent to Robb Elementary or Anthon Elementary.

In the school, almost all of the students were Hispanic, while most of the city’s white children attended Dalton Elementary. Dalton had all the resources.

So when Garza was dismissed, the students had enough and that's when the walkout started.

"There was a group that would always find a way to kind of control you," said Garza.

George would work to make the school look good, raise money for a basketball court, and coach kids into being a champion. When his contract wasn't renewed it was a hard hit.

On the first day of the walkout, around 200 students left school. As the days went on nearly 650.

The students fought for Garza’s contract to be renewed and wanted school administrators to meet a list of 13 other demands that included hiring more Hispanic teachers, providing Mexican American history classes, and requiring that teachers learn how to properly pronounce the names of Hispanic students.

Garza said a helicopter tracked them from the sky, the sprinkler system was turned on and a woman used a bar of soap to say “dirty Mexicans.”

The walkout went six weeks, one of the longest school boycotts in American history. Garza would not get his job back and went to sell peanuts. But later was elected on the same board that fired him and was elected mayor for Uvalde.

The change in Uvalde

When kids went back to school their punishment was not receiving credit for the 6 weeks. Some seniors dropped out.

A generation of Uvalde students developed a sense of pride in standing up against a discriminatory school system. It inspired some to attend college, and run for elected office like Garza's son Ronnie.

"He's a good role model," said Ronnie Garza who's now a county commissioner in Uvalde.

Ronnie said growing up it was all about church, family, and work. Ronnie was young when the walkout was happening.

It was difficult on the family and in some ways, his dad became an outcast. But he said his father refused to leave because Uvalde was home.

"He had compassion and he was going to stand up for what's right," said Ronnie Garza.

Uvalde's new fight

Ronnie's dad who's now 83 still keeps going. Now his son is standing up to lawmakers when it comes to gun control.

A group of parents camping outside the Uvalde CISD administration office demanded that five Uvalde CISD officers be placed on leave.

Javier Cazares made the trip to Austin with his wife and 17-year-old daughter to join hundreds of demonstrators at the state Capitol in demanding that lawmakers adopt stricter gun laws that could help prevent another mass shooting. He didn't vote in 2020 and was never big into politics.

May 24 changed everything for him when his daughter Jackie Cazares, was one of 21 victims killed in the May 24 massacre.

“I promised my daughter at the hospital that we were going to fight, and we’ll keep on fighting until something is done,” he told the crowd.

Now he’s running for Uvalde County Precinct 2 commissioner, challenging Uvalde Police Department Lt. Mariano Pargas Jr., who is running for reelection and was the acting police chief on the day of the May 24 shooting.

The little town known for the longest walkout now has another fight. They are taking the same approach in the 1970s.

Return to Robb Elementary

George Garza still works in his 80s and has no plans to stop. Walking around Robb Elementary in a sea of stuffed animals and notes a tear flows from his eye.

"This is like holy ground," said George Garza. "This should have never happened."

The school is surrounded by pecan trees that he was part of planting to make Robb look good after years of neglect. Talking about the memories of the place he loved that remains a crime scene.

"My happiness was here, when I drive by it's now sadness," said George Garza. "But those kids, I want them to know they are champions, Uvalde is full of champions."