Waking a Sleeping Giant

No telling how many Mexican-American kids have seen Walkout, the movie directed by Edward James Olmos depicting a mass walkout by high school students in East Los Angeles in 1968. It just premiered on HBO Saturday March 18. (You can see the trailer here.) But I do find lots of references to it on MySpace, including comments from kids who think it kicked off the mass walkouts of the last few days around the country.

I'm working on a column about how this happened. If the movie is a piece of it, it's only one. Spanish-language DJs are also having a major influence, and then there is the role of connectivity itself--cell phones, text messages, event bulletins, instant messages, blogs. It's a political miracle at several levels. The most immediate is the political awakening of young Latinos, especially those of Mexican descent. The broader phenomenon is the stirring of a huge new energy of mobilization that is beyond the touch of dinosaur politics.

I hate to be really superficial about it, but those kids also just looked really good and sounded smart when they were given a chance to actually talk. I heard one of them say, "We are the pilgrims." I got chills.

And then there is the in-your-face factor. These kids come from such a formal, elaborately polite culture, especially the young people in Dallas who tend to come from Guanajuato and central Mexico. It's exciting to see them learning that in American politics and culture, you take to the streets and put a little fear of God in the fat cats if you want change. People disparage Mexican immigrants for not voting. But nobody wants them to vote. Eventually the people who are walking out will learn that voting works even better. But walking out ain't bad.

My idea for a placard: "Build your own damn house." --Jim Schutze

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