LA School Battles Leads to the Resignation of 15 teachers at Jordan High School in Watts

I lived in the Watts area when my family first moved to Los Angeles in 1956 from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (I was two years old). In fact, present-day Locke High School was built in one of the houses I stayed at, my sister Seni's, on 111th Street. I entered elementary school at 109th Street School although I spoke no English (and suffered for it with swats and other punishments). We spent a year in Reseda, but then ended up back in Watts after our family went bankrupt and lost most of our possessions. At age 9 we moved to the East LA area communities of Monterey Park and South San Gabriel, later settling into San Gabriel when my father, who had finally got a long-term job, bought a house there. Those who've read Always Running know that's where I got involved in gangs, drugs and jail.

But Watts remained important for me. The Watts Rebellion of 1965 stirred revolutionary fervor around the country, but also in me. I eventually found my way back. Fisrt, I moved to the housing projects of San Pedro then to East LA (City Terrace and Boyle Heights) soon after I left San Gabriel and the gang life at around 18. I married my first wife Camila at the Guadalupe Church on Hazard in East LA when I was 20. After first moving to the Florence neighborhood in South LA and then spending a year in Pasadena organizing Mecha students, working with striking bus drivers, and helping create an equal rights organization, Camila and I then moved to Watts with our new family. Ramiro, my oldest son who's now 33, was one year old then. We moved in-between the Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts housing projects on 109th Street and Mona.

My daughter Andrea was born during our time there--at Gardena Hospital through the Watts Health Clinic on 103rd Street. I was often unemployed in those days, once we were on welfare, and when I did work it was in construction and industry. I left Watts in 1978 when Camila and I broke up--we both ended up in different parts of East LA. I pretty much stayed in East LA (except for short stints in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Bernardino, Huntington Park, and Highland Park) until I moved to Chicago in 1985.

Still, despite my other abodes and distances, Watts is still important. I've spoken there often in schools and community events over the years. I often do tours of out-of-towners through East LA and South Central, including Watts (these include friends from New York or other states as well as film makers and writers from Italy, Japan, Brazil, and New Zealand).

Recently Jordan High School in Watts -- where I've spoken at a few times -- became a big story when a Salvadoran-American teacher named Karen Salazar was fired for using LA Unified School District (LAUSD) approved text "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." This book was one that helped me become a reader and eventually actively involved some 40 years ago. It's a shame that anyone in positions of authority would be threatened for the use of this literary classic.

Jordan's administration apparently thought Ms. Salazar's teachings were too "Afro-Centric." Very strange indeed, considering the school is mostly Mexican/Central American and African American (the media decries conflicts between Black and Brown, yet here's one of unity). Reportedly school officials have "observed" Ms. Salazar's class more than fifteen times in the past year. The principal, Steven Strachen, has been allegedly intimidating, humiliating and attempting to control teachers, students AND parents. He reportedly used unauthorized funds for metal detectors at the school entrances. He has apparently also segregated some classes by gender without parental approval. But his real notoriety is apparently due to establishing Jordan High School as the Number One school for suspensions in LAUSD -- more than 900 suspension days were handed out to students in one school year alone.

And at a recent protest with students, teachers, and parents, Mr. Strachan had six police cars in front of the school to intimate the protesters. The Watts Student Union is challenging Mr. Strachan and his heavy-handed policies directed to students of color. In addition, some 15 teachers have apparently requested transfers or plan to resign after this school year due to issues related to Mr. Strachan's policies.

Please check out the following video on the Internet: http://youtube.com/watch?v=vE8cOJ4bKGO

Letters of support for Ms. Salazar and other teachers such as well-known LA poet Mark Gonzales should be sent to Jordan High School, 2265 E. 103rd Street, LA, CA 90002. Calls can also be made to (323) 568-4100 or the LAUSD District 7 office at (323) 242-1300. In addition, send emails to LAUSD Board Member Richard Vladovic at richard.vladovic@lausd.net.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.