Sal Castro stole the show at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, with total justification.
For starters, the longtime activist and lion-figure in the 1968 student movement in East Los Angeles broke flat-out late into the 12:30 panel shared between Castro, author Mario T. Garcia, author Miriam Pawel, myself, and author Hector Tobar, the moderator.
Castro showed off posters related to film depictions of the walkouts he helped lead: the 1996 four-part PBS documentary "Chicano!" and the film "Walkout!" by Edward James Olmos. This time Castro was presenting, with co-author Garcia, the book version of his story: "Blowout!" by UNC Press.
But the panel wasn't about the book or any other represented in the room. It was about Sal Castro and his stories from the trenches.
One anecdote of many he shared struck me. He told us about a young woman he met in his years of working with Mexican American public-school youth and encouraging them to gain higher education. He said a bright young student had been offered a coveted full scholarship to Occidental College, but the scholarship would require she live on campus.
In a traditional immigrant household in Southern California in the post-68 period, that's something parents would never approve for a young woman. (Heck, even in the late 1990s for a young man it wasn't easy to convince some Mexican immigrant parents that college away from home was viable, as was my case.) Mr. Castro told us the girl's parents dug their heels, and so did Occidental.
Someone called Sal. El maestro came up with a plan. He agreed to meet the parents, and speak to them in Spanish, as they were not fluent in English. He told us he told the parents in serious español that their daughter's scholarship offer was a federal program, and that "in this country you don't mess with the federal government," so they better accept or they'd get a "multa." Or worse.
The girl's parents swiftly relented and accepted. The young lady, Castro told us, ended up excelling at Oxy, enjoying a long academic career. Once more, Taper 101 filled with laughter, cheers, and applause. The C-SPAN cameras rolled. At one point, Hector tried to throw the mic to me, but I declined. Like most of others in the room, I wanted to hear more from the guys who walk in history.
* MORE: Read a Q&A with Castro and Garcia on "Blowout!" at the UNC Press title page. I couldn't get my hands on it Saturday. It sold out during the signing session.
** Photo via Jacket Copy, L.A. Times.