Carlos Montes, Minister of Information for the recently formed Brown Berets, descended upon Roosevelt High School on the morning of March 5, 1968 running and shouting in a loud, powerful voice the chant of “Walkout! Walkout!” With the gates to the school locked, Carlos and others managed to pull the chain apart and instantly hundreds of Chicana/o students left their classrooms and the school en masse to protest the inferior educational system within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) vis-à-vis the Mexican community. Carlos made his way to other Eastside schools that morning to move the students into political action.
By the end of day, nearly 4,000 students were out in the streets signaling the birth of a new symbol: the Chicano. Eventually, the 1968 East Los Angeles Walkouts or “Blowouts” as the striking students came to refer to the dynamic events that unfolded in March of 1968 forced LAUSD to shut down for nearly two weeks as 15,000 students boldly proclaimed Ya Basta to a century of educational racism and neglect. The “Blowouts” catapulted the Brown Berets to the national spotlight and local prominence.
The history and legacy of the Brown Berets has largely been clouded by academic and scholarly misinterpretation. In particular, the individual stories of Brown Beret members have been omitted from the record. The story of Carlos Montes is important to the history of the Chicano Movement for it allows us to examine the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles between 1967-1970 and help us understand the present.
Carlos helped the Brown Berets become the largest non-student youth organization during the Chicano Movement. The Brown Berets were one of the most significant organizations to bring street youth into the movement. Carlos’ story reflects a majority of Chicanas/os who begin their political and ideological development from “buying into the American Dream” to full-fledged “revolutionary nationalists.”
Carlos Montes was born on December 28, 1947 in El Paso, Texas while his family lived in Juarez, Chihuahua, México. His grandfather, Alejandro Alvarado, was a member of Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army, and his family was raised with stories of the Mexican revolution, as told by his mother. Carlos moved to Los Angeles in 1956 at the age of seven along with his working-class parents.
Carlos grew up in the Florence neighborhood of South L.A. Carlos’s father worked in a factory assembly line manufacturing coffee tables as a member of the Carpenters Union Industrial section. The sociopolitical condition of the working-class community was one of institutionalized poverty and lack of opportunities.
Carlos graduated from Miramonte Elementary School, Hollenbeck Junior High School and Garfield High School. At Garfield High, he was a member of the marching band and several student clubs. Carlos was an aspiring athlete as well as he was a member of the cross country team.
As a young man, Carlos attended Garfield High School in East Los Angeles and he vividly remembers the schools being overcrowded with school administrators and officials demonstrating little or no respect to the students and the parents. There was no specific Chicana/o Studies curriculum. Carlos recalls the gates and restrooms being locked throughout the school day forcing students to experience prison-like conditions. Growing up during the 1960s, Carlos bought into the rhetoric and myth of the “American Dream,” but that would soon change when he met socially conscious Chicana/o youth as a nineteen year-old in Lincoln Heights. Carlos participated in the Julian Nava campaign for the school board, which focused the energy of the young activists to work within the existing political structure.
In 1966, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission sponsored a three-day Mexican American Youth Leadership Conference at Camp Hess Kramer. The conference was instrumental in training potential barrio youth leaders, many of whom later became the primary organizers for the East Los Angeles High School Blowouts of 1968. Although Carlos was not a participant at the Camp Hess Kramer conferences, he and many students and community activists had begun voicing their concerns related to inferior schooling and police brutality.
— part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.