Commentary: "CYLC Location Damaged by Woolsey Fire"
By Carlos M. Haro, CSRC assistant director emeritus
Throughout 2018 we have been commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the L.A. walkouts, the series of demonstrations staged in March 1968 by students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Between ten and twenty thousand students walked out of high schools and middle schools located not only in Los Angeles’s Eastside but also other parts of the school district to protest the segregated and inferior education given to Chicano students and other minorities. Taken together, the walkouts were the largest school walkout or student strike in American history and the first mass demonstration in which Chicana/os confronted injustice and inequity in the second largest public school system in the United States.
Integral to the walkouts was the training that the student leaders had received at the Chicano Youth Leadership Conference (CYLC) at Camp Hess Kramer. Founded in 1963 by Sal Castro, a teacher at Lincoln High School, the annual three-day CYLC was designed to inspire and motivate Chicano students in LAUSD high schools. Students who attended the early conferences became aware of the educational inequality that they were experiencing, and once they determined that their schools had to be changed, they took action. Today the annual conference is funded by the Sal Castro Foundation, which was established after the educator’s death in 2013.
Sadly, Camp Hess Kramer, located in the hills of Malibu, was severely damaged in the Woolsey fire, which consumed more than 98,000 acres and claimed at least three lives. Los Angeles and Ventura counties together lost more than five hundred structures. Only two buildings remain at Camp Hess Kramer, where the Chicano civil rights movement was fostered and nurtured. After learning of the damage, Vickie Castro, who attended the first CYLC conference, reflected in the Los Angeles Times that “Camp Kramer gave me a voice.” She also noted that “it gave me organizational skills, and it exposed me to a much larger world than my own neighborhood.”
I have attended many CYLC conferences over the years, making presentations on the segregation of Mexican youth into “Mexican schools” and on Mendez v. Westminster (1947), in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the segregation of school children was unconstitutional. For me, and for my colleagues from various universities who attend and present at the CYLC, meeting and interacting with the students who participate is an important part of the mission to educate and prepare the next generation of Chicano and Latino activists.
Will the CYLC continue? The site that has been so much a part of Chicana/o history is currently a desolate place, but there is hope for the future of the conference. I received the following message from Charlotte Lerchenmuller Castro, president of the Sal Castro Foundation, and three of the foundation’s board members.
Dear Dedicated Staff and Loyal Volunteers,
We all are in shock and disbelief over the destruction of Camp Hess Kramer. This is where the first CYLC Conference took place in Spring of 1963. Our spirit and history have been entwined with Camp Hess Kramer for 55 years. The spirit of Sal Castro and the spirit of CYLC will not be extinguished by this tragedy. We are in the process of seeing how and where we will present our Spring 2019 conference and future conferences until Camp Hess Kramer is rebuilt. Rest assured that we will continue,
Charlotte Lerchenmuller Castro
Robin Avelar La Salle