by Alfredo Rangel and María Eugenia Trillo, December, 2021
On Sept. 2-3, 2022, Bowie High School students will commemorate 100 years of the school’s existence. Those attending might remember the walkout of 1969.
According to printed sources, the ‘official story’ informs us that there was no real walkout at Bowie High School, only a plan to go forth with this.1 There are videotaped interviews, which have one of the organizers saying there were only eight to fifteen males who planned and participated in the walkout.2 Even the Bowie Alumni Association stated: “We are pleased and proud of our Bowie students’ refusal to participate in a walkout which was being prompted by outside influences.”3 The statement refers to a planned walkout in 1968 and is signed by all the Board members of that time: Chairman Rodolfo Robles, Secretary Marta D. Hernández, Treasurer Lucy Acosta, and Directors Carlos D. Bombach, Modesto Gómez Jr., Manuel González Jr., Benito Landín, Lillian C. Lara, Arturo Lightbourn, Ed Molina, Belén Robles, and Dr. Ray Gardea.
In fact, according to witnesses who lived through the distinct aspects of such an event, the recollection is quite the contrary to these statements.
Although the high school students walked out in May,1969 the organization of this form of protest did start in 1968. According to Alfredo Rangel, who was a Bowie High School senior and the editor of the first bilingual student newspaper, El Relámpago, and the student newspaper The Growler, he and friends began to become politically aware of the student movements happening in Texas, California, and Colorado. Student groups were organizing themselves to address the injustices, the discrimination suffered by Chicanos everywhere.
The following Bowie High School students took part in the consciousness-raising work at Bowie High School, along with Alfredo Rangel: Chacha Marin, el Baker, el Magda, el Chango Hernandez, el Gera, el Che Loera.
Rangel explained that a community-based organization was created in El Segundo Barrio, and that it was not affiliated with other organizations in El Paso, Texas or elsewhere. MAYA, the Mexican American Youth Association, was created to confront the myriad of punishments at the school, such as Spanish detention—which was given if a student was heard or seen to use Spanish on the school grounds–, expulsion from school after being penalized the third time for speaking Spanish on campus grounds, physical punishment, i.e. swats with the “board of education” by the Vice Principal, as well as the PE coaches for any infraction of language use or behavior. [The “board of education” was a wooden paddle, with holes in it, to have air run through the paddle as they applied it to the buttocks of a student.]4
According to Rangel, another major issue was also the complete lack of real counseling about future educational options once students graduated from high school. Mr. Williams was the boys’ appointed career counselor. His generic advice to all male students was “Join the military service, you can get benefits there.” Bowie High School students received no information about higher education admissions process nor the availability of financial aid or applications for scholarships to attend higher education facilities.
Trillo remembers reading El Relámpago newspaper and feeling deep pride as she read it in her own language, Spanish, the language of hearth and home. She recalls reading one of the student demands was to have US/Mexican history taught to students and to have the right to speak Spanish on school grounds. Although the El Paso School Board had rescinded, in 1968, a policy to punish students who spoke Spanish on school grounds, the Bowie Alumni Association contradicted the Board.5
Rangel explains, “El Relampago was established in 1969 to inform Bowie students about the reality of socio-economic and educational issues that impinged organizing to bring about positive change for all students as well as for those following our path at Bowie.” He continues to remember:
“There were no obstacles in producing El Relampago. No printing press was ever ‘taken over’ on the school grounds. Perhaps that was a rumor among students, but this was not true.”
Rangel said, “El Relampago was mimeographed, using paper paid for from MAYA funds. It had its humble origins being printed by a mimeograph machine borrowed at the Boys Club en el Segundo Barrio (Second Ward).”
“No Bowie staff/ teachers were ever involved in any activities including the production of El Relampago. Heck, they never had a clue what was taking place, including when copies of the newspaper were being passed out during assembly”, said Rangel.
He continued to reminisce, “Chacha Marin was passing out copies of El Relampago to students as they were leaving for lunch, he was outside on the sidewalk bordering the Bowie Campus and the Vice Principal had the El Paso Police arrest him for allegedly trespassing school property. Sidewalks are public areas, qué no? Marin was the only visible ‘casualty’”.
As far as being El Relampago’s editor, Alfredo Rangel continues, “Pollitt (Principal at Bowie High School in 1969) had me appear before him and when he could not obtain from me any information, he suspended me from school and threatened to expel me once their “investigation into the matter” was completed. So, I had about a week off school, informed my parents as to what had taken place and my father took several hours off from work to go and speak with Pollitt. No sé qué le dijo mi jefito al Pollitt pero al día después de su conversación yo regresé a la escuela”. (I have no idea what my old man said to Pollitt but next day, I returned to school).
“The planned walkout took its own shape, though it did ignite a spark in all students, both for and against. Pues así se abren las mentes para comenzar “critical thinking” (That’s how one begins to open minds to do critical thinking.), explained Rangel. Rangel was a member of Bowie’s ROTC Rifle Club and member of Bowie’s Orchestra.
Trillo remembers how she and others from the Honor Society and Student Council went to knock on every class door, yelling “WALKOUT!” and students did. Nancy Green, a Bowie High School student at the time, remembers:
“Some students DID walk out! They and all of us were threatened with being expelled and that our grades would be affected. They would say, “Try getting into college after that!”
During the walkout, she remembers that the school administration closed the gate to the school, which was unheard of, and they “put threats out that we would be arrested and turned in to the police…the police were at Bowie.” Nancy continued to explain that if students wanted to participate in the walkout, they would have to climb the fence and jump into the arms of the police. There was one student who astutely found a way to participate. Nancy remembers, “Tico, que en paz descanse, se salió corriendo por el lado del canal (Tico, may he rest in peace, took off running by the side of the canal) and he jumped that fence and joined. He was one of many who wanted to join pero nos taparon la salida (but they blocked the way to us). 6
Angie Núñez (neé Rivera), also a Bowie High School student at the time, remembers some students did not go to class because they had heard a walkout was imminent. However, they and she (Angie) were outside waiting to see the students walk out of the buildings. They stood outside on the street, so they witnessed how people she had never seen began to arrive; some men were wearing berets. She did not remember seeing police at that time. However, she left the scene when she heard the unknown people shouting slogans about la raza (the Race/Brown-skinned people). 7
When Rosa Arce Duéñez another 1969 Bowie High School graduate, was asked about the Bowie High School walkout, she framed her response giving a historical context to the intergenerational oppression felt by the students. She answered,
“We were feeling ignored and unjustly punished for speaking our native language, Spanish, and we were being punished by putting us in after school classes for doing nothing wrong except being heard speaking Spanish. Students banned together and threatened a walkout in protest. A multitude of police presence was seen that day. There were no incidents of violence, except to say that our voices did matter and, we knew we had found our voice in the presence of the injustices we knew needed to change.”8
Rosa did not remember seeing any Brown Berets on the day of the Bowie High School Walkout. She explained, “Students everywhere were feeling unheard and more importantly, they perceived the involvement of the United States sending our youth to war in Vietnam…additionally, opposing the draft which immediately took our youth into the military if they were not registered to attend a college post-graduation.”
Students from other high schools in El Paso began to also organize once they opened their eyes to the social, educational and economic situations that Chicanos faced daily.”
Nancy Green added that “Teachers, like Mrs. Durón, talked to us. Others, like Mrs. García, the Social Studies teacher, was very strong, silent, proud, bien seria (very serious). She organized an assembly to teach the entire student body about the dieciséis de septiembre (Mexican Independence from Spain). I spoke Spanish in that assembly, with pride and seriousness. We could clearly tell that the Chican@ teachers were nurturing us, helping us survive the system.”
After the walkout, Rangel further remembered that Pollitt had tried to get information out of the Honor Society students; he tried to humiliate them to have them give information on the leaders of the movement and who had organized the walkout, the printing and distribution of the first-ever bilingual student newspaper at Bowie.” I remember many others tried to organize themselves from both sides but came up with the same results—nobody talked!” He and others involved in the printing of El Relámpago did get a lawyer to help Marín, who had been arrested for distributing the clandestine newsletter on the sidewalk in front of Bowie High School. (Mr. Frank C. Pollitt retired in May 1969.)9
Rangel reflected, “…había estudiantes por todos lados, walking out y hacienda boruca. Sí recuerdo haber pensado, ‘híjole, este mitote tomó su propia vida y sin firme dirección… no pensamos que un relámpago no se puede controlar, solamente se dirije.” (…there were students everywhere, walking out and making a raucous. I do remember thinking this has taken its own life and without firm direction…we didn’t think that a lighting can be directed but not controlled.) He added, “Several years later, I found out that the Civil Rights Commission, Department on Mexican American Affairs got involved and actually subpoenaed Pollitt and the Spanish detention slips were used as evidence regarding the discriminatory practice at Bowie. The Commission was investigating the practices of numerous high schools in Texas.”6
Trillo added that she was directing the Senior Talent Show and two FBI agents were in the school gym, watching and listening to the parodies of “Laugh In” that the seniors were creating. Rangel said, “I do recall hearing about the two FBI agents at Bowie High, but I had no idea that you and other seniors were being watched.” The official story is that the walkout was organized by “outside forces.” Trillo was one of the honor students that Rangel mentioned were questioned in Mr. Pollitt’s office.
Trillo recounted that the English teacher, Mrs. Thomas10, did not allow the seniors to use stage lights or microphones during the dress rehearsal or for the Senior Talent Show. This was just one way that all seniors were antagonized after the walkout. In fact, the Bowie High Band did not play the traditional “Las Golondrinas” to wish farewell to the graduates. Mr. Pollitt threatened to not let any senior who had participated graduate. Trillo was one of two students who were in line to be valedictorians but no senior from the class of 1969 held that honor. Instead, Dolores Beauford, a 1968 graduate addressed the public during graduation in Liberty Hall. Trillo called the names of more than three hundred graduating students who walked across the stage to receive their diploma. Several 1969 Bowie High School graduates left for Viet Nam next morning, never to return.
A different type of ‘collateral damage’ might have occurred. Trillo was told that “you are the most likely to succeed so no scholarship will be awarded to you.” She was in the top 2% of her class that year.
As Rosa Arce Duéñez states, “I don’t feel our students were radical activists. We were merely testing or expressing our dissatisfaction with school board officials, on their policies, regarding the use of speaking Spanish on campus.”
Students who lived through the 1960s and 1970s Chicano Movement and who now present a multi-vocalic perspective to the Bowie High School Walkout of 1969 collaborated on this article. History cannot accurately represent “the truth” if only one voice is heard since a historical event touches the lives of so many, thus, a polyphonic representation of history is needed. Rather than seeing the recorded memories of those who witnessed this event as contradicting each other, the frames can be seen from a lens of a camera that is panning an event which unfolds in a complex fashion. This is a tribute to the Class of 1969 at Bowie High School. ¡Presente! “Once a Bear, always a Bear!”
–Alfredo Rangel, retired Parole Officer” State of Oregon, Multnomah County; 1968/1969 Editor of El Relámpago and The Bowie Growler
–María Eugenia Trillo, Ph.D. and 1969 Secretary of the Bowie High School Student Council
[Nancy Green, Angie Núñez and Rosa Arce Duéñez gave us permission to use their words.]
Angie Núñez, retired Bilingual Teacher’s Aide
Nancy L.Green, M.Ed., musician, bilingual poet and Bowie Memory Lane Hall of Fame 2020 Inductee; Bowie High School Student Council
Rose Arce Duéñez, Bachelor of Science Social Psychology; Masters Program, Undergrad, 1969 Bowie High School Growler Contributor/ Reporter.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Equal Educational Opportunity: Hearings, Ninety-first congress, Second Session [and Ninety-second Congress, First Session]. United States.Congress.Senate.Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity. Jan. 1971. U.S. Government Printing Office.
and 1969 Walkout Home to Galicia Interview. https://crbb.tcu.edu/clips/1496/student-walkout-and-being-accepted-to-stanford
3. Bowie Alumni Take Stand. IN El Paso Herald Post, 9 Dec. 1968. El Paso, TX.
4. In 1948 Bowie’s principal Frank C. Politt started enforcing the 30-year-old “English only” law. This law was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1918. The law had required all teaching to be in English only. Due to this rule the Mexican population began to struggle. Ray Past wrote that the law influenced high dropout rates on Hispanics. The law meant that students were punished for speaking Spanish by being expelled from Bowie High or El Paso High. This law was finally repealed in 1969. Source: https://hfbowiehs.weebly.com/history.html
5. Bowie Alumni Take Stand. IN El Paso Herald Post, 9 Dec. 1968. El Paso, TX.
6. Nancy Green. Interviewed by phone and email on Oct. 30-Oct.31, 2021 by Maria E. Trillo
7. Angie Núñez (neé Rivera). Interviewed by phone and text messages on Oct. 30, 2021, by Maria E. Trillo
8. Rosa Arce Duéñez. Interviewed by email on Oct. 31, 2021.
10. Mrs. Thomas, English teacher at Bowie High School.