Oral Histories

Interview of Robert Lee Verdugo

One of the leaders of the 1968 walkouts in East Los Angeles. During time at UCLA, was a student in the UCLA High Potential Program.
UCLA High Potential Program
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Research Centers and Programs
Mercado, Juan Pablo
Verdugo, Robert Lee
Persons Present:
Verdugo and Mercado.
Place Conducted:
Verdugo’s home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Juan Pablo Mercado, graduate student interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; C.Phil., history, UCLA. Mercado prepared for the interview by consulting various primary source materials in the file on the High Potential Program (HPP) located in UCLA’s University Archives at the Charles E. Young Research Library. These materials included early proposals for the program, administrative memoranda, meeting minutes, university reports, and correspondence assessing the progress of the HPP. To contextualize the development of the program, Mercado also reviewed secondary literature on such events as the Watts rebellion of 1965, the Chicano Moratorium, the East Los Angeles Blowouts, the occupation of Alcatraz, the anti-war movement, and the numerous student-led protests and campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s. Understanding these circumstances helped put in perspective what was at stake for the people at UCLA and throughout Los Angeles and demonstrated how significant the struggle for political, economic, and social change really was.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Verdugo was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
3.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This is a series of interviews with people who were involved with the High Potential Program (HPP) at UCLA between 1968 and 1971. Although the HPP was one of the earliest efforts to broaden admissions criteria and recruit historically underrepresented students, the archival sources that have been preserved are very limited and, by and large, do not represent the views of those involved. This project attempts to capture those voices and includes not only students who were admitted to the HPP but counselors and mentors, as well as non-HPPP students who helped recruit students to the program and worked to make it a success. In 1968, the first cohort of approximately fifty black and forty-eight Chicana/o students was admitted to the High Potential Program. Subsequently the program broadened its recruitment efforts to include Asian American and Native American students as well. Although the primary aim of the HPP was to recruit students from traditionally underrepresented communities in Los Angeles, the larger hope was that these students would graduate and return to their communities as leaders and organizers. As part of its effort to prepare students for those tasks, the program developed culturally relevant curriculum for its students and thus contributed to the long-term development of ethnic studies classes and programs. The High Potential Program was a short-lived experiment: after three years of consistently diminishing funding and low graduation rates, and in the face of much protest from HPP students, it was discontinued. Different versions of the program emerged in the wake of the HPP, and the Academic Advancement Program (APP) is actually in existence to this day on campus. Yet the program’s successors focused more narrowly on traditional academic achievement, and none of them were able to replicate the HPP’s radical ideals and practices.
Familial history, including maternal grandparents’ experience in the Mexican Revolution--Mother very active in community work, helping neighborhood women exercise their rights--Father serves in WWII--Introduces the concept of “Chicano”--Very high educational expectations from family--During high school didn’t realize he was experiencing a subtle form of racism--Raised in Lincoln Heights-- Catholic Church very significant influence on his life-- Realizes anger and disconnect stem from negative high school experience connected to racism and anti-Mexican sentiment--IQ tests used to track students--Experience growing up in Los Angeles during the 1960s--Relationship with Sal Castro--The significance of the wsrld-wide social movements of 1968--The high School Walkouts of March 6, 1968--The relationship between the urban Chicano Movement and the Watts rebellion and the struggle for Black civil rights--Accepted to UCLA as part of the High Potential Program (HPP)--Recruited to the High Potential Program by Sal Castro--Application process for the High Potential Program--The curriculum for incoming HPP students--The influence of his girlfriend, Yoli Rios.
Recruitment into the High Potential Program (HPP) by Sal Castro--Excited about the curriculum and instructors assigned to the HPP--Arrival at UCLA in October of 1968 and experience moving onto campus-- Life at the Landfair House, a “Chicano Animal House,” including music, anxieties, and college expectations--Many HPP students conflicted about role as Chicano activists and responsibilities as students--After first quarter, able to take “regular” university course--Receives an A on his first essay at UCLA--Contemplating issues of racism at UCLA--Developing a self-identity at UCLA, including identifying as a Chicano--The significance of the anti-war movement--Involved with United Mexican American Students (UMAS) at UCLA--Origins of the Brown Berets in Los Angeles and becoming a member--Depiction of Robert Avila in the movie Walkout--The shootout at UCLA in Campbell Hall, January 1969--The aftermath of a racist fraternity party held at UCLA--Teaching assistant at Garfield High School from 1974 to 1976--Hired as a bus driver for the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD)-- Goes back to college at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in 1990-- Takes a course with Dr. Rita Ledesma--Inspired by time in HPP at UCLA--High Potential Program was a main factor in becoming a social worker.