Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Rios met in high school and soon found themselves leading the historic 1968 walkouts in East Los Angeles, California – a student-led effort to bring education reform to disenfranchised schools with large populations of Hispanic students.
Fifty years later, on a campus more than 2,100 miles away, their monumental husband-and-wife legacy has been honored. The newly named Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Rios Bilingual Mentor and Tutoring Center, in McCreary Hall at Eastern Kentucky University, is helping to shape the next generation of Latino leaders. Hours before they were to deliver a Chautauqua lecture and keynote address for Hispanic Heritage Month at EKU, where more than 450 Latino students are enrolled, Verdugo and Rios were feted during brief ceremonies at the center Thursday, Sept. 27.
“It has been a wonderful year commemorating the 50th anniversary of the high school walkouts,” Rios said, calling the center “a testament to the good work that continues. We’re just celebrating humanity. We’re all human beings. We’re all united. We’re all born with a sacred purpose.”
The center provides tutoring in languages offered by the Department of Languages, Cultures, and Humanities, including Spanish, French, German and Japanese, and celebrates Latino heritage and culture, providing tutoring and peer mentorship to current and prospective EKU students. Student tutor-mentors are also engaged in community outreach by assisting Latino students and their families with achieving access to higher education.
The facility is graced on one wall by a brightly colored mural painted by Dr. Javier Alvarez-Jaimes, a professor in the Department of Languages, Cultures, and Humanities, with the assistance of the Latino Student Association. The artwork depicts Verdugo flanked by Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and Sylvia Mendez, all icons of Chicano civil rights movement.
The mural served as a fitting backdrop as EKU students, faculty and administrators joined Verdugo and Rios for a succession of photos after the ceremony.
Verdugo and Rios were portrayed in the HBO docudrama “Walkout,” and featured in the critically acclaimed PBS documentary “CHICANO: The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.”
EKU President Michael Benson called Verdugo and Rios “titans of a movement. To have your names and what you achieved associated with our campus means so much. You inspired your generation in L.A., and now you’re inspiring the next generation.”
Benson said the Verdugo-Rios center and others like it contribute to the family atmosphere on the Richmond campus. “We try to create a family environment for all our students. That’s how they’ll be successful.”
Eastern also boasts an active Latino Student Association.