I immigrated to Los Angeles from Germany with my parents in December, 1950. We settled in Boyle Heights, on the Eastside of Los Angeles (sometimes misidentified with East Los Angeles) and I enrolled in Theodore Roosevelt High School. I was 15½ years old, but I had a strong academic background from my high school (Oberschule) in Germany, especially in science, and so I should have eased into 11th grade, with a prospective graduation in June, 1952. But there was a problem with chemistry: I knew enough of the subject matter to get in at the end of the first semester, but I didn’t know enough of the English terminology, for example the meaning of “solvent”, “solute” and the like. And so I had to wait till the beginning of the next semester to begin chemistry from scratch, and, because a year of physics was to follow it, my graduation was put off to January, 1953, making me (along with the June graduates) a member of the class of 1953.
Had I made it into the class of 1952, I would have started and finished college a year earlier than I did, and my life might have turned out quite different from the way it did. Also, the president of my class would have been a Jewish boy named Don Tokowitz, a star of the boys’ gymnastics team. Boys’ gymnastics was the one sport in which Roosevelt High excelled; in basketball and football we had no one to compete against schools that had the likes of Willie Naulls or Jon Arnett.
Boyle Heights, which is now 95% Latino, was in the 1950s an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Chicanos were already the largest group, but far from a majority; there were significant numbers of Jews, Japanese-Americans and (as they were called then) Negroes, and smaller but notable communities of Armenians, Chinese, Molokan Russians, and even a few Anglos. In student politics there seemed to be in place a Tammany-Hall-like regime that saw a semester-by-semester alternation of student-body offices among the four major ethnicities. It must, then, have been the Jews’ turn when Don Tokowitz was elected president of his class.
Don Tokowitz has been in the news recently; I’m sure you’ve heard or read about him. But not under that name: seven years after his graduation from Roosevelt he changed his name to Donald Sterling.