Ruben Salazar: Mexican-American Pioneer

AAt the announcement of his death, the bleachers exploded in an uproar. The inmates gave gritos and the bars of the cells shook; mattresses were set on fire. This is how Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always runningthe California Book Club’s pick for July, depicts the moment the Hall of Justice prison in downtown Los Angeles learned of Ruben Salazar’s death in 1970.

Salazar was the most prominent Mexican American journalist at the time, and his coverage of the Chicano community and Mexican American issues catapulted him to household name status. He had given voice to the Latino community when it had none, and his death effectively silenced one of the most vocal Mexican American writers.

Born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and raised in El Paso, Texas, Salazar began journalism in 1954, once he had finished his time with the army. Writing for his college newspaper and serving as editor began his career as a journalist.

After graduating from what is now the University of Texas at El Paso, Salazar began working at local newspapers in El Paso and Northern California before moving to Southern California in 1959 to work for the Los Angeles Times. As he grew in his position as a journalist, he worked to raise awareness of the discrimination and lack of justice that the Mexican American community experienced. “I don’t mind paying for my mistakes… But it seems like we’re also paying for other people’s mistakes. Sometimes we pay even if there was no mistake. Just to be who we are, you know what I mean? Just to be Mexican. That’s all the trouble I have to do,” Rodriguez writes in Always runningdescribing the Mexican American experience at the time of Salazar’s death.

Salazar continually attacked discrimination in his writings; he covered topics ranging from Chicano life and unemployment to the media’s portrayal of Mexican Americans and housing conditions.

He was also the Los Angeles TimesOffice manager in Mexico City, and has served as a foreign correspondent in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. With each new position he won, he also became the first Mexican American journalist to do so, breaking down barriers and inspiring those around him.

Salazar’s drive to document the truth has led him into difficult situations; in one of his rooms, he covered conditions in a prison, and he spent 25 hours in a cell in El Paso, where he was threatened, to report on the treatment of inmates. He covered corruption and aggression against Mexican Americans, and he was repeatedly questioned by the FBI and the Los Angeles Sheriff; his writings made him a suspicious in their eyes.

During the Chicano moratorium, Salazar, who was 42, joined his community in a peaceful march. He was there to cover the political movement of Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles.

Towards the end of the march, violence erupted when some 1,500 police officers showed up and deputies began to take physical action against members of the march.

“A line of deputies at the edge of the park, armed with powerful rifles, clubs and tear gas canisters, strutted towards the crowd. They mowed down everyone in their path,” Rodriguez describes in Always running.

Salazar was caught in the crossfire, and when police fired tear gas into the crowd, he was punched and did not survive the blow. His death echoed around the world. His writings had reached every corner.

His actions and impact on the community and all who watch nationwide solidified his legacy. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award after his death, and the California Chicano News Media Association established the annual Ruben Salazar Journalism Awards.

Salazar’s influence, captured in his writings and interviews, continues. It is through his legacy that authors and activists like Rodriguez have been able to continue to raise awareness in the Mexican American community and give voice to the voiceless. “Salazar had been the only voice in the existing media for the Mexican people in the United States,” Rodriguez recalls as he adds his own voice to the story in Always running.•

Join us July 21 at 5 p.m. PT when Rodriguez appears in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and special guest Rubén Martínez. Until then, visit the High clubhouse to leave us and your companion California Book Club members know what you think of the book. Register here.


GEORGE RODRIGUEZ

CHICANO MORATORIUM

Elizabeth Casillas writes about the significance of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, in which Rodriguez participated. —High


east side los angeles

GETTY PICTURES

LANGUAGE WELCOME

Author Michelle Cruz Gonzales (The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Girl Punk Band) writes a gripping essay about his parents’ roots in East Los Angeles, in a life similar to that of Rodriguez in Always running. —High


still running, luis j rodriguez

Books on earbuds

WHY READ IT

Alta JournalDavid L. Ulin’s book editor, writing from Always running, “Returning to the book in 2022, then, is like looking back through a mirror, a personal story that has now become a social story, into a future that now exists for us in the present.” —High


angel of rome, jess walter

harpist

THOUGHTFUL AND FUNNY

High contributor and critic Michael Schaub reviews Jess Walter’s latest collection of short stories, The Angel of Rome, commenting that Walter is “at the top of his game”. —High


July book selections

High

JULY BOOKS

Here are 13 new books by Western writers we’re looking forward to this month, including Meng Jin’s Self-Portrait with GhostIngrid Rojas Contreras The man who could move the cloudsand former CBC author Elaine Castillo How to read now. —High


san francisco book fair

SAN FRANCISCO BOOK FAIR

BOOKS AS ART

The San Francisco Art Book Fair is back July 15-17 at 1275 Minnesota Street in San Francisco. The event is free. —San Francisco Art Book Fair


a king alone

© Eggleston Artistic Trust/Courtesy David Zwirner

hitchhikers

Former CBC author Rachel Kushner has released a new story, “A King Alone.” —New Yorker


Rebecca Solnit

John Lee

NOT TOO LATE

Tonight, former CBC author Rebecca Solnit will discuss climate change during an in-person event at The Commons at KQED headquarters in San Francisco. Tickets are $15. —KQED


california book club bookplate

High

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