Frank del Olmo, the associate editor of The Times, died Thursday at the age of 55. Del Olmo began at the paper nearly 34 years ago as an intern on the metro desk and went on to become a Metro reporter, a foreign correspondent and an editorial writer. In 1980, he began writing a column that appeared on the Op-Ed page ever since.
During the 24 years that followed, he wrote on a wide variety of subjects, including many issues affecting the Latino community. Below are excerpts from some of his columns, including one on the 10th anniversary of the death of his friend, Ruben Salazar, a Times columnist and television news director who was killed Aug. 29, 1970, during a Chicano Moratorium demonstration against the Vietnam War. Two columns excerpted are about his son, Frankie, who is autistic.
Additional columns can be found at latimes.com/delolmo.
Aug. 24, 1980
I am not saying Ruben had become an activist Chicano, but he was certainly not the same man he was when he left The Times' reporting staff. I am convinced that in his own personality, Ruben was going through the same turmoil the entire Chicano community was dealing with in those days....
I think he often wrote his columns explaining things like "Who is a Chicano and what is it that Chicanos want" as much to clarify things in his own mind as he did to clarify them for his Anglo and other readers. And one of the saddest things about his death is that Ruben died never having fully answered many of those questions for himself or for the Chicano community....
I know he was not a Chicano saint. But I also know he was not just another Mexican American either. What he was, and what he might have become, can never be fully answered. And while that is not the greatest tragedy of the Aug. 29 riot, it remains, for me, the most profound.
May 1, 1981
In all my years of living and working in Latino communities, I've never heard a Latino refer to himself as a Hispanic.... Latino is preferable as the all-inclusive term for our various communities. Its derivation is straightforward. In Spanish, Latin America is Latinoamerica. Latin Americans consider everyone living from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego to be Americans, so that part of the word is easily dropped, leaving us with Latino.... But we have to face up to the fact that Hispanic will probably stick. As long as it is accepted in government, in the mass media and in the corporate boardrooms of this country, we'll have to live with it.
But that doesn't mean we have to like it.
In fact, if there is one positive thing about the emergence of "Hispanic," it's that both Chicanos and Mexican Americans finally agree on something: They don't like being called Hispanics.
Aug. 28, 1986
Posted near my desk at The Times is a gag sign that reads, "Se Habla Ingles" (English Spoken Here). A Latino friend gave it to me because so many of the assignments that I have covered for this newspaper, from farm-labor strikes in the San Joaquin Valley to revolutions in Central America, have involved the use of Spanish.
I have come to treasure that silly sign more than ever in recent years as public concern has grown over the widespread use of Spanish and other foreign languages in this country, and the presumed threat that this trend represents to the dominance of English. That sign summarizes my feelings about the bilingual controversy: It's a joke.
Oct. 31, 1994
The Times on Sunday published an editorial endorsing Gov. Pete Wilson for reelection, the first time this newspaper has endorsed a gubernatorial candidate in more than 20 years.
As deputy editor of the editorial page, I played a role in the deliberations that led up to its publication. Unfortunately, my deeply felt belief that Wilson does not deserve The Times' endorsement did not carry the day. Under normal circumstances, I would quietly accept that decision and move on. This time I cannot. Because this is not just another political campaign. And the Wilson endorsement is not -- as a senior colleague whom I respect tried to convince me -- just another endorsement.
For me, a Mexican American born and reared in California and a journalist here for more than 20 years, this campaign is unprecedented in the harm it does -- permanent damage, I fear -- to an ethnic community I care deeply about and a state I love. The reason, of course, is its weapon of choice: the complex and emotional issue of illegal immigration.
In the form of Proposition 187 -- the mean-spirited and unconstitutional ballot initiative that would deprive "apparent illegal aliens" of public health services and immigrant children of public education -- the immigration issue has become the cornerstone of Wilson's desperate and cynical effort to win a second term.