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Q & A / RUBEN SALAZAR

Honoring an Icon in L.A.'s Latino Community

October 13, 2006

Question: Who was Ruben Salazar?

Answer: Salazar worked for The Times for 11 years as a reporter and foreign correspondent. He left the newspaper in 1970 to become news director of KMEX-TV but continued to write a weekly commentary for The Times. Many consider him one of the strongest voices in the Chicano rights movement that swept through Los Angeles and other cities in the 1960s and 1970s. He was killed at age 42 by a sheriff's tear-gas projectile in an East Los Angeles bar, where he had stopped after covering an antiwar demonstration and rioting that erupted along Whittier Boulevard.

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Q: What was his legacy?

A: Salazar is considered by some to have been the most prominent Mexican American journalist of his time and has become an icon in the Latino community. Parks, schools and scholarships have been named in his honor in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere.

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Q: What were the circumstances of his death?

A: Salazar was covering a series of large protests and walkouts by Chicano students and others on the Eastside. The students were demanding better schools and more Chicano teachers, among other things. The movement reached its height on Aug. 29, 1970, when 20,000 to 30,000 people from across the nation participated in the Chicano antiwar protest. Later that day, Salazar was killed.

Although his death aroused some suspicion among some activists, a Times review of the case in 1995 concluded: "All available evidence shows that Salazar's slaying was nothing more than a tragic accident. The Sheriff's Department said that its deputy did nothing wrong and was operating under riot conditions when he fired the wall-piercing missile through the curtained doorway of the Silver Dollar cafe."

Authorities ruled Salazar's death accidental, but Los Angeles County paid $700,000 to his widow and three children.

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Q: What happened Thursday?

A: Cal State Los Angeles unveiled a new portrait of Salazar, by painter John Martin. The portrait will hang in the rededicated Salazar Hall at the university.

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Chicano: 'An Act of Defiance and a Badge of Honor'

In the year he died, Ruben Salazar often used his column in The Times to explain the forces behind the growing sense of rebellion among Chicano activists.

Chicanos feel cheated. They want to effect change ....

That is why Mexican-American activists flaunt the barrio word Chicano -- as an act of defiance and a badge of honor. Mexican-Americans, though large in numbers, are so politically impotent that in Los Angeles, where the country's largest single concentration of Spanish-speaking live, they have no one of their own on the City Council. This, in a city politically sophisticated enough to have three Negro councilmen.

Chicanos, then, are merely fighting to become "Americans." Yes, but with a Chicano outlook.

Feb. 6, 1970

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Most Mexican-Americans have experienced the wary question from an Anglo: "You're Spanish, aren't you?" or "Are you Latin?" Rarely will the Anglo venture: "You're Mexican aren't you?"

The reason is that the word Mexican has been dragged through the mud of racism since the Anglos arrived in the Southwest. History tells us that when King Fisher, the famous Texas gunman, was asked how many notches he had on his gun, he answered: "Thirty-seven -- not counting Mexicans."

April 17, 1970

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Folk heroes arise of a need to articulate feelings unsung by conventionality ....

This might help explain why the pachucos or zoot suiters of the early forties are becoming folk heroes in the eyes of Chicanos from colleges to prisons ....

Pachucos are becoming folk heroes because they were rebels. And sensitive people need to understand rebellion because they know it is not created in a vacuum. There's always a reason for rebellion.

July 17, 1970

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