Monday, May 05, 2008

Ruben Salazar remembered

Mysteriously, the United States Postal Service has issued a stamp honoring Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar. I say mysteriously because the powers-that-be don't usually honor people whose heads were blown off by rampaging police officers breaking up a peace demonstration.

Ruben Salazar was a Chicano journalist who broke into the Anglo mainstream with the Los Angeles Times in the 1960s. He wasn't just relegated to covering the barrio; the newspaper sent him to cover Vietnam. His reporting told stories the country didn't always want to hear. UC Santa Barbara professor Mario T. Garcia reports:

...his most poignant article was about the death of a 19-year-old African American soldier, Jimmy L. Williams, whose family was not allowed to bury him in the local all white cemetery in Wetumpka, Alabama.

"All of Williams' buddies killed with him were resting this Memorial Day where their survivors wanted them to be. All but Williams," Salazar wrote in the article, which focused on the politics of race in the Vietnam War.

Salazar also pulled no punches in explaining Chicanos to Anglo Angelenos.

A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.

He resents being told Columbus "discovered" America when the Chicano's ancestors, the Mayans and the Aztecs, founded highly sophisticated civilizations centuries before Spain financed the Italian explorer's trip to the "New World."

Chicanos resent also Anglo pronouncements that Chicanos are "culturally deprived" or that the fact that they speak Spanish is a "problem."

Chicanos will tell you that their culture predates that of the Pilgrims and that Spanish was spoken in America before English and so the "problem" is not theirs but the Anglos' who don't speak Spanish.

Los Angeles Times Salazar retrospective

On August 29, 1970, 20-30,000 Chicanos turned out in East L.A. to protest the Vietnam War where young, drafted Latinos were dying disproportionately. My friend, Betita Martinez, tells of preparing to speak from the podium, looking up, and seeing hundreds of L.A.P.D. charging into the crowd. Tear gas and bullets followed the baton charges. The people scattered.

Ruben Salazar holed up in the back of a bar. Native Angeleno (Craig Hill) writing on a Los Angeles Times blog tells what happened next as folks in the community came to understand it.

The inquest was covered wall-to-wall pre-Watergate on more than one LA TV channel, if memory serves, without missing one word uttered. It came out after many days of testimony that the highly respected Ruben Salazar was hit in the head or face while standing in the back of a bar he was taking refuge in, without any warning, by a tear gas canister, fired by either LAPD or country sheriffs for absolutely no good reason. ...

When the coroner's testimony got to the well-kept secret that the tear gas canister was the murder weapon (my words), every one in the audience at the hearing and across the city was stunned, myself included, for this fact had not only been totally concealed by the cops and any knowledgeable media people theretofore but every allusion that had been made by them up to that point kept alive the fiction that the victim had been shot by the mysterious killer Chicano cited on the front page who "escaped" out the back, making the desired suggestion the "rioters" were at fault for the death of one of their own, as opposed to the only people who obviously would have been firing tear gas.

During the hearings it was determined there was no threat emerging from the quiet bar. Tear gas was being used willy-nilly to drive people from out of hiding into the street where it was unmercifully unsafe. I do not believe any action of any significance was ever taken against the cop who fired the tear gas without any knowledge or care it would hit anyone in the head, or the cop above him who ordered or allowed it. ... 38 years after a relatively young widely accomplished community leader's life was ended, Ruben Salazar gets a stamp. What a trade-off.

I'm with Craig Hill -- a stamp and newspaper eulogies somehow don't seem quite adequate to remember either Salazar's accomplishments or his death. But I guess I should be glad he is remembered at all.

Racewire pointed me to this story. Betita told the story of the Chicano Moratorium at a reading from her new book, 500 Years of Chicana History.

1 comment:

Nell said...

Thanks so much for this history, and the pointer to Betita Martinez' book.

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