Ruben Salazar: A Martyr for His People

Chicano Moratorium | Courtesy of Pinterest

On August 29, 1970, in the midst of more than 20,000 people, news correspondent Ruben Salazar walked alongside fellow Mexican Americans covering the Chicano Moratorium March in East Los Angeles, a protest to the Vietnam War. Initially supported by the Mexican-American people, the war began to be questioned and rebuked after Chicanos began to be drafted in disproportionate amounts.1 Mexican-American men were laying down their lives for a country that did not respect them, their families, or their culture. The Chicano Moratorium brought out hundreds of spectators with the jovial sounds of Mexican music and a convivial environment.

The rally would continue throughout the day until it was abruptly broken apart by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with tear gas canisters. Many Chicanos fought back by throwing back the same tear gas projectiles that were being used on them, and anything else that could serve as a weapon.2 Ruben Salazar had been resting in a local bar when the chaos broke out. A tear gas projectile was shot into the bar to smoke out a reported “armed individual,” hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly.3 News of his death was broadcast widely, and it significantly impacted the Los Angeles Chicano community, as Ruben Salazar was one of the few mainstream journalists to address and voice the needs of the Chicano Movement.

Chicanos fighting back after LAPD break up the rally | Courtesy of Pinterest

Who was this Ruben Salazar who was killed that August day? Ruben Salazar was born March 3, 1928 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. During his infancy, his family moved to El Paso, Texas. Salazar would go on to attend school and grow to love reading in his early years. Upon graduating from high school, he enlisted in the army and served for two years after becoming a naturalized citizen.4 With the G.I. Bill supporting him, Ruben Salazar attended Texas Western College and graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism in 1954. He then went on to become an investigative journalist for El Paso Herald-Post. Ruben Salazar’s work paid off, and he obtained a position at the LA Times, becoming the first Mexican-American journalist to have his own column.5

Ruben Salazar | Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Much as many other immigrants, Salazar grew up in between two very distinct cultures. Refusing to be defined by his ethnicity and background, he became successful through his perseverance. Although many characterized him as a cosmopolitan man with worldly views, he kept himself grounded by never losing sight of where he was from. After working at the Los Angeles Times for eleven years, he left his position to become a news director for KMEX, a Spanish-speaking  news station in Los Angeles, California.6 Ruben Salazar understood that he had a privilege and a voice in the media that others did not, and so with the help of his new position, he began to shine a light on the troubles the Mexican-American community had to face, such as police brutality and racial discrimination especially in East Los Angeles.7 It became common knowledge that Salazar and the LAPD did not get along very well, due to his high intrusion into political matters and his exposure of the LAPD’s efforts to diminish the Chicano movement. He became renowned for his investigative tactics and for his unwavering courage, which he demonstrated when obstacles came his way.

His untimely death did not silence the Chicano movement; rather, Salazar became a martyr for his people. After his death the Chicano Movement gained momentum. Ruben Salazar was not an activist nor a leader in the Movement, but he addressed the basic needs and frustrations expressed by the people through his writings. He was the example of the American Dream, a symbol that progress was possible. Ruben Salazar’s legacy left behind a definition to what it meant to be a Chicano and strengthened the pride behind being one.

  1. Ruben Salazar and Mario T. Garcia, Border Correspondent: Select Writings, 1955-1970, ed. Mario T. Garcia (California: University of California Press, 1996), 1-2.
  2. Ruben Salazar and Mario T. Garcia, Border Correspondent: Select Writings, 1955-1970, ed. Mario T. Garcia (California: University of California Press, 1996), 2-3.
  3. Edward J. Escobar, “The Dialects of Repression: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Chicano Movement,” Journal of American History 79, no. 4 (March 1983): 1483-1484.
  4. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “Ruben Salazar,” by Ewing Jack.
  5. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “Ruben Salazar,” by Ewing Jack.
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “Ruben Salazar,” by Ewing Jack.
  7. Edward J. Escobar, “The Dialects of Repression: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Chicano Movement,” Journal of American History 79, no. 4 (March 1983): 1486-1487.
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27 Comments

  • I am really happy that I read this article! I am a Mexican-American from the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso community and love reading and learning more about the place that I come from. I honestly did not know who Ruben Salazar was, but I believe that it is very important to know more about individuals like him. He is a very inspiring individual because of what he did to uncover the truth. Great job!

  • I love to read articles that impower and shine light upon our heritage and hardship as Latinos here in the Unites States. Ruben Salazar is a true hero for speaking out for one of the most discriminated ethnicities within the U.S. However, when I read articles likes these, I would expect more description on the achievements that we Latinos have achieved and the brave voices that have fought and spoke out for us due our lack of power and constantly being the discriminated and forgotten voices. Overall, this article is truly amazing!

  • Wow! I had never heard of the story off Ruben Salazar. This was a fascinating and inspiring article. I love the fact that Ruben never let his ethnicity get in the way of his dreams and the dreams of other Mexican American citizens. The story of Ruben Salazar is a reminder, not only to Mexican Americans, but to everyone that we must stand up for what we believe.

  • People like Ruben Salazar need to be better addressed- or addressed at all- in history. 57.5 million people in the United States are Latin, and still, we do not have the publication of our heroes or historical figures like we should. I love hearing about the Chicano Movement and will not forget Ruben. This is a great article with a lot of awesome information.

  • Cesar Chavez, was the sole Mexican activist and I had known about prior to reading about Ruben Salazar. It is really great to know that there was someone to advocate for the rights of Mexican Americans. Salazar, was able to use the education he gained to a greater good for the people of Las Angeles. He fought for the respect any soldier should get regardless of their ethnicity. In a relatively short article you were able to cover a lot of information, great job!

  • This story is a reminder to stand up for what you believe in. It is because people like Ruben Salazar, that have lost their lives using their platforms to shine light on the injustices of our world, that we can live a little bit better today. Although he was innocently seated at a bar, because he unfortunately lost his life and because of who he was (an activist and reporter, he brought light to the Chicano movement against the Vietnam War.

  • Before stumbling upon this article, I did not know who Ruben Salazar was or what he did. I found it interesting that he lived in El Paso because I am from there. I enjoyed reading about this man who did not let his ethnicity get in the way of pursuing his dreams and giving a voice to the Mexican American people who were facing troubles, such as racial discrimination.

  • This was an interesting article to read because not only is he from my hometown, but I did not have an extensive knowledge on Ruben Salazar. To learn more about his background and ethnicity makes you feel hopeful that no matter where you come from, what your race is, or what you believe in, anything is truly possible. It was devastating to hear that many young chicanos were being drafted, when they were not all respected by the people nor the country that they live in. As a citizen of the U.S. everyone has a choice, and to be given freedom we should all be treated with equality. This country is widely diverse, that it takes very brutality to an extreme when it comes to a certain ethnic group of people. Overall, it was very well written, with thoroughly explained stories and facts!

  • I didn’t know the story of Ruben Salazar. To know that he was not really an activist, but rather a more moderate supporter makes it more of a tragedy that he died while just sitting at a bar. It was very true that Mexican-American people were mistreated at that point in history, I do not think it really happens much in the United States anymore. I do know, as a Mexican myself, that other Mexicans are even openly prejudice and use stereotypes for Mexican-Americans, for studying in the U.S and going back I’m called a ‘pocho’.

  • I’m so happy you wrote this article; surprisingly, most people don’t know what the Chicano Movement since it’s not as a ‘important’ moment in history. Although I’ll admit I didn’t know who Ruben Salazar was before reading this article, I’m pleased to have learned about his importance as a journalist/news investigator. I think what he did was great and wish there were more genuine people reporting the news and investigating important matters rather than biased and bought news companies. Ultimately, it was nice to learn that his death did not go unnoticed but actually served as a bond of glue that strengthened the whole ‘si se puede’ attitude.

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