Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

April 29, 2014
My Whittier Blvd. Connection
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

In my first entry, I mentioned that I have always felt a connection with Ruben Salazar because I was nearly killed by Sheriff’s deputies on Whittier Blvd., a few streets down from where he was killed.

To me, I always considered the Silver Dollar Café a place of pilgrimage. It was located across the street from Sounds of Music record store, which itself had its own fame among the lowrider scene. For years, the Silver Dollar changed ownership and transformed from café to bar to restaurant, etc. For years, a theatrical play on the death of Salazar was reenacted there. Last time I went by in 2013, I believe it is now a jewelry store… and they nowadays advertise that they sell “silver” there. Perhaps it is a reminder or a tenuous connection at best to the past. Or maybe the owner is completely oblivious. It should be a museum. It is a crime that it isn’t. It should at least be on the national register of historic places.

A few blocks down the boulevard, heading toward downtown L.A., is McDonnell street. There on that corner is where I was almost killed in 1979. Today, a few yards from McDonnell, in between this street and Arizona, there is an arch there, signaling the entrance to the Whittier Blvd shopping district. I always joke and tell people that they placed the arch there in my honor.

Joking aside, I have written and rewritten many times about what happened to me. And I don’t write about the dramatic details anymore. Through the years, many people have conflated what happened to me with the riots of Aug. 29, 1970. As mentioned, what happened to me took place nine years later. I always felt guilty because when I was almost killed, it was not part of a political action, but part of cruising and the lowrider scene, etc. Not that it was minor; 538 people were arrested that weekend and after that, Whittier Blvd has been closed to cruising ever since.

Only until about 30 years later did I recognize what happened to me in political terms. When I photographed that guy being beaten… it was a political act because I had already left because I did not want to be next. I did not want to be another casualty. It became political when after leaving, I intentionally returned to photograph him being beaten. While that was hapening, he was screaming about God… but by the time I left, there was an eerie silence everywhere as he was no longer screaming. Only thuds from the riot sticks to his body could be heard, echoing against the night air and the store walls.

That is why I returned. My conscience would not permit me to leave. There were about 100 members of the Selective Enforcement Bureau of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department all along the 1-mile section of Whittier Blvd that where the cruising would take place every weekend. The red and blue lights were everywhere. I was conscious of that as he was being beaten by some 10-12 deputies. I returned to photograph, knowing full well I would probably be arrested or beaten or both… or even possibly be killed. But I was compelled to return. Return I did and I did photograph the Sheriffs deputies beating on him. The last photograph I took was of a deputy pointing at me.

Suffice to say that I got my skull cracked, I was hospitalized and I was charged with several criminal counts, including: Assault and Battery on 4 deputies. And yes, the “weapon” was the camera.

It took nine months before my charges were dropped (I was detained or arrested about 60 times in those nine months) and then I filed a lawsuit against the deputies who claimed I tried to kill them. It was a long wait, but in 1986, after a 36-day trial, which included 10 days of deliberation, I won the lawsuit. It was near miraculous for two reasons; no one wins in court against law enforcement, but on the rarest occasions that it does happen, the victory goes to the spouse or parents. In my case, I won… and I’m alive.

Today, I teach at the University of Arizona… and there, I teach Salazar. I teach more than Salazar, but when I teach either “The History of Red-Brown Journalism” (a class I created , which has a special collections at the UA Library) or “the History of the Chicano Movement,” I teach primarily the journalism of Salazar, but also, his death.

Akin to this essay, I don’t really teach about my trials, in part because it is awkward to do so. I can’t actually compare my work or situation to Salazar, though as I have noted, for me at least, I do see a connection. I know I pursued the path of a journalist/columnist because of his death and I do know that my case was historic because it resulted in victory (thanks to my witnesses and my attorney, Antonio Rodriguez). I won both my trials, but I always know there should have been a 3rd trial. The 4 deputies should have had to face criminal charges themselves. They didn’t and of course, not one of them ever had to serve time behind this. In fact, what surfaced in court is that they all had subsequently been promoted.

I could write more… or speak in details about this in public more, but I no longer do this because I did live with post-traumatic stress disorder for the longest time (due to the traumatic brain injury). But over the years, I have learned that I can speak about what happened to me, without having to relive that nightmare and without getting into a trance, by giving specific details. Justice for me over the years has been the opportunity to fight on behalf of others – too numerous to mention – of peoples and communities that continue to live these traumas.

We should not forget that Salazar did write about police abuse throughout his career.

Here, suffice to say that the Salazar documentary is long overdue. I would say at least he is finally getting some justice. But a documentary is not the same as justice. But minimally, it will give millions of people around the country an opportunity to learn about this great journalist.

In speaking to his daughters through the years, I know they have always felt – and continue to feel – that it is not enough to honor their father. Justice for them is to answer once and for all whether their father was in fact assassinated or not.

Perhaps this documentary is taking us one step closer to answering that question.

Rodriguez, a life-long journalist/columnist, won the 1986 Journalist of the Year Award from the California Chicano News Media Association in 1986 for his defense of the First Amendment, stemming from an incident in which he photographed the brutal beating of a young Mexican man in 1979. Today, he is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona and was the recent winner of the American Educational Research Association’s Ella Baker-Septima Clark Human Rights Award for his defense of Ethnic Studies. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Professor Zita Arocha

Professor Zita Arocha

April 24, 2014
Ruben Salazar questioned his own ethnic identity and the role of journalism in American society
By Professor Zita Arocha, Borderzine, UTEP

EL PASO — During a television interview shortly before newsman Ruben Salazar was killed by cops during a 1970 Chicano Anti War march in Los Angeles, the now legendary Mexican-American journalist asks: “Why do I always have to apologize to Americans for Mexicans and to Mexicans for Americans?”

His question sounds almost innocent against the turbulent anti-establishment tone of the times. Yet it still resonates for most U.S. journalists with hyphenated identities, myself included.

As I watched the PBS documentary, “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle,” a few weeks ago at a packed auditorium on the University of Texas El Paso campus, it felt like I was looking into a mirror and witnessing my own ambiguity about my Cuban and U.S. identities. It seems to me that ambiguity about identity frames the existential experience of most immigrants to this country. Where do we belong? Back there or over here? There is no simple answer to this core dilemma. It seems to have been Salazar’s crucible during his brief life.

The nuanced film portrayal of Salazar reveals an erudite, contemplative man with a deeply divided soul, reflected by the physical bridge that divides downtown El Paso, where he was raised, from neighboring Ciudad Juarez, where he was born.

Outwardly he was successful, working first at his hometown paper the El Paso Herald Post and then achieving recognition as a national and international reporter in the all-white, predominately male newsroom of the Los Angeles Times. Not an easy thing for a brown man during a conservative news era.

He managed to travel the world, covering the Vietnam War, student protests in Mexico, revolutions in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. He interviewed rich and powerful men —Robert Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Frank Sinatra. Yet a picture from that time shows him with a group of white Times reporters who sit chummily on a sofa. Salazar hangs back, standing stiffly behind this inner circle, his arms folded across his chest. He wears a tight wry smile, which to me looks like the expression of a man who knows he is on the precarious edge of an exclusive club. A speaker in the film calls Salazar “a survivor in a hostile environment.”

The film also explores Salazar’s private side. How he tried to shield his wife and children from the realities of the barrio and the radical topics he tackled in his incisive columns. Apparently, he rarely spoke about his work at home and enjoyed a fairly comfortable and routine middle-class life at home in an Anglo Orange County suburb. Read the rest of Professor Arocha’s blog post at Borderzine…

Bio: Cuban-born Zita Arocha is a bilingual print journalist and senior lecturer in the UTEP Department of Communication. She was most recently at the Freedom Forum as coordinator of training for the Chips Quinn Scholars Program for young journalists of color. For over 20 years she worked as a reporter for The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Miami News and The Tampa Times. A freelance contributor to various national publications, she earned a master’s degree in English and comparative literature from the University of South Florida, and is currently pursuing an MFA in bilingual creative writing at UTEP. She his working on a memoir: Made in Tampa: A Cuban-American Childhood. She is project director for

Flor Flores

Flor Flores

April 24, 2014
Ruben Salazar was a journalist living in two cultures, like me
By Flor Flores, Borderzine, UTEP

EL PASO – While viewing the special screening here of the new documentary on the life and death of Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar, Man in the Middle, I experienced a mix of emotions.

The documentary by Phillip Rodriguez address the duality of his life as a journalist, but, it felt to me that it lacked a wider explanation of Salazar’s private life.

Salazar came from a Mexican background and grew up in El Paso, but the documentary portrayed him as identifying more with American culture.

Salazar was an outstanding journalist who took risks and was not afraid to take assignments other journalists avoided.

I felt that that my image of Salazar had changed after watching this documentary, as it explained that his death might not have been an accident, but rather an intentional attack.

Salazar died in 1970 after he was hit by a tear-gas canister fired by police during a Chicano demonstration in Los Angeles. Before the incident he had said that he was followed and threaten by police who wanted him to back away from stories dealing with Chicano issues.

Thanks to the documentary I felt that Salazar did not embrace his Mexican heritage until he started writing about the Chicano movement and raised awareness of the Mexican-American plight.

That is a struggle for identity that I can relate to.

Living in a border city is almost synonymous with not knowing which side you belong to, which side of you do you show to the world. I understood Salazar’s decision to embrace one over the other, but as local artist and public figure, Rosa Guerrero said in a panel that followed the film, one must “take the best of both worlds.”Read the rest of Flor’s blog post at Borderzine…

Bio: Flor Flores is a Multimedia Journalism major at the University of Texas at El Paso and a contributor to Borderzine.

Photo by Lane Kelly, student blogger for Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle

Photo by Lane Kelly, student blogger for Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle

April 24, 2014
An Advocate for Humans
By Lane Kelly, Student at the University of Arizona

Ruben Salazar was and continues to be an inspiration. He broke through social barriers and chipped away at stereotypes that afflicted the Mexican American people in the 1960’s. He is not simply a hero of the early Chicano movement though. He is a role model for all people that have ever witnessed injustice. He used his position as a journalist to become a voice for change, a characteristic that makes him especially inspiring to me.

There seems to be a tendency for society to accept things as they are. As generations pass, people end up following the status quo that was established by the preceding generation of people. The problem is that, as time passes, people lose the context behind the status quo. Sometimes there was no ethical context behind it in the first place. There is a joke that I believe illustrates my point rather well:

A man is sitting at his kitchen table relaxing while his wife prepares dinner. She’s cooking a roast, one of her specialties. While she is preparing the meal, the husband notices that his wife cuts off an inch or so from each side of the roast before placing it in a pan and then the oven. The husband, confused, asks her why she cuts off the ends of the roast. She replies, “I don’t know, that’s how my mother taught me to do it. I’ll ask her.”

The next day, the woman calls up her mother and asks her why she always cut off the ends of the roast before cooking it. The mother answers, “I actually have no idea, that’s how your grandmother always did it. I’ll ask her.”
She immediately calls up her own mother and asks why she always cut the ends off her roast before she cooked it. The grandmother says, “Because my pan was too damn small.”

While it is a joke, the overall message that is delivered by the story above rings true to our society. The “norm” is often passed down without anyone questioning it. Such was the case with the overall treatment of Mexican American people leading up to the Chicano movement and continuing to present day. Hatred and racism towards Chicanos was passed down until it was ingrained in our society. Salazar recognized it and fought it, not just because he was Mexican-American, but also because it was the just thing to do.

I try to look at political and societal issues through the same viewpoint as Ruben Salazar. My ethics teacher at my Jesuit high school taught my classmates and me to always follow things back to their source because they are rarely what they seem. If you trace something back to its origin, you might be surprised to find that you can no longer oppose it or at least you will begin to sympathize. This was how it was for me when it comes to immigration in Arizona. As a native Arizonan of Irish decent, born and raised in a conservative town, I had a jaded view of Mexican Americans. All I knew about them was what I had learned from news outlets like Fox and that was that many of them were illegals, here to steal jobs, and increase crime rate. As a child, I was indoctrinated with these ideas and they stuck with me despite the fact that I had many Mexican-American friends. To me, I assigned them into different categories; there were my Mexican friends who had done no wrong, and there were illegal Mexicans that were supposedly a menace to my American way of life. It was a powerful moment when one of my friends confided in me that he was technically an undocumented illegal. He had been carried across the border as a child. At that point, my categories of Mexican-Americans merged and I started to see the issue for what it really was – an injustice against fellow humans. It was a vendetta pitted against a racial group that had done nothing wrong except for having ancestors with brown skin or being born south of an imaginary line.

This revelation led me down a path of discovery. I traced the chord back to the wall so to speak in regards to immigration issues and discovered a few key things. One was that many Mexican Americans that are being persecuted daily were members of families whose ancestral lands and property are actually within the American borders. After the Mexican-American War, Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, and Gadsden Purchase, people in the disputed lands were crossed by the border, not the other way around. They were supposed to be granted the rights of any other American citizens but were taken advantage of because of their “different” appearance and “minority” status and consequently, they lost their lands as well as their identity. In the hundred years that passed between the Mexican American War and the advent of the Chicano movement, this was just accepted by the majority of society, just like the woman cutting off the ends of the roast. Nobody knew exactly why the discrimination existed yet it was continuing and becoming ingrained in society, especially in Arizona. The second issue that I ran across was that most of the “facts and figures” cited by people pushing an Anti-Immigrant agenda were fabricated. Meanwhile, the laws getting passed (like SB 1070) were unjustly affecting not only actual illegal immigrants from Mexico but Mexican Americans in general.

To me, it was with the passing of SB 1070 that the issue became something more than just a dispute about color of skin or political maneuverings. It became a human rights issue and I could no longer stand by while my friends and my fellow humans were getting persecuted unjustly. I began to get involved and participated in several marches against SB 1070. I even traveled to Washington D.C. where I spread awareness about human rights in regards to SB 1070 to students from across the country at the Ignatian Family teach-in. I even met with Senator John McCain to gather more understanding on the issue from his perspective as a powerful U.S. politician on the forefront of the Immigration debate. To this day, I have a “We are Human” poster in my house to remind me that people should strive to maintain human rights, regardless of whether they are directly involved with the issue.

Ruben Salazar understood this. He identified injustice towards humans, not just his people, and fought against it. He used his skills as a journalist as a vehicle for democracy, which is what being American is all about. In this way, he helped the Chicano movement by leading as an example and asserting his right to equal treatment by breaking through racial barriers and stereotypes. Most importantly to me, he became an example of someone I can look up to and aspire to be like – someone who stands up for human rights, even in the face of adversity. I look forward to watching “Ruben Salazar: The Man in the Middle” so I can learn more about his struggle and the resolve it took to battle for what is right in the face of immense odds and discrimination.

Bio: Lane Kelly is a junior Business Management student at the University of Arizona, in the Eller School of Management who is currently taking Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodriguez’s MAS 265 class.

April 24, 2014
The Mysteries of Salazar
By Wyman Sai, Student at the University of Arizona

The high-profiling of Ruben Salazar, a pioneering Mexican-American journalist, was a tragic death that is still puzzling to many because of what had happened is still unsolved. A journalist who covered the importance of Chicano Civil Rights Movements and such was killed in L.A by what we believe was a police brute force. The L.A County Sheriff’s Department was involved in this situation and should have been in supposed fault. Although, I myself, have not experienced an event that has tied into this incident that deeply, I have been researching on other topics that relate back to this and am as passionate as I am for the Salazar incident.

Relative concepts of unfairness in justice of society that we have discussed in class for a brief class period that I have always been concerned about were the issue of police brutality. For many decades now, since the concept of distributing police force to “create a peaceful” environment has been corrupted in parameters that are beyond believable. For instance, we can relate this case to the Rodney King incident, where he was beaten by police officers, because the police officers “can.” The report on Salazar was that an L.A. sheriff Department deputy shot an eight-inch tear-gas without warning, which struck Salazar in the head. The death of Salazar with documents from the Sheriff’s Department were locked up from the public from more than 40 years, which gave a sense of the department that they were hiding something from everyone, including the families. Even after the release of the documents, they were only allowed to be viewed by personnel that were qualified to view it, and even so, Sheriff’s still had to supervise the people that reviewed the documents.

A personal experience that I cannot even compare to this case, but I thought was bad at the time was where I grew up. The south side of Tucson has always been categorized as the “Compton” of California. I lived in a neighborhood where it would have been 2 in the morning, and you can hear sirens going up and down the streets not too far away from the house. I thought that hearing sirens at the time was bad enough, but now that I study more and more into the Salazar case, and all this police brutality that has been going on in these past decades, it is crazy how my perspectives has changed. I could only imagine how Salazar’s family members must have felt with all the media surrounding them, but couldn’t release information because they, themselves didn’t even know what was going on. At the time, Salazar did not intend to go in there and meet death; he was just an innocent journalist documenting the truth of social injustice. I’ve actually personally witnessed an event that was somewhat socially injustice, which was when a cop had stopped a minor in the streets because of curfew. At the time I didn’t have a car, and I was with one of my buddies, and we walked past them only to see that the police was emotionally destroying the kid. The kid talked back to the officer, but for the officer to make a minor feel like curfew was a larger deal than it was is definitely unnecessary.

As a journalist that revealed the indignation over the lack of civil rights, and police abuse in the community; he felt that the police authorities needed to pressure and threat him into the halt of creating controversial issues. His struggles as a journalist who spoke the truth was that he always felt like he was being followed, and an attempt from the authorities to stop him was coming anytime. Also, in the past, there is a history in time where L.A. Police Sheriff’s “intelligence squad” was spying on individuals that were promoting the rise of existing social injustices. People like: Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Robert Kennedy were eventually killed “unknowingly or secretly” after civil rights public speeches were spoken publicly. Salazar represented an idle of reform, which was probably why he was a set target from the beginning of the event.

People all around the world still do not believe that the incident of Ruben Salazar was not an assassination of some type. His ultimatum was to gradually serve justice through his works. Ruben could have made history such like Martin Luther King, but was prevented from outside enemies that could not stand the truth. Unfortunately, brute force from the L.A. Sheriff Department was deployed among Salazar, and he could not finish his works and possible reformation of the Chicano community. What Salazar left with us amongst his death was something more than reform. It was hope that his works did not go to waste, and can crack down on the abusers of the society of brute force. He left us with the thought of never allowing a community the feeling of terrorization, or the ability to subjugate to stand our ground.

Bio: Wyman Sai, sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Arizona.

April 24, 2014
“Man in the Middle”
By Adam Ferguson, Student at the University of Arizona

Ruben Salazar is deemed as the “Man in the Middle” for a few reasons. One of those reasons is because his mom was very pro-American while his dad was pro-Mexican. Salazar was caught between these two opinions while his parents fought over what kind of person he would be. I feel similar to Salazar in this way, though not nearly as extreme. I grew up being taught to be pro-American. I was raised in Tucson, so I have always been close to the debate about immigration and discrimination. I was taught that illegal immigration was wrong and that bad people did it.
When I turned 19, I was called to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Boise Idaho as a Spanish speaking missionary. I had no idea that there were very many Spanish speaking people in Idaho. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school but I felt inadequate to be able to teach people in that language. I studied and practiced Spanish at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah and after just two months took my newly acquired skills to the streets of Boise. I quickly learned that there were quite a lot of Spanish speaking people in Boise. They had immigrated there to work on the farms and dairies in the surrounding areas. In just a few short months I was speaking Spanish fluently and had met a lot of Hispanic people, many of which are still dear friends. I came to understand how kind, humble and hardworking the Hispanic people are. Eventually, although I am of Scottish decent, I felt Hispanic at heart. I still cannot eat my food without a tortilla in one hand and a chile in the other.
Many of the people I met on the streets of Boise were illegal immigrants. But I don’t think I met anyone who fits the description of a bad person that I was taught when I was a kid in Tucson. They were all there in search of a better life. They just wanted to make a decent living for their family. I learned a lot from them which has helped me in my life, especially in regards to having a good work ethic. While most of the Hispanic people I met were good and honest people, they were always very cautious and timid, especially when a police officer was around, and even more when “la migra” was near, or as they often called them, “los limones.” I cannot imagine what it would be like to live with one eye open, always concerned about who was watching me or if I would be kicked out of the country. Many of them recounted to me their stories of crossing the border into this country, and many of them were nothing short of amazing and miraculous that they made it here alive. For most, it was a long and extremely difficult ordeal. I came to realize that these people would only subject themselves to such an ordeal if it was for a better cause. While my view of immigration as a law did not change, my view of the kind of people which immigrate illegally greatly changed. Some of my greatest friends are illegal immigrants in this country.
While I was greatly exposed to the issue of immigration, somewhat on the inside, I was not exposed to the issue of discrimination. I mentioned that many of the people I met were always on the lookout for “la migra,” but I never saw anyone taken by them, let alone wrongly dealt with by them. When I think back, no one I was associated with was ever discriminated against, but many of them thought that it was a large problem. I am not saying that it is not a problem, or that it does not happen, but that I think it is not as common as some people believe.
I am so thankful for those two years I spent in Idaho with my Hispanic brothers and sisters. I am forever changed because of it. I have such a deep respect for the Hispanic people and the lessons I learned from them. I can definitely say that I feel somewhat of a connection to Ruben Salazar as the “Man in the Middle” because, though not as extreme, I have also been on both sides of the argument.

Bio: My name is Adam Ferguson. I am a 4th year Architecture student at the University of Arizona. I am married and have a 16 month old son.

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

April 23, 2014
Salazar: Assassination or Accident?
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

For years, many people had doubts regarding the death of Salazar. One of the questions is whether he was actually assassinated by members of the Sheriff’s Department, as opposed to his death being a horrible accident. However, a larger question many of us asked during those initial years was whether he may have been assassinated by yet a larger government plot? It is not that we were into conspiracy theories, but rather, it is that he wouldn’t have been the first to have been taken out in such a manner.

And yet, many of us were in fact treated as conspiracy theorists for asking basic questions. With a failure to indict anyone, many of us continued to ask for further investigations, but to no avail. As far as the legal establishment was concerned, his case was closed.

Most of us asked this question so many times – without a satisfactory answer – that perhaps we finally stopped asking because we were indeed treated as conspiracy theorists akin to people looking for bigfoot, UFOs or Elvis.

As a writer/columnist, throughout the years, I have written about Salazar numerous times. But what is left to write that hasn’t already been written before? For many years, many of us concentrated on his death. And again, due to lack of forthrightness on the matter, we had to move on. For many years thereafter, I began to actually examine his work as a journalist with the El Paso Herald Post and then his work as a journalist and columnist with the L.A. Times and finally, his work as news director at KMEX.

He truly was an award-winning journalist ahead of his time, particularly his work as a journalist at the LA Times in the early 1960s. In a 1963 series on the Mexican American community, his work was so cutting edge, with a focus on civil rights, that it was not equaled for more than 20 years until a team of Latino journalists were assigned to do similar work, resulting in the Pulitzer Prize in the 1980s.

A 1994 book, Border Correspondent, edited by Mario Garcia, chronicles Salazar’s amazing journalism.

And yet, after now focusing on his historic writings for a generation, the question always comes back; was he targeted and eliminated?

In 1976 or thereabouts, my girlfriend (at the time) and I were passed along a shocking story by someone claiming to be retired ex-military intelligence about the death of Salazar. He claimed that Salazar was actually assassinated by a military intelligence officer with a gun, not the projectile shot by the Sheriff’s deputies. When he relayed us the story, we considered it not only wild, but implausible and untrue. It was so bizarre and definitely in line with conspiracy theories, that I never passed it along to anyone else until the 1994 book came out. I passed the story along to Mario Garcia, editor of the Border Correspondent book.

When Garcia was touring his book in El Paso, I relayed to him this story…telling him that I had never told anyone else about it because I thought it was both whack and indeed, “conspiracy theory” laden. So then why did I even bother telling Garcia? From what I remember, it was because during his talk, he mentioned that Raul Ruiz, the La Raza Magazine photographer who took the celebrated photos of the Sheriff’s deputies outside of the Silver Dollar CafГ©, had never believed that Salazar had been killed by the projectile.

After giving Garcia more details about the conversation, which had taken place at a swap meet in Southern California, I decided I needed to talk to Ruiz. After tracking him down, he confirmed that he had never believed that Salazar had been killed by the projectile. He said that if he had been killed by an armor-piercing projectile, his head would have been blown off. So that’s when I elaborated the rest of the story to Ruiz by the guy who claimed to be ex-army intelligence.

When he told me the story, he was agitated. We had a table at the swap meet with issues of La Gente Newspaper from UCLA. And we also had La Gente T-Shirts. He must have thought we were important because he proceeded to tell us that we actually didn’t know anything about what we were talking about… but more important than that, he decided we needed to hear his opinions on the Chicano Movement. Initially, he was talking in general, but eventually, he zeroed in on the death of Salazar.

He said the whole story regarding the projectile was an elaborate ploy…that it was subterfuge…that his death indeed had been an assassination plot, not by the Sheriff’s Department, the FBI or the CIA, but rather, by military intelligence. As I rolled my eyes, he asked me: “Did you see his head at the funeral?”

“I didn’t attend, but I did see it on television or photos,” I replied.

“If he had been shot by that projectile, his head would have ben blown off,” he said. But if you saw the photos, you can see that his face is intact, his head is intact.” (That part is true).

He said what had actually happened is that military intelligence had been tracking Salazar’s movements throughout that day. When he slipped into the Silver Dollar Café, a few agents also went inside. When the projectile was fired, amid all the gas and confusion, one agent, directly behind him, came forward and shot Salazar to the back of his head with his gun.

Of course, when this guy who claimed to be ex-military intelligence told us this, we could hardly contain our laughter. I think I patted him on the back and just shook my head. The story was so incredulous that that was the reason I never passed it along to anyone else…until I spoke to Garcia and Ruiz.

Garcia didn’t have a lot to say on this topic, but he did tell me to talk to Ruiz. I did and again, he relayed that he had never accepted the story of Salazar dying as a result of the projectile.

Forty-some years later, the issue is not whether I believe the guy who claimed to be ex-military intelligence…that Salazar was indeed assassinated…but rather, that for me, that is one story that forms my memory about Salazar and that era. We all have our memories and our own ways of remembering.

The filmmaker obtained files from the LA Sheriff’s Department. Perhaps the search should be broader…though even if that story were plausible, it would hardly be believable that incriminating files from the military would exist till this day.

Rodriguez, a life-long journalist/columnist, won the 1986 Journalist of the Year Award from the California Chicano News Media Association in 1986 for his defense of the First Amendment, stemming from an incident in which he photographed the brutal beating of a young Mexican man in 1979. Today, he is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona and was the recent winner of the American Educational Research Association’s Ella Baker-Septima Clark Human Rights Award for his defense of Ethnic Studies. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

April 14, 2014
Salazar, Justice, and “The Price of a Mexican”
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

The Inquest into the death of Ruben Salazar was the bookend to his death, or assassination if you will. In one sense, it was even more dramatic. It was about the U.S. judicial system and “the price of a Mexican.”

That a Mexican had been killed was not the news. It was that he was high-profile, he was a writer – a journalist – and in effect, a symbol. Although he was not actually part of the Chicano civil rights movement, he covered it and the importance of his coverage is that he did it both, for the mainstream and for the Spanish-speaking community of Southern California. Because of the importance of his coverage, he in effect, was Cesar Chavez with a pen. He was Corky Gonzalez, with a tie. No, he was not a revolutionary, but he brought the Chicano Movement to peoples’ doorstep, every day..

When the inquest took place, I had just entered the 10th grade. I lived about 10 blocks from my high school. I lived in East L.A. but I went to school in Montebello …and going to school there was like crossing a huge cultural divide. About half of the high school was Mexican American…and about half of those were like me, who lived in East LA, but the school borders sucked us into this other reality that seemed as far removed from East LA as was Beverly Hills.

I remember running home every day to catch the Inquest, which was televised every day for 16 days. Every day, it started at 3 pm, so everyday I missed a few minutes. Everything about it had a surreal aspect to it. Its primary theme was “outside agitators” as opposed to the actual death of Salazar. It did not seem to be a serious Inquest, but a means for the Sheriff’s Department to discredit the moratorium, the movement, and thereby, the credibility of Salazar. For most of us, it was but a show trial. The verdict, or rather, the finding, was not unexpected. As a result, no one was ever charged in relationship with Salazar’s death.

Memories fade and sometimes, they trick us. I don’t remember anymore the sequence of events. All most of us knew at the time is that there were photographs that indicated that people had been forced back into the Silver Dollar at gunpoint – then the projectile was fired. This contradicted what the Sheriff’s Department had been claiming…that people had refused to leave the Silver Dollar. The photographs eventually made their way into a special issue of La Raza Magazine. One of the headlines was: “A mi hijo, lo asesinaron” – My son was murdered.”

That was what most of us thought. We were convinced. Of all the people that could have “accidentally” been killed – why was it the most high-profile Mexican American journalist in the history of this country? Given the other political assassinations of our time, how could we not believe that he too was taken out by governmental forces – in this case, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department?

The message sent out by the Inquest was “that it could happen here.” That is, not simply an assassination and a silencing, but a miscarriage of justice. The Inquest had been a kangaroo court for all to see. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. I could be wrong, but Salazar’s death along with the Inquest, did more to radicalize the movement than anything else, before or after. As it was, it was not just Salazar who was killed that day; Angel Diaz and Lyn Ward also died that day at the Moratorium. Again, no one faced charges for their deaths, nor for the death of other movement activists, before and after the moratorium.

Who could believe in justice or the “American Dream?” It didn’t apply to us. It never had, and it never would.

Some of the organizers from that era believe that what also died that day was the movement… that it had succumbed to the government’s war against the progressive movements of the nation. But I wasn’t one to believe that. I thought it was quite the reverse. Even though the Chicano Movement had been simmering throughout the nation’s barrios for several years, I believe Salazar’s death ignited an entire generation; it profoundly affected what American Indian scholar Vine Deloria would refer to as “the psychic life of a community.”

That’s why when my friends argued whether the rally and march was about the war or not, I had answered that it was actually about civil rights. For me, it was about fighting against dehumanization in a nation that had always treated Mexicans as less than human. That’s what the Chicano Movement was all about… about proclaiming our full humanity. I answered in that manner because I had already been exposed to the Chicano Movement by way of the walkouts and also because part of the movement included a consciousness about police abuse and brutality.

Prior to the Movement, Mexican Americans had tolerated their less than full human status, often living without their full human rights. The belief is that Mexicans, to a fault, in the face of discrimination, humiliation and denigration, were meek and humble. That’s what the movement had changed. And now, something huge had gone wrong. The person most responsible for bringing attention to the movement to peoples’ homes had been eliminated… and according to some, the movement itself had been killed.

At an organizational level, perhaps the Movement was killed…or perhaps, that’s when it began to disassemble. However, in relationship to the pyschic life of our community, this was the equivalence of a major and massive earthquake. It was the trigger that changed peoples’ lives. It changed how we thought. If the objective of killing Salazar was to destroy the movement, it had the opposite effect. To this day, the reverberations continue. Proof is “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle.”

When we think back to Salazar, what has to be kept in mind is that he has now been dead longer than he was alive. That we are speaking of him today is proof that the reverberations continue.

Why after 44 years does the memory of his death matter? Why does memory of him and his work matter? What is the compelling and unfinished story? One reason is that his work remains relevant to this day and another reason is because to this day, many of us from that era have not been convinced that he wasn’t assassinated.

Rodriguez, a life-long journalist/columnist, won the 1986 Journalist of the Year Award from the California Chicano News Media Association in 1986 for his defense of the First Amendment, stemming from an incident in which he photographed the brutal beating of a young Mexican man in 1979. Today, he is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona and was the recent winner of the American Educational Research Association’s Ella Baker-Septima Clark Human Rights Award for his defense of Ethnic Studies. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

April 1, 2014
Salazar and Me
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Not by choice, I have always had a special connection to slain journalist, Ruben Salazar. The L.A. Times columnist and KMEX news director, was killed by an armor-piercing tear gas projectile by Los Angeles Sherriff’s deputies on Aug. 29, 1970 on Whittier Blvd in East Los Angeles… a few blocks down the street from where I grew up… also, on Whittier Blvd.

The connection, however, is not so much where I grew up – an alley off of Whittier Blvd – or even that I have been a journalist//columnist most of my adult life (since 1972) – but rather, that I was almost killed nine years later, by an elite unit of Sheriff’s officers in East LA, also on Whittier Blvd, just a few blocks from where Salazar was killed.

Salazar was killed while covering the National Moratorium against the Vietnam War. I was almost killed – my skull was cracked – for photographing a vicious assault against a young man, on Whittier Blvd., on the opening night of a movie about cruising in East L.A. On the day I was released from the jail ward of the LA County Hospital, I found out that it was I who was now facing charges… of attempting to kill the 4 deputies that almost took my life.

Those are not pleasant connections or memories. I have written plenty on what happened to me in a book titled: Justice: A Question of Race (1997) and in columns throughout the years.

As we near the premiere of Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle, I am compelled to write more about my own personal connection or about my own memories of Salazar. In part, it is because I, like many, see Salazar’s story as an unfinished story. I am one of those that has always believed he was assassinated, as opposed to simply being felled by an errant projectile.

When Salazar was killed, I was probably 20 blocks away, playing baseball in a parking lot off of Whittier Blvd. Salazar had been covering the march and rally against the war when Sheriff’s deputies and police attacked the peaceful rally at Laguna Park. After the attacks, the protestors scattered and a full-scale riot ensued, primarily on Whittier Blvd. Stores were looted and several were set on fire.

As I was playing baseball with my neighbors, I remember seeing the smoke rising from several fires that had been set. Most of us playing were probably between 13-16 years old. We knew what was going on regarding the protests, but we were not organizers. I remember we argued whether the rally was about the war, or about police brutality. I argued that of course it was about the war, but the real purpose was about civil rights and especially against police brutality.

At a certain point, we all went home. I lived behind or next to the parking lot… and of course, the situation regarding the riot was top of the news. Chanel 34 (KMEX), the station Salazar worked for broke into live coverage because word was that Salazar had been shot, sometime a little after 3pm. His colleague, Guillermo Restrepo, who had been inside the Silver Dollar Café was frantic, explaining that Salazar had been shot, that he was still inside and that the Sheriff’s deputies were not taking him to the hospital. Everyone had been evacuated from the Silver Dollar, except Salazar. The hours went by. I remember one my older brothers driving over to the Silver Dollar, with a few of us in tow, but being turned away on Atlantic. It was a no-go zone. We returned home. Finally, after about 3 hours, a little after 6:30 pm, the Sheriff’s deputies removed his body from the Silver Dollar.

A state of unreality permeated our communities. As a nation, we had lived through the Kennedy assassinations, the Martin Luther King assassination…and now, the only mainstream Journalist that had been covering the Chicano Movement had been felled by a nine-inch projectile.

Could it have been an accident? It would have been a miracle to have found more than a handful of people who that believed that.

Between Aug. 29, 1970 and Sept. 16, 1970, East LA was in a state of siege. The tension was so thick that authorities wanted to cancel the annual Mexican Independence parade, fearing a massive riot. For those 16 days, the Eastside was tense, with saturation patrols everywhere. Sheriff’s deputies patrolled the Eastside, including the alley where I lived as if it were a war zone, as if it were a “third world country.” To this day, I remember being yelled at by deputies in my own alley in the back of my house: “Get back inside your yard!” I called it a house; it was actually a 2-room shack for 9 of us. We had little room, so the alley was part of our “yard.”

There was indeed another riot on Sept 16. And another one in January. More people were killed. Many were injured. Many were jailed.

I can see my mind drifting. I have lots of memories.

Perhaps the most profound one was that of being called by my parents to watch an interview of Salazar. I remember I was running out the door to play baseball, but before I could get out the gate, my parents called me back. I was late and I didn’t want to go back. But they told me it was important. For a 16-year-old athlete, nothing on TV could be important. Though I was an athlete, they knew I was very aware and involved in the Chicano Movement. The walkouts had happened two years before and anything having to do with civil rights and protest, I was interested. But not when I had a game. They sat me down and told me I needed to watch this interview. They explained who Salazar was. He was talking about “Chicano Power.!

“A ese lo van a matar,” they told me in Spanish. That one, they are going to kill.

Nowadays, I don’t remember if it was the week or month before Salazar was killed, but I do remember that indeed, it had a profound impact on me. Before I left, they gave me stern warnings about not getting involved with the Chicano Movement, because I too would get killed if I got active…

Shortly thereafter, I remember as the Salazar situation unfolded, my parents turned to me, telling me and reminding me that that was the same journalist they had told me that he was going to get killed… that they had me watch… Of course, they could not stop telling me: “Te dijimos” – we told you.

I of course was shocked as much as the next person. I truly feel that that was one of the most important moments of my life. But rather than discourage me from being or becoming part of the Chicano Movement, it became a magnet. More than that, it is what determined my future, my decision to go to college and the decision to become a journalist, a writer… a columnist. I wasn’t sure which… all I know is I had to write. I had to write about the truth. The Sherriff of L.A., Peter Pitchess, claimed that the rally had drawn in outside agitators, that they were responsible for all the troubles. It was a line that would be repeated often throughout the duration of the movement; it was “communist infiltrators” or “communist troublemakers.” If people protested, the protest was illegitimate because it was outside agitators that were stirring the pot.

No, we didn’t need anyone from the outside to tell us that there was something wrong with the East Side of LA… or the Southside. The black and brown sides of L.A. were not the West Side… were not Beverly Hills or Bel Air.

Beyond Aug. 29, 1970, it was the subsequent Inquest into Salazar’s death that cemented the discontent in our community that exists to this day. 16 days of testimony resulted in a finding that Salazar had died “at the hands of another.” Four jurists decided this way. Three decided it was an accident. Despite this majority finding, no one was ever charged with his death.

I don’t think many of us expected any different. Salazar was mainstream, but a Mexican nonetheless… and the judicial system had treated him simply as but “another Mexican.”

Rodriguez, a life-long journalist/columnist, won the 1986 Journalist of the Year Award from the California Chicano News Media Association in 1986 for his defense of the First Amendment, stemming from an incident in which he photographed the brutal beating of a young Mexican man in 1979. Today, he is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona and was the recent winner of the American Educational Research Association’s Ella Baker-Septima Clark Human Rights Award for his defense of Ethnic Studies. He can be reached at: [email protected]