April 25, 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.