At word of his death, the tier exploded into an uproar. Inmates gave out gritos and cell bars rattled; mattresses were set on fire.” This is how Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running, the California Book Club pick for July, describes the moment Downtown Los Angeles’s Hall of Justice jail learned of Ruben Salazar’s death in 1970.
Salazar was the most prominent Mexican American journalist at the time, and his coverage of the Chicano community and Mexican American issues had catapulted him to household-name status. He’d given voice to the Latino community when they’d had none, and his death effectively silenced one of the loudest Mexican American writers.
Born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and raised in El Paso, Texas, Salazar started pursuing journalism in 1954, once he’d finished his time with the army. Writing for his college newspaper and serving as a managing editor started his journalism career.
After graduating from what is now the University of Texas El Paso, Salazar began working at local newspapers in El Paso and Northern California before moving to Southern California in 1959 to work for the Los Angeles Times. As he grew into his position as a journalist, he worked to raise awareness about the discrimination and lack of justice the Mexican American community was going through. “I don’t mind paying for my mistakes.… But it seems like we’re paying for everyone else’s mistakes too. Sometimes we pay even when there’s been no mistake. Just for being who we are, you know what I mean? Just for being Mexican. That’s all the wrong I have to do,” Rodriguez writes in Always Running, describing the Mexican American experience around the time of Salazar’s death.
Salazar continually tackled discrimination in his writings; he covered topics ranging from life as a Chicano and unemployment to the media portrayal of Mexican Americans and housing conditions.
He was also the Los Angeles Times’ bureau chief in Mexico City, and he served as a foreign correspondent in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. With every new position he gained, he also became the first Mexican American journalist to do so, breaking barriers and inspiring those around him.
Salazar’s drive to document the truth landed him in difficult situations; in one of his pieces, he covered the conditions in a jail, and he spent 25 hours in an El Paso cell, where he was threatened, to report on the treatment of inmates. He covered corruption and aggression against Mexican Americans, and he was brought in for questioning multiple times by the FBI and the Los Angeles sheriff; his writings made him a suspect in their eyes.
During the Chicano Moratorium, Salazar, who was 42, joined his community in a peaceful march. He was there covering the political movement of Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles.
Near the end of the march, violence broke out as some 1,500 police officers showed up and deputies started taking physical action against the members of the march.
“A line of deputies at the park’s edge—armed with high-powered rifles, billy clubs and tear gas launchers—swaggered toward the crowd. They mowed down anybody in their path,” describes Rodriguez in Always Running.
Salazar was caught in the crossfire, and when police threw tear gas into the crowd, he was struck and did not survive the blow. His death reverberated across the globe. His writings had reached every corner.
His actions and impact on the community and everyone watching nationwide solidified his legacy. He was honored with the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award after his death, and the California Chicano News Media Association created the annual Ruben Salazar Journalism Awards.
Salazar’s influence, captured in his writings and interviews, carries on. It is through his legacy that authors and activists like Rodriguez were able to continue raising awareness for the Mexican American community and giving a voice to the voiceless. “Salazar had been a lone voice in the existing media for the Mexican people in the United States,” remembers Rodriguez as he adds his own voice to history in Always Running.•
Join us July 21 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Rodriguez will appear in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and special guest Rubén Martínez. Until then, visit the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow California Book Club members know what you think of the book. Register here.
Elizabeth Casillas writes about the importance of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, in which Rodriguez participated. —Alta
HOME IN LANGUAGE
Author Michelle Cruz Gonzales (The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band) writes a vivid essay about her parents’ roots in East Los Angeles, in lives similar to Rodriguez’s in Always Running. —Alta
WHY READ IT
Alta Journal’s books editor, David L. Ulin, writes of Always Running, “To return to the book in 2022, then, is like gazing backward through a looking glass, at a personal history that has now become a social history, in a future that now exists for us in present tense.” —Alta
INSIGHTFUL AND FUNNY
Here are 13 new books by writers of the West that we’re looking forward to this month, including Meng Jin’s Self Portrait with Ghost, Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s The Man Who Could Move Clouds, and prior CBC author Elaine Castillo’s How to Read Now. —Alta
BOOKS AS ART
The San Francisco Art Book Fair is back on July 15–17 at 1275 Minnesota Street in San Francisco. The event is free. —San Francisco Art Book Fair
Prior CBC author Rachel Kushner has published a new story, “A King Alone.” —New Yorker
NOT TOO LATE
Tonight, prior CBC author Rebecca Solnit will be discussing climate change at an in-person event at the Commons at KQED’s headquarters in San Francisco. Tickets are $15. —KQED
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