The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1995, Volume 41, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Ruben Salazar: Border Correspondent, Selected Writings, 1955-1970.

Edited by Mario T. García. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1995. Index. 283 pages. $28.00 cloth. Buy this book.

Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Professor of Mexican American Studies, San Diego State University. Author of The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict (1990) and co-author with Richard García, César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit (1995).

Ruben Salazar, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, was killed on August 29, 1970. He died after a Mexican American protest rally against the Vietnam War. The official Coroner’s inquest finding was that his death, at the hands of a Los Angeles County Sheriff deputy, was accidental, but many people suspected otherwise.

Since his death, Ruben Salazar has become a martyr for the Chicano Movement. The park where the anti-war rally was held, has been renamed in his honor and several public buildings bear his name. Ironically, though, he never considered himself a Chicano movement advocate and in fact resisted being labeled a Chicano journalist. He wanted to escape ethnic stereotypes and restrictions and develop a reputation as a reporter on his own right. Nevertheless this book assembles many of the articles and editorials he wrote from on topics related to the U.S. Mexican Border, Mexican American issues, and the Chicano Movement.

Professor García’s introduction gives us the context for reading Salazar’s journalistic work. Salazar was born and raised on the border, in El Paso, Texas. He was the first Mexican American reporter employed by the Los Angeles Times and the first Chicano to have a column published regularly in an American newspaper. Much of his writing was of an investigative nature, probes into the horrible conditions of the El Paso jails, pieces on the educational problems facing Mexican Americans, articles on protest movements, and editorials analyzing the complexities of Mexican American ethnic identity and politics. His prose was not strident or exaggerated, but sought to interpret Mexican and Chicano problems from the point of view of a calm and sympathetic observer. He applauded the Catholic Church’s appointment of the first Mexican American bishop, criticized the type of patriotism that excluded Mexican Americans, and was honest about the problems Mexican Americans had with the police, with African American politicians and with the Democratic Party. Indeed the major motifs of Salazar’s writing are honesty, integrity and a refusal to idealize or cover up the truth. His was an objective reporting in the best sense of the word.

While San Diego is not prominently mentioned in the articles assembled in this anthology, many of the themes, particularly those relating to border problems, will be familiar to regional residents. It is interesting to note how little change there has been in the last 20 years with the concerns over “the alien” invasion and economic problems along the border.

This is a jewel of a tribute to an outstanding Southern California reporter and writer. He deserves to be remembered and emulated.

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