Editorial: Documentary tracing the life of Rubén Salazar is worthy
El Paso Times Editorial Board
POSTED: 03/13/2014 12:00:00 AM MDT
Rubén Salazar, the pioneer journalist from El Paso, Texas, and martyr of the Chicano rights movement, is one of those figures who becomes so iconic that it's easy to lose sight of the man behind the imagery.
A new PBS documentary, “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle,” which will air nationally April 29, should add to the public knowledge base of Salazar and introduce him to an entirely new audience.
“At the heart of the story is Salazar's transformation from a mainstream, establishment reporter to primary chronicler and supporter of the radical Chicano movement of the late 1960s,” the film's producers say in promotional materials. “Killed under mysterious circumstances by a law enforcement officer in 1970, Salazar became an instant martyr to Latinos — many of whom had criticized his reporting during his lifetime.”
Salazar was born in Juárez, Mexico, in 1928, and his family moved to El Paso the following year. He served in the Army and then attended Texas Western College, now known as the University of Texas in El Paso, where he graduated with a journalism degree in 1954.
He began his journalism career at the El Paso Herald-Post in 1955, then moved on to the Los Angeles Times in 1959, making him one of the few Mexican-Americans working at the time at a major American newspaper. He became a foreign correspondent, covering the Vietnam War and then Mexico for the Los Angeles Times.
He later worked as a columnist for the Times, writing frequently about the growing Chicano movement.
He went on to work at KMEX, a Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles, in 1970.
On Aug. 29, 1970, he was killed while covering the Chicano Moratorium, a protest against the Vietnam War. Salazar, who was seated inside the Silver Dollar Cafe, was struck in the head by a tear-gas projectile filed by a sheriff's deputy.
No charges were ever filed in Salazar's death, but controversy has swirled ever since.
Filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez takes a fresh look at Salazar's death in his documentary, drawing on documents recently released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.
Rodriguez says the film attempts to remove Salazar from the “shadows of legend” and put him in his rightful place in history.
“The Salazar story had long been considered to be an ethnic story, a regional story,” Rodriguez said. “But it is much bigger than that. This is a story about a regular guy who, motivated by principle, challenges an abusive authority at great risk to himself — it's a classic American story.”
It's also a story that deserves a broad audience, which PBS can provide.
Salazar's life deserves study and celebration. The documentary is well worth watching.