Ruben Salazar Honored with New US Stamp

Today the US Postal Service introduced a new stamp honoring Chicano journalist and activist Ruben Salazar. Salazar was the sole voice in mainstream media for Chicanos in the 1960s. He was a reporter for the LA Times and later worked for Spanish-language KMEX-TV. On August 29, 1970, while covering the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War in East LA – the largest anti-war demonstration in a community of color at the time – Salazar was killed while seated in the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard. Reportedly sheriff's deputies had fired a tear gas canister into the curtained entrance and struck Salazar in the head.

The 30,000-person demonstration turned into a riot that lasted several days when sheriff's deputies attacked the largely peaceful crowd at Laguna Park (now called Salazar Park). Hundreds were arrested, hundreds injured, and a handful of people were killed, including Ruben Salazar (community reports that more were killed never made the main media outlets).

I'm pleased this stamp has been issued in honor of this courageous leader and writer. I was in the Hall of Justice Jail's "murderer's row" (next to a cell with Charles Manson) when we received news of Salazar's death on the radio. A lightweight riot ensued on our tier, mostly a couple of burned mattresses & rattling of bars with metal objects, which ended when the smoke got too thick for us to do anything else. I was there because I had been arrested early on in the Chicano Moratorium. Deputies separated the cholo gangsters, and a few of us were threatened with murder linked to those the deputies had killed (thus our stint on murderer's row). Of course, in the end they couldn't charge us with any of this.

This event and others like it in the 1960s and 1970s helped politicize a number of us into community study groups, organizing, and, in my case, life-long revolutionary work.

The stamp, however, is appearing in a particularly hard time with many actions against Mexicans – covered up as “anti-illegal immigrant” activities — around the country. For example, many cities have instituted ordinances against manufacturers and landlords who hire or rent to undocumented people. A US east coast city has even barred Latinos who speak Spanish from using their beach. A Florida city, Avon Park, with the motto of “The City of Charm,” two years ago instituted the “Illegal Immigration Relief Act,” with one business owner saying, “[undocumented immigrants] have been working here for practically nothing and taking away the white jobs. If they don't want to speak English and play by the rules then they shouldn't be here.”

Statements like this underscore the racist nature of many of these laws targeting “illegal immigrants” (a non-official term that is also racist, although widely used in the media). Let's call this what it is. For example, a Colorado legislator on April 21 was ordered to leave the podium of the state's assembly because he called Mexicans “illiterate peasants.” I'm glad some people in the Colorado legislative body can spot this for what it is. In North Carolina there are reports of increased robberies striking at Spanish-speaking communities.

Even murders and physical attacks against alleged undocumented Mexicans have been on the rise. Here are some recent examples: In Ohio, an entire Mexican family was murdered after racist arsonists set fire to their apartment in September of 2004. In the same state last December four Mexican workers were found stabbed to death in a sparse apartment (police say robbery was not the motive since $1,300 was not taken, money believed saved by the workers to send to Mexico). And in February of 2004, a Mexican mother and her 19-year-old daughter were bludgeoned to death early one morning that witnesses say was done by a “white” male in his early 20s who ran into a car with at least three men in it and sped off. Many other murders and attacks against Mexican immigrants (some of whom had documents) continue to be reported.

As much as the “anti-illegal immigrant” movement claims it's not racist, you don't see attacks like these against Canadians or Europeans who are in this country without papers (yes, there are some). The US government is in league with this, unfortunately. Besides a rise in immigration raids, they continue working on a 700-mile border wall at a cost of billions of dollars, even though this may break about 35 environmental laws (who's the lawless now?).

Ruben Salazar deserves more attention and respect. We have a long way to go for equitable and just treatment of the poor, the dark skinned, the immigrant. Salazar was part of this struggle. We must continue to make this country truly free and truly fair. The “anti-illegal immigrant” movement is largely a throwback to Jim Crow and the Black Codes.

And remember: I'm on KJLH-FM, 102.3 "Front Page" talk show this week with Dominique Di Prima from 4:30 AM to 6 AM. Tune in if you can.


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