For many, death is seen as an end: a point in time where one ceases to exist. Our previous knowledge, values and ideas matter very little. We were simply just something that was once there. Most of us, having led normal lives, leave our loved ones with memories. There are only a select few of individuals who have the ability and privilege of impacting hundreds if not thousands of people beyond their lifetime.
Ruben Salazar was one of those rare and unique individuals. Throughout his lifetime Salazar immersed himself in his work, first as a reporter and later as a foreign correspondent, news director and columnist who called attention to notions he believed were… wrong. He covered issues from drug trafficking in El Paso to Chicano Movement actions in the streets of Los Angeles. While he was alive, he was recognized as man of virtue; someone who not only acknowledged that there were things in our community that needed to change, but also acknowledged the people who were helping bring about that change. He used what he had– his unmatchable talent in reporting and writing– to help bring the point across that something had to be done about the injustices that were being committed. Even after his death, his ideas and beliefs continued to inform many on their path to achieving justice in our community.
Though Salazar is known for his work while also being a man of many great qualities and valor, we must remember that he was also human. He reported on tough issues and wrote news stories that not all readers wanted to see in the newspaper. While alive, he had people who admired his work and others who despised it. What he wrote about and how he wrote it sparked controversial opinions. Although some admired his work and his professionalism in reporting tough stories, others were in disagreement with what he had to say. The following image is an example of what some people thought of him and his work.
There were many who, like the lady above, easily disagreed with him. A journalist cannot expect to be liked and loved by everyone who reads the stories they report. Journalists must simply live their lives and do what is best for themselves, their family and their community; which is exactly what Salazar did. His death made it extremely apparent just how much of an impact he had on individuals and whole communities. Hundreds of “I’m sorry for your loss” cards were sent to his family all from people from different walks of life.
These are just a few of the things written to his family by people who didn’t know Salazar personally, but believed in him and what he wrote. Many of those who knew him–both in his beginning stages of becoming a journalist and those who knew him later on in life–had much to say about him. Hawley Richeson, who had worked with Salazar when he was starting off in Texas in the 1950s, wrote a beautiful memorial letter after his death. In it he referenced the activism of Salazar as a reporter. He mentioned things that brought into light the Salazar that very few people got to see. For instance, when he got himself arrested by El Paso police on false drunk charges to report for readers what it was like to spend a night in the jail’s drunk tank. He recalled when Salazar “went to Juarez and bought some hard stuff from La Nacha just to prove how easy it was to buy dope and return it to this country.” Both are examples of edgy reporting few would have thought the famous Ruben Salazar would do.
All throughout Latino communities Salazar has been celebrated and placed on a pedestal. Some even went as far as to write songs about him. The following links are to corridos written by different people on Ruben Salazar.
For those of you who don’t know a corrido, it is not simply just a song. A corrido is story being sung in first or third person about a person or a group of people. According to the late Guillermo E. Hernández from the University of California, Los Angeles, corridos convey “unofficial versions of history, composed, transmitted, and consumed by rural and urban working class people distant from circles of power and prestige”. Through these corridos it is evident that Salazar impacted people from all walks and stages of life, both during and after his lifetime.
“Cuando uno se muere, nada se lleva” is a common saying. Anything and everything we once owned no longer belongs to us. It is left behind for others to do what they wish with it.
When Ruben Salazar died he left behind unfinished business. Issues that were prevalent in his time to this day are still taking place. It is easy to mourn someone and remember them at their best. We write letters to their loved ones saying how sorry we are, but that’s about it. Salazar was shot and killed merely because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think if we really want to honor him for his coverage of community issues, and not just to him but others who raised these issues, we must be the ones to finish what was started. Improving the educational system and getting rid of the negative connotations and stereotypes that many outside of our community have about Latinos are only a few of the changes Salazar wanted to accomplish.
It will certainly be difficult and many will face numerous obstacles and challenges along the way, but as Ruben Salazar once said to a colleague, “Limitations offer a challenge. Individual thought has a way of getting around obstacles: if you can’t be blunt, you can be sarcastic; if you can’t be vulgar, you can be satirical; if you can’t have your own way you can learn to cooperate to the best of your advantage.”
In other words, do what you know is right and do it to the best of your ability. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your path.