Tag Archives: Ruben Salazar

Mas Un Mitote, Part 1, by Miguel Roura

29 Apr

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar.

One Saturday in the summer of 1970, I boarded a Tres Estrellas bus and headed south, down the international highway, taking me on my first in-depth exploration of Mexico.

I was part of a group of 150 Chicano students who rented apartments at La Plaza Tlatelolco while attending classes at UNAM –- La Universidad Autónima de Mexico. I came searching for an identity, encouraged by my Chicano graduate student teachers at UCLA, who nurtured me through the first two years, and by my mother’s prodding that I learn the truth about the land of my ancestors. I remember my high school teacher and mentor, Sal Castro, telling us: “Your people founded highly sophisticated civilizations on this continent centuries before the European stepped on this land.” So this afternoon with this group of young enthusiastic men and women, I loaded my baggage on a  coach that took us from Tijuana to Tenochtitlan.

That first day of travel started off full of excitement as we jockeyed for a seat next to someone with whom to share the experience. Once we sat down and the bus started to roll, the conversation focused on the women on the trip with us. Our bus was all male, another was all female, and the third carried the married and matched couples. After the subject was thoroughly reviewed, we took turns sharing why we came on this trip, what part of Mexico our parents were from, and how much Spanish we actually knew. Most of us, whose parents spoke mainly their native language, had that idioma deleted in school by teachers and deans who strictly enforced English-only policies through corporal punishment. Those kids whose parents were second and third generation at the urging of their counselors took French or Italian as their foreign language requirement in high school. After we drank all the beers that the bus drivers provided and we tired of the talking, we each settled into our seat. Images of people and places floated in and out as I sat by the window contemplating the passing panorama.

The words of Ruben Salazar crossed my mind: “A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself….” Looking around the bus, I realized I was part of a new generation seeking to re-define itself. What did I know about myself? Mother from Colima, father from Tabasco, and just like their geography, they were extreme opposites. My parents met, married, and divorced in Tijuana; but they “dropped me” (I was born at Paradise Hospital) in National City, California, ten miles north of the border. They raised me in Tijuana until their divorce when I was five. I went to school, church, and to the bullfights on Sunday; my mother was a big fan of La Fiesta Taurina. When I turned ten, my mother used my dual citizenship to exchange her passport for a residence card. As I grew up, what I knew about Mexico came mainly from her recollections and from the conversations I overheard from her friends over the years. Usually the talk revolved around heartache, tears, and suffering. Through my adolescence I never wanted to accompany my mother when she went to visit her family.

But now I was sojourning with other Chicano activists on this  pilgrimage to the land of the chinampas (floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City). Six hours into our trip, I realized I’d transferred from a luxury Greyhound bus to a transport with no air-conditioning, with one very small and smelly bathroom, and a radio with garbled sounds which gave me a headache. I shared the window with my new camarada, Mangas, a moniker he’d tagged himself: his real name was Richard, a 6’2″ chain-smoking Vietnam vet, who was a little older than most of us. We stared at the scorching, sun-drenched Sonora Desert until it was too dark to see anything. The rocking of the rickety bus lulled me in and out of sleep. Far in the distance a summer storm illuminated the distant mountains with veins of muted thunderbolts.

My mother gave me the thousand dollars I needed for this excursion; money she worked for and saved over the years. In Tijuana she’d been a registered nurse at Salubridad (public health clinics specifically for treating prostitues), caring for fichera (woman who drinks with clients at bars and earns a chip for every drink the man buys, which she later cashes in),  prostitutes, and their clients, mostly American servicemen. When she came to the US in her middle-age years, she did back-aching work: sewing, cleaning, and mopping kitchens and toilets in Brentwood and Bel Air homes.

After ten hours on the road, the driver pulled into the bus station in Culiacan, Sinaloa to refuel and to rest.

 

In high school I had never smoked marijuana. Most of the parties and dances I went to only served beer and sometimes cheap liquor. Moctezuma, our high-school class valedictorian, was the first one I saw take out a joint and fire up. He hung out with college kids and professors, and showed off his high vocabulary, which most of us football players didn’t understand.

But on the first days in the fall of ’68, just before classes started, and the first day I moved into the Brown House, I smoked my first toke. Brown House was a student housing complex right behind fraternity row. The university rented it for ten of the fifty male Chicano special-entry students whom they couldn’t place in the dorms. Toby and I were the first to arrive early that morning. He and I had been members of rival gangs back at Hollenbeck Junior High: him from Primera Flats and me from Tercera. But that was ancient history now.

After choosing my room, making my bed, and reading the first chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the early afternoon, I took a walk to the patio to stretch out. Toby was lying down in a couch with a headset and a peaceful look. He asked me if I had heard of Hendrix. I said no. He handed me the headset. He lit a joint, took a deep drag, and then handed it to me. I imitated him but instantly choked on the contents, coughing out the smoke which had made my lungs explode. My eyes watered as the spasm subsided. Thereafter, I lay back to hear and feel the electrical impulses that oscillated in my brain and tingled down my body. With that I became a toker.

Being an only child, I was always hungry for friends. Smoking a joint became a gratifying communal experience. Those were the times of sit-ins. teach-ins and love-ins, rallying at Royce Hall and occupying the Administration Building on Mexican Independence Day 1969. Smoking a joint broke down racial, economic and gender barriers. It was cool to do! People got happy when they knew I had joint to share. Scoring an ounce of weed for the ASB president got me many benefits.

End of Part 1/2. To be continued.

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August in Laguna Park: The Chicano Moratorium, Part 2 By Roselva Rushton Ungar

27 May

Part 2 of 2

When we finally made it back [to the park], I pulled into the driveway closest to the first aid station. Marilyn got out to get the injured, while I waited with the car. An officer came up and ordered me out. I explained that I was waiting to take the wounded to a hospital. He shouted, “This is for police cars only; now get out!” I backed up onto Eastern Avenue from where I was able to see what was happening. I saw two young people shoved into a police car. Near the gym, an officer was dragging a young man by his long hair and thrusting him against a car. He could not have gotten into the park by this time unless he had been in the building. I had not seen policemen enter the park buildings before.

I saw two policemen rush across the street toward a man who had been pushed  down on the sidewalk by another cop. He jammed his club with great force into the man’s groin from the rear. The people standing around yelled, “Leave him alone.” The wounded man dragged himself into a nearby house while several policemen ran after him and forced the door open. I was just opposite where this was happening. I think an officer on my side of the street must have been upset that I witnessed this brutality because he shouted at me, “Get out!”  I pretended that he was ordering me to get out of the middle of the street, so I backed into an empty space just behind where I had double-parked. Worried that Marilyn hadn’t yet returned, I got out of the car to see what was holding her up. The same officer screamed, “Get back in the car!” I complied, heart in mouth.  Marilyn returned but with only one fellow. The rest had already managed to leave because it had taken us so long. The doctor escorted the wounded youth to my car and asked me to check Belvedere Park nearby for any lost or hurt people before leaving the east side of town.ChicanoMoratorium.BrownBerets

Leaving was very difficult; officers would not allow us down the side streets. We didn’t want to attempt Whittier Boulevard where confrontations were still taking place. We drove many blocks in a round-about way, seeing fires, smoke, broken glass, people distraught and bewildered. Police cars, sirens blaring, raced by. Marilyn screamed as a speeding police car came straight at us. Terrified, I pulled over to the curb just in time. By now I was very anxious to get out of the battle zone. We deposited the wounded man at White Memorial Hospital, then drove by Belvedere Park. No one needed us there. Mission accomplished, we wanted to quickly get away from the eerie unreality of it all.

It became apparent that battle lines were drawn between the sheriff deputies and the young people of the march. Later we learned that the melee had started with an altercation at a liquor store at the back of the park. Why couldn’t a small detachment of police have tactically and rapidly settled whatever problem had existed at the liquor store across the street from the park? Why couldn’t that have been contained so as not to disturb the anti-war rally in the park? It looked suspiciously like an excuse to break up the rally.

ChicanoMoratorium.PoliceAttack

What a contrast to the festive spirit before the police swept everyone out of the park, gassing and clubbing as they moved in. Such hostility this creates in the community! Whatever wrong-doing may have occurred before the police arrived was nothing compared to the violence that occurred after their invasion. The very presence of the police provokes this community, but when they come in the hundreds and bear down on innocent people enjoying freedom of speech in the park, hatred and resistance is aroused. Must any small insult become a challenge or excuse to beat and gas hundreds of people? The people must be subdued because they are unfriendly? What arrogance!

The police in the barrio do not provide the community service and protection they do in middle-class communities. They are an invading enemy out to terrorize and subject the people. They set off the violence that occurs when people who still have spirit and dreams are thwarted and driven to despair. The armed might of society is saying, You may not get together in the spirit of your own culture and aspirations. You may not question sending your young sons to die in Viet Nam for a country that gives you the least education, the poorest jobs, the worst places to live, strips you of your culture, your language, and prevents you from expressing yourselves collectively in your own communities.

Had the dignity and pride of being Latino or Chicano been allowed expression in the park and on the march, a constructive unity and dialogue about the war and solving the pressing problems of the barrio might have emerged, this free speech being the highest form of patriotism. Had this occurred, it is inconceivable that people, at the crest of their celebration of unity would have gone about burning and looting Whittier Avenue. The sheriffs drove them in rage from the park onto the streets. Many like ourselves scurried to find shelter and others, especially youths, gave vent to their wrath by retaliating.

When I got home and turned on the TV, I saw the war zone where I had been. I heard that a  driver, trying to cross the barricades as we were, was shot. That was when I began to shake. While in the midst of the destruction I had no such reaction; I was bent on a task. I understood now how soldiers in battle focus in the same way.

Altogether three people were killed that day.ChicanoMoratorium.LATimes

Ruben Salazar was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Spanish Television News Director, and a two-time winner of the Greater Los Angeles Press Club Award, along with other prizes. He was the first Mexican American journalist to cover the Chicano community from the mainstream media. He had come that day, with the L.A. Times photographer, to observe. After the rioting, he and the photographer went to rest at the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Avenue. A sheriff standing in the doorway shot a ten-inch gas projectile into the bar, which fatally struck Ruben Salazar in the head. That day there would be no respected, honorable Latino reporter writing about what really happened.

To this day many believe that his death was the premeditated assassination of a prominent, vocal member of the Chicano community. Ruben Salazar had written many articles critical of the government’s treatment of Chicanos, having come into conflict with the police during the 1968 East Los Angeles walk-outs protesting unequal treatment of students in the Los Angeles schools. According to FBI reports, the L.A. police considered him to be a dangerous radical. Why would an officer shoot into a peaceful bar if his mission were to stop violence along the street? There would be many questions, but no one there that day will ever forget—or forgive.

After that August 29th of 1970 Laguna Park was renamed Salazar Park.