Last semester, I was lucky enough to work on a directed research project with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication. A group of nine students was given access to multiple boxes of personal letters, articles, photographs and various memorabilia that belonged to Ruben Salazar. For those of you who don’t know, Salazar was a Chicano journalist who worked for the L.A. Times up until his death in 1970, when he was shot and killed by an L.A. Deputy Sheriff. The details surrounding his death were murky and suspicious, and it coincided with the height of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in L.A., Salazar immediately became a martyr for their movement. And he was, in a way — he was one of the first Latinos to make it big in a white mainstream newspaper such as the Times, and that was a big deal. He was a role model to many and his untimely death cut what would have surely been an amazing journalistic career.
Since then, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department has been reluctant to release their files on Salazar’s death, which only fueled the conspiracy theories and martyr-like image. Various reports did make their way out over the years, but not everything. However, it’s pretty certain that his death was nothing more than a horrible accident.
So where do I come into all of this? My interest in Salazar began my first semester at USC, when I interned for a PBS film project working on a documentary on his life and death. The film has yet to be released, but you can see some details here. It’s definitely worth seeing and you’ll hear from me when it’s out!
This spring, one of Salazar’s daughters donated the boxes of personal letters, etc. to USC Doheny Library. We were given the task of going through all these unorganized materials, some of which probably nobody had touched since Salazar himself last handled them. We scanned each and every document or photograph into a database, catalogued and organized everything. We then transferred what we saw as the most important events in his life — the private side of a very public figure — onto a digital timeline, which was finally launched this month.
Without further adieu, check it out here: Ruben Salazar Project
And an Annenberg news article here: USC Annenberg’s Ruben Salazar Project Celebrates Personal Side of Newsman
Each student also chose a story to write from the archives they looked at (see above screenshot from the site). I had read some letter correspondence between Salazar and his editors at the L.A. Times from the year he was called back from his position in Mexico as Mexico City Bureau Chief to report on the Chicano unrest in Los Angeles. Contrary to popular belief, he was less than happy about what he saw as a professional demotion, from the international to city desk. Read my story here: From Mexico City to Los Angeles: A Professional ‘Crisis’
Anyway, the site is a total gem. This is stuff that you can’t find anywhere else. My favorite thing about the website, also, is that it’s a work in progress. I’m currently serving as content editor to help new students contribute and expand the website. Please explore and enjoy!