This day in Chicano history: Rubén Salazar (1928)

Ruben Salazar, circa 1970

March 3, 1928: Rubén Salazar born in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México

Four years ago, the US Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Rubén Salazar and a few other notable journalists. I went to the Lincoln Heights post office with my cousin Nancy and picked up a few of my own. I’ve never used them. Later that day, I wrote a post, A Chicana outlook on Rubén Salazar — heavily cribbed from an older post — where I liberally quoted a friend and fellow blogger, César (El Más Chingón). César wrote about feeling cheated that in his 20s, he was barely learning about Salazar’s life and death. I could definitely relate.

Salazar’s violent death at the hands of LA County Sheriff’s deputy Thomas Wilson is often remembered. Over forty years after the Chicano Moratorium, there’s still investigation and speculation over what happened that day. Whether it was an accident or assassination is still up for debate depending on who you ask, but what remains clear is that an important Chicano voice was lost on August 29, 1970. [See: Finally, transparency in the Ruben Salazar case and the Ruben Salazar files]

While Salazar’s death is important, we should also remember his life’s work. Rosalío Muñoz points this out in a recent piece commemorating Salazar’s 84th birthday at KCET Departures:

Pioneering Latino journalist Ruben Salazar died at the hands of Los Angeles Sheriff’s as they broke up the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. Today, his story is an inspiration to the Latino community, and to all those seeking social justice.

That’s why we should celebrate his birthday, and not just remember his death. [Source]

Ruben Salazar interviews civilians in Vietnam

If you don’t want to go read those posts about Salazar, here’s what you should know about him:
Salazar was born in Ciudad Juárez and later emigrated with his family to El Paso Texas. He earned his BA at the University of Texas El Paso thanks to the GI Bill. He became an investigative journalist at a time when few Chicanos held such jobs. From Texas, he came to California and worked for a couple of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times. He wrote articles giving a voice to Chicanos working to change the status quo. Although his career was cut short, his legacy and words live on amongst us “Mexican-Americans with a non-Anglo image of [ourselves]” (see: Who is a Chicano? And what is it the Chicanos want?, February 6, 1970).

Photo credits: UCLA Library’s Digital Collection, Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990. Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.


This Day in Chicana herstory: Josefina Fierro de Bright passed away (1998)

March 2, 1998: Josefina Fierro de Bright, born in Mexicali (1920), passed away

Quick. Name a Chicana labor organizer.

No, not Dolores Huerta or María Elena Durazo.


How about Josefina Fierro de Bright?

Unfamiliar? Check out this short biography from Chicanas.com (a great website on some badass mujeres):

Josefina Fierro de Bright was born in Mexico in 1920. She grew up in farm labor camps as the daughter of a bordera who served meals to migrant workers in Madera, California. Josefina gave up her studies at UCLA to become an organizer, and her style was described by veteran longshoremen’s leader Bert Corona as gutsy, flamboyant, and tough. As executive secretary of El Congreso (the first national Latino civil rights org) from 1939 to the mid-1940s, she organized protests against racism in the LA Schools, against the exclusion of Mexican-American youths from public swimming pools, and against police brutality. In 1942, she was a key figure in organizing the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, to support the seventeen Chicano youths held without bail on little evidence for the alleged killing of one youth. With Luisa Moreno, she helped to coordinate El Congreso’s support for Spanish-speaking workers in the furniture, shoe manufacturing, electrical, garment, and longshoremen’s unions.

— from Dolores Hayden, “Reinterpreting Latina History at the Embassy Auditorium” in The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History.

In an article on El Congreso del Pueblo de Habla Española (the Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples) Carlos Larralde expands on Fierro de Bright’s involvement with El Congreso:

Another important activist, Josefina Fierro de Bright, managed the day-to-day operations of the Southern California chapters of El Congreso while, at the same time, attracting writers and movie stars to the cause. Her husband, John Bright, was a Hollywood screenwriter and a founding member of the Screen Writers Guild. Together, they entertained luminaries such as John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellmann, Theodore Dreiser, Orson Welles, Robert Lowell and others. In addition, Fierro de Bright played a major role in curtailing the so-called Zoot Suit Riots, pleading with the Los Angeles Times to curtail sensational journalism. She corresponded with Eleanor Roosevelt and helped the administration smooth diplomatic relations with Mexico.
– Larralde, C. M. (2004). El Congreso in San Diego: An endeavor for civil rights. The Journal of San Diego History, 50(1 & 2). [PDF]

If you want to read more about Chicano civil rights organizing pre 1950, check out Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 by George J. Sánchez. Chapter 11, “Forging a New Politics of Opposition” is specifically about el Congreso.

Historia, Los Angeles

This day in Chicano history: Edward R. Roybal (1916)

February 10, 1916: Edward “Ed” R. Roybal was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico

While Roybal was born in New Mexico, he’s closely linked with mid-century Los Angeles history. His family moved to Boyle Heights in the early 1920s, he graduated from Roosevelt High School (like my mom), attended UCLA (go Bruins!) before going on to a long career in public health, community organizing and politics.

In 1949, Roybal was elected to the LA city council. There were some road bumps.

In 1993, Roybal told The Times that at his first City Council meeting [in 1949], he was introduced as “our new Mexican councilman who also speaks Mexican.”

“My mission was immediately obvious,” he said later. “I’m not Mexican. I am a Mexican American. And I don’t speak a word of Mexican. I speak Spanish.”

It became his role, he said, to educate his fellow public officials about Latinos and to pay special attention to what he felt were the long-neglected needs of his largely Latino constituencies. [Source: LA Times obituary, 2005]

In 1962, Roybal moved on from local politics to the national DC and became the first Latino from California to serve in Congress since 1879 (source). He was later appointed to the Appropriations Committee and became an “influential advocate for federal funding for health, education, community health programs and bilingual education.” [Source]

Some highlights from his long career provided by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging:

  • Author of the 1968 legislation that established the National Bilingual Education Act to assist schools in meeting the educational needs of children who come from non-English-speaking homes.
  • Played an important role in the passage of legislation outlawing age discrimination and fought for benefits and opportunities for those with disabilities.
  • Responsible for funding America’s first AIDS research and treatment programs
  • Championed the first federal funding for Alzheimer’s Disease and was instrumental in renewing legislation to provide medical service to people with the disease
  • Led the campaign to restore funding for programs for the elderly, including a senior citizens’ public housing program and a community-based alternative to nursing homes
  • Successfully maintained the Meals on Wheels program and protected veterans’ preferences in hiring in 1982
  • Consumer rights defender
  • Co-founder of the House Select Committee on Aging, serving as chairman from 1983-1993
  • One of the first legislators to introduce legislation to establish a national health plan for the United States
  • Founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he served as both president and treasurer
  • Founder of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

I noted Congressman Roybal’s passing in 2005 and wrote: “It’s amazing to think that many of the issues he worked on as a Councilman in the 1950s and then as a Congressman, such as police brutality and immigration, are still problematic. For anyone from LA who has studied the history of Chicana/o politicians, there is no way to avoid the impact of Ed Roybal on the growing political power of Latinos.”

Photo of Edward Roybal being sworn in to the LA City Council in 1949 from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.

Historia, Música

This day in Chicano history: Louie Pérez (1953)

January 29, 1953
Louie Pérez, of Los Lobos and Latin Playboys, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in East LA

I’ve been to many concerts over the last 15 years. Few moments stand out from the others. One of those was the 2005 UCLA Royce Hall concert featuring Los Lobos and Perla Batalla. I went to that show alone as I found about it last minute and just had a chance to buy a discounted student ticket. Overall, the show was pretty amazing. I wished dad and Danny could have been there too. They would’ve loved it. I’m glad I wrote about that show while the memories were still fresh:

Last night, Los Lobos primarily stayed away from their blues-rock repertoire and focused on classic Mexican tunes. They played boleros like “Gema” and “Sabor a Mí,” as well as son jarocho, rancheras (“Cielito Lindo” and “La Pistola y el Corazón”), cumbias, blues-rock (“Saint Behind the Glass” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”), and songs from other Latin American countries (“Guantanamera” and “El Cuchipé”).

At one point, all of Los Lobos sat on stools in a half-circle. They recounted a story about playing the same tunes at parties for friends and families when they were just starting out as a band. At that moment, I thought of you [Dad] and was reminded of the dozens of times throughout my childhood when you did the same thing at a party or around the campfire.

That performance definitely made me emotional. I probably cried as Louie Pérez sang “Saint Behind the Glass,” my favorite Los Lobos song. There’s something magical about the opening jarana and the soothing nature of Pérez’s voice. In this live version, co-songwriter David Hidalgo sings along. I like it because Pérez explains the song’s biographical roots. It hits home, especially since my dad grew up in the same area. Some of the places he drives by in this tour of East LA are quite familiar. [Listen to the original version of “Saint Behind the Glass” with only Pérez’s vocals here, right-click to download.]

Over the years, Pérez has played guitar, jarana and drums for Los Lobos. I believe now he primarily plays drums. He’s also the principal lyricist. Original Los Lobos songs are frequently credited Hidalgo/Pérez.

In an interview with Six String Soul, Pérez describes the songwriting relationship with David Hidalgo that has evolved since they were teens: “Ideally I would sit with David and work lyrics and music together. But since time is so much a premium for us these days, we’ve chosen to split the chores between us. But to say that David is the music and I’m the lyrics would hugely discount us. We’re songwriters, top to bottom.” Pérez goes on to say that the starting point for lyrical inspiration comes from his East La roots.

Today marks Pérez’s 59th birthday. I hope he has many more birthdays and continues to write meaningful songs for a band that’s way more than just another band from East LA.

To celebrate, listen to your favorite Los Lobos album. Might I suggest Kiko and the Lavender Moon?

Photo credit: LA Times.

Historia, Música, Mexico

This day in Chicano history: José Alfredo Jiménez (1926)

January 19, 1926:
José Alfredo Jiménez, one of México’s most well-known singer-songwriters, was born in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato

Yeah, yeah, I know Jiménez is not technically a Chicano. He’s as Mexican as you get being born in Dolores Hidalgo, known to all Mexicans as La Cuna de la Independencia Nacional. For the Spanish language challenged, the Cradle of National Independence.

While Jiménez wasn’t around in the 1800s and didn’t contribute to the fight for Mexican independence, one can argue that the dozens of songs he’s penned have influenced Mexican identity on both sides of the border.

As a kid, I listened to a lot of Jiménez. I remember watching my dad sing “Camino de Guanajuato” at the top of his lungs with various other family members. I’d sing along too, even though it was probably inappropriate for a kid to sing a line about life being worthless. In my 20s, “Camino” began to mean more as I explored my roots in Salamanca, Guanajuato and actually traveled and visited the roads and landmarks mentioned in the well-known song. One of my most vivid memories of being on my uncles’ ranch just outside Salamanca was singing “Camino” with about 40 other family members, with such pride and joy. It was pretty amazing.

One of the best songwriters that ever lived

For Chican@s, knowing or singing some of Jiménez’s most popular songs may show you’re not too much of a poch@. It might be a fun way to bond with the older generations or make you look like a badass at mariachi-oke (yes, that’s mariachi + karaoke) night when you don’t need the words to get through “Ella” or “Que Te Vaya Bonito”. Or it just might make a good buzz even better.

Six ways to celebrate José Alfredo Jiménez’s birthday:

  1. Drink some tequila, but not too much as you don’t want to end up with JAJ-like liver issues
  2. Sing your favorite Jiménez-penned song, if you need an idea for something else besides “El Rey”, check here.
  3. Request the roaming musicians play a romantic song like “Serenata Sin Luna” or “Si Nos Dejan” while out on a date
  4. Make a playlist of JAJ songs interpreted by old school artist and re-imagined by newer artists. Example: “Te Solte La Rienda” by Maná
  5. Watch one of the movies he acted in. [IMDB]
  6. Try your hand at writing a torch song.

It’s a school night, so no tequila shots for me. Plus, I’m all out lime. Instead, I’ll make a playlist of the four versions of “Camino de Guanajuato” and put them on a loop while going through my photo sets from trips to the motherland. As always, I’ll ignore Jiménez’s warning to avoid Salamanca, mi pueblo adorado.

¡No te rajes Guanajuato!

[Thanks to Think Mexican for the heads up about Jiménez’s birthday.]