Ruben Salazar Park
On September 17, 1970, East Los Angeles's Laguna Park was renamed in honor of noted journalist Ruben Salazar, one of three individuals killed during the National Chicano Moratorium march on August 29, 1970.
Nearly 30,000 people marched that day from Belvedere Park to Laguna Park in protest of the disproportionate number of Chicanxs who were dying in the Vietnam War.
Los Angeles County originally purchased the land for the park from Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in 1938. It was subsequently renamed Laguna Park in 1940 and has since grown to include basketball courts, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, a community center with a computer lab, and a senior center.
Laguna Park was a natural fit for memorializing Ruben Salazar because it was the gathering place at the end of the Chicano Moratorium route and the site where civil unrest first broke out. The LA County Sheriff’s Department, hearing reports of petty theft at the nearby Green Mill Liquor Store, forcefully entered the park in search of the suspects and declared the peaceful and festive rally to be an unlawful assembly. The situation quickly escalated, resulting in over a hundred arrests, dozens of injuries, and three deaths, including Ruben Salazar, Angel (José) Diaz, and young Brown Beret Lyn Ward.
Salazar Park continues to provide a variety of services to the local Latinx community. Today, it is well-known for the 2001 mural by Paul Botello, The Wall That Speaks, Sings, and Shouts. Located on a wall of the recreation center, the mural was commissioned by Mexican norteño band Los Tigres del Norte and portrays themes of resistance, immigration, scientific advances, family life, and key historical figures within the Chicanx community. The mural also includes a tribute to Salazar himself.
On August 29, 2014, the County dedicated a plaque at the site in honor of Ruben Salazar.
Ruben Salazar was the first Mexican American journalist to cover social issues facing the Chicanx community. His untimely death on August 29, 1970 during the Chicano Moratorium has immortalized him as a landmark journalist and Chicano activist.
Ruben Salazar was born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, though his family would later move to El Paso, Texas. Following a brief stint in the Army, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) in 1954.
After graduating from college, Salazar worked as an investigative reporter for an El Paso newspaper. His thought-provoking stories garnered recognition and the attention of other newspapers, which led him to a new job in Northern California in 1956.
Salazar’s tenure in the Bay Area was short-lived. Just three years later, he took a job with the Los Angeles Times, where he covered a variety of topics, including the city’s Latinx community. Salazar’s interest in the challenges facing minorities led the LA Times to name him a foreign correspondent and, eventually, the Mexico City Bureau Chief.
In the wake of his coverage of social unrest in Mexico, Salazar returned to Los Angeles in 1969 to cover the growing Chicano Movement, where he saw parallels to popular struggles he had covered in Mexico City. During this time, he became increasingly critical of the city’s treatment of Latinxs, and LAPD reportedly issued warnings about the impact of his news stories in stirring up unrest. In 1970, he became the News Director of KMEX, a Spanish-language television station (later renamed Univision), which enabled him to reach a broader audience for his reporting on Chicanx issues.
Salazar was among the journalists to cover the Chicano Moratorium. During a break, he stopped by the Silver Dollar Bar and Café, unaware of the events unfolding at Laguna Park, which was almost two miles away. A sheriff’s deputy fired a tear gas projectile into the crowded bar, striking Salazar in the head and killing him instantly. Although the death was ultimately ruled accidental, many in the community viewed it as a targeted effort to silence a vocal member of the Chicanx community.