On Thursday, June 13, 2019, life-time political activist, scholar, photo-journalist and educator Dr. Raul Ruíz passed away.
I first met Raul in 1968, at one of the early meetings of the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee. Raul and I were both what the Rev. Vahac Mardirosian then called “the young turks of our movement.” He meant that Raul and I were of the Chicano generation, that baby boom generation of Mexican Americans who came of age in the 1960s and realized we didn’t have to put up with the discrimination and injustice that confronted our communities in years past. Our generation was saying Ya Basta to the past and adelante to a future of committed struggle for the social, political and economic emancipation of our people.
Raul was in the forefront of the struggle for justice, equality and self-determination.
He was there at the March 1968 East Los Angeles High School Walkouts. He documented the walkouts with a camera as a photo-journalist and wrote about it in the magazine he edited and published, La Raza Magazine.
A few months later, Raul was also there at the sit-in by Chicano activists at the Los Angeles Board of Education in September of 1968. He was both a participant and as a journalist. After seven days of the sit-in, when the police had the building surrounded, a vote was taken by the protesters. Who would vacate the building and who would stay to be arrested by the police? The community wanted to drive home a point: that the unjust ouster of one of our Chicano teachers from his classroom at Lincoln High school, for speaking out on the needs of Chicano children, was unjust and unacceptable. The community demanded that Sal Castro be reinstated to his teaching job. Along with many others, Raul’s hand went up in the air and he voted to be among those arrested. A week later, Sal Castro was reinstated to his teaching job.
Raul was also there when Catolicos Por La Raza protested the archdiocese of Los Angeles spending $3 million to build a church of glass and stone while vast numbers of Chicanos lived in abject poverty. The protesters met at the offices of Raul’s La Raza Magazine to plan their efforts. When the time came, he and other activists protested at St. Basil’s church on Christmas Eve of 1969. Later Raul and other members of the group were arrested for these actions.
And yes, you can bet Raul was there at the 1970 Chicano Moratorium when more than 30,000 people marched to protest the extraordinarily high rate of deaths among Chicanos in Vietnam. Though Spanish-surnamed Americans comprised only 5 or 6 percent of the national population at the time, they accounted for as many as 20% of the casualties in Vietnam. When a police riot took place following the march, Raul’s presence was perhaps most crucial for Latinos and, really, for the world.
In the hours after the police riot, Raul photographed the assault by Sheriff deputies on the Silver Dollar Bar with teargas and gunfire that led to the death of Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar. Raul’s photos of the event made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and were crucial to the subsequent inquest into Salazar’s death. And it was Raul Ruiz’s electrifying testimony at the Salazar Inquest, which was televised throughout Los Angeles for 16 days, that brought home the truth that eye-witness Raul professed: Ruben Salazar’s death was not an accident.
Raul was there in 1971, running for office as a candidate under the banner of the newly created, all-Latino third political party, La Raza Unida. And when the La Raza Unida party held its national convention in El Paso, Texas in 1972, Raul was also there. He served as chair of the convention.
The 1972 convention was only one of the many occasions on which Raul, as a movement activist, would have to prove his mettle. With two powerful political opponents José Angel Gutiérrez and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, vying for leadership of the La Raza Unida party, Raul was the person in the middle, getting tough pressure from both sides. To his credit he carried off his impartial and authoritative leadership with aplomb.
In later years, Raul found his niche in academia. He earned a doctorate degree at Harvard and went on to become a full time professor at California State University at Northridge.
Throughout his academic career, as with his photo-journalist career, Raul was a forceful and uncompromising spokesman for the passion of his life: the values of human dignity, justice and equality for Latinos and for all people.
Copyright by Jesús Salvador Treviño. All images copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc.