WASHINGTON — Phillip Rodriguez’s documentary Man in the Middle on the life of slain journalist Rubén Salazar has great meaning for the U.S. Latino community and Hispanic media in this country, according to many attending its first showing.
The 54-minute documentary, which premiered here Feb. 27 at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, describes the controversy that gripped an entire culture and the racial and social issues of the 1960s and 1970s.
The crowd of 125 heard a brief statement from U.S. Representative Xavier Beccera (D-Calif.) who said it was beneficial for the Hispanic community to bring to the public eye the life of the martyred Latino journalist.
Salazar’s grandson Jackson Cook, son of his daughter Stephanie, who makes a couple of appearances in the film, drove the five-hour trip with his girlfriend Melissa Millen from his home in New York to attend the event.
He said that he did not have a real sense of knowing his grandfather until he was about 10 years old. His mother did not talk about him much until eventually she told Cook what she thought and felt, he said. According to Cook, slowly but surely the public talked more about his grandfather. “I saw more things come out about him and it made me feel more connected to my Mexican heritage. I am drawn to it now,” Cook said.
Cook said that the Los Angeles police mishandled the situation at the Silver Dollar bar where his grandfather was killed. “I look at everything and for one, police officers should know how to use their equipment,” Cook said. “It’s very odd that this small little bar away from everything got singled out. As far as I know, it was intentional; he was in a very high social position to have influence.”
In his comments after the showing, Rodriguez said that he did not have a perspective on what happened on August 29, 1970, the day Salazar was murdered. “I knew something about it, but I didn’t know a great deal,” he said.
Ultimately, Rodriguez said that he made the film less about his death, which he said is an appealing and important theme “…but it became more of a story about assimilation, or assimilation and its discontents.”
In the documentary, Rodriguez tells how Salazar was brought up in a conservative, middle-class family and was raised by a mother who taught him to disdain his Mexican heritage. Throughout the film, Salazar’s friends and acquaintances explain that as he became more aware of the mistreatment of Hispanics in Los Angeles, Salazar adapted that into the scope of his reporting.
Editor’s note: UTEP will host a panel discussion and a preview of the documentary on Wednesday, April 9 at the Union Cinema at 6pm.
This story has been updated to reflect the following change: Rubén Salazar was murdered on August 29, 1970, not August 17.