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Hispanic Heritage

El 29 de Agosto

("August 29")

"El 29," written by the legendary folk singer-composer Lalo Guerrero, presents an interesting variation on the victim theme. This corrido describes the events surrounding the Chicano Moratorium of August 1970, when a massive demonstration was organized in Los Angeles to protest the disproportionate numbers of Chicanos being killed in the war in Vietnam. Like other victim corridos, "El 29" celebrates the resolute actions of the Chicano masses as they protest. But an interesting twist develops in the corrido due to the suspicious killing of Rubén Salazar, a popular television reporter, on the day of the demonstration.

After having covered the demonstration, Salazar was sitting in a bar when police approached, ostensibly to seek out a man reported to be carrying a rifle. While the accounts of police officers and other witnesses conflict, the police apparently fired a rifle-powered tear gas canister into the bar without warning, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly. No action was ever taken against the officers who killed Salazar. Authorities concluded that his death was accidental, but many in the Chicano community remained convinced that the police had murdered Salazar by way of getting even for his critical reporting.

In "El 29 de Agosto," composer Guerrero deftly combines the defiant actions of the demonstrators with the death of reporter Salazar to transform a song about mass protest into a victim corrido. The following stanzas, in Spanish first and then in English, effect this transformation:

Cuando vino la policía
violencia se desató;
el coraje de mi raza
luego se desenlazó
por los años de injusticia
el odio se derramó;
y como huracán furioso
su barrio lo destrozó.
En un edificio cercano
desgracia vino a caer
un gran hombre y buen humano:
periodista mexicano
de fama interancional;
fino padre de familia
voz de la comunidad.

When the police arrived
violence was unleashed;
the wrath of my people
uncoiled from within;
against years of injustice
hate spilled out;
and like a ferocious hurricane
its barrio it destroyed.
In a nearby building
misfortune came to fall
a great man and human being
él fue Rubén Salazar,
he was Rubén Salazar,
Mexican newspaperman
of international fame;
a fine father and husband
spokesman for the community.

Source: Hispanic American Almanac, Gale, 1997; DISCovering Multicultural America, Gale, 1999.

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