The prolific multimedia producer calls on journalists to witness and record moments of joy and celebration. “I hope this inspires journalists, both students and professionals, to take big swings in seemingly small corners.”
Alum Steve Saldivar (’10) has been named winner of 2023 National Ruben Salazar Journalism Award in Digital from the CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California.
Saldivar’s beautifully filmed and edited video “The Zoot Suit Riots Cruise brings back ‘a forgotten era’” was produced for the Los Angeles Times, where he has been a video journalist since 2015.
The CCNMA has bestowed the Ruben Salazar Award to California journalists who have exemplified journalistic excellence while contributing to a better understanding of Latinos in the United States through fair and accurate reporting since 1979.
The video, produced with Saldivar’s former colleague Claire Hannah Collins, highlights an annual antique car cruise in Los Angeles that commemorates how in June 1943, sailors attacked Mexican American youths wearing zoot suits throughout the city, beating and stripping them of their clothes — an incident that was part of what became known as the Zoot Suit Riots.
The name is misleading because it suggests that the zoot suiters — the young Mexican, Black and Filipino men and boys who wore the flamboyant outfits — were the perpetrators. In fact, they were the victims.
The attacks by servicemen and white Angelenos on zoot suiters, derided as “gamin dandies” in The Times, were driven by prejudice and the anti-immigrant attitudes of the era.
–Christian Orozco, Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2023
What drew him to the story?
“The words of my colleague Gustavo Arellano ring in my head: ‘Know your history!’” Saldivar said. “Born in East L.A., I’m always looking for what’s new and breaking in my community, but as journalists we sometimes forget to also look for history. There’s meaning in the past.”
Mexican-American history is American history, he says, “but that history is not always taught in schools. This is part of our country’s story that is still not widely known, and I was drawn to the story because of how that history shapes our present. The way a parade of gorgeous classic cars can come together to keep history alive. They’re taking a history lesson out of the classroom and into the streets of Los Angeles. I was drawn by how one could tell a story on four wheels.”
Saldivar says he is honored that CCNMA highlighted a local story that resonates nationally. “I hope this inspires journalists, both students and professionals, to take big swings in seemingly small corners,” he said. “That’s where we’re needed, too. Perhaps now more than ever. So many of our stories document pain and trauma. There’s also room to witness and record moments of joy and celebration. Both are essential.”
The multimedia journalist has long focused on the arts, culture and ideas. Prior to the Los Angeles Times, he served as the Getty Museum’s first social media coordinator. Saldivar once imagined his life would be spent living at Walden Pond, like his favorite author. That vision took a turn, he said, after earning his B.A. in English at UC Berkeley, a stint as the arts editor of the Daily Cal, and his master’s degree at Berkeley Journalism — where he “fell in love with all the ways to tell a story.”
“I was fortunate enough to come to the J-School when we started the hyperlocal websites,” Saldivar said. “Being part of the class that created Mission Local with Professor Lydia Chávez was eye opening. In a breaking news situation, we could file copy relatively quickly. If a story was particularly visual, perhaps it called for a photo essay. I could see the creative opportunities with video. The possibilities seemed endless. The blank canvas can seem intimidating to a painter, but one of the more rewarding parts of being at the J-School was discerning which paint brush to use.”
During graduate school, Saldivar was awarded UC Berkeley’s prestigious Dorothea Lange Fellowship in photojournalism.
“When he was a student, Steve had an infectious spirit,” Associate Dean of Academics and Associate Professor of Practice in Journalism Jeremy Sanchez Rue said. “He was one of the most likable people I’ve had the pleasure teaching and was a favorite among his peers and teachers alike.”
Rue has proudly tracked Salvidar’s impressive career, which he says “demonstrates that passion and positivity can indeed pave the path to extraordinary achievements. His recent award-winning piece — which he both produced and shot as a camera operator — is not just a recognition of his professional excellence, but embodies the spirit of a true multimedia journalist.”
June 15, 2023
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