The Story Behind Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month
(Photo: Arizona State University)

Every year on Sept. 15, government institutions and community-based organizations across the Unites States commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month. The month-long observation is a time to acknowledge the many contributions that Latinos have made to the political, cultural and social fabric of our country.

While many people are aware of Hispanic Heritage Month, relatively few know the backstory of how it was established.

I know firsthand, because I helped get Hispanic Heritage Month enacted.

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Leaving the L.A. Times


(Video: Rich Marosi/Robert J. Lopez)

I spent 22 years at the Los Angeles Times, where I worked on investigative and multimedia projects across the United States and in Mexico and Central America. I had a wonderful career and was part of a team of reporters that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for exposing government corruption in Bell, a small city southeast of Los Angeles.

But I was offered a great job and realized that it was time to take on a new and exciting challenge.

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Bell Coverage Wins Pulitzer Prize

Bell City Hall
Bell is one of the poorest cities in L.A. County. Photo: Robert J. Lopez

I was part of a team of  Los Angeles Times reporters and editors that was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service for a series of stories exposing alleged government corruption in the City of Bell.

PHOTO: 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Our articles detailed how top officials in Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, enriched themselves with extraordinary salaries and benefits while illegally raising taxes on residents and resorting to other legally questionable schemes to raise revenue.

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Sheriff Agrees to Limited Viewing of Ruben Salazar Files

Eight boxes of files on the slain journalist. Photo: Robert J. Lopez

Eight boxes of Ruben Salazar records. Photo: Robert J. Lopez


In 1994, I filed my first California Public Records Act Request to review the Sheriff’s Department files on Ruben Salazar. The department denied the request, saying the records were confidential law enforcement files. I made another CPRA request in 1995. It, too, was denied. Then in early 2010, as the 40th anniversary of Salazar’s slaying approached, I filed another request with Sheriff Lee Baca. He refused to release the files.

RELATED:
Documents – View FBI and LAPD Records on Ruben Salazar

I produced several reports and a video after Baca’s denial, which sparked an outcry from members of the Salazar family, activists, journalists and elected officials — all of whom said it was time for the department to come clean on the case and release its records. Finally, in late February 2011, Baca agreed to allow a limited viewing of the once-secret records by journalists and academics.
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