NAK of the week (Feb. 26-March 3): Ricky Salazar
Brother: Ricky Salazar
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, minor in Spanish. Working on Master’s in Social Work
When he was 11 years old, Ricky Salazar was sleeping alongside his cousin in the living room of his aunt’s house.
Out of a deep sleep, he was awoken suddenly by sharp, deep knocks at the front door in the middle of the night. Upon opening the door, he saw two police detectives waiting outside the house.
After calling for his cousin’s mom and dad to come to the door, the detectives broke the news — Ricky’s 18-year-old male cousin was shot and killed.
“All of a sudden you just hear this desperate cry from my aunt and uncle…nothing I’ve ever heard before,” Salazar said. “Just this desperate yelling and shouting…it traumatized me.”
His 18-year-old cousin, a then-senior at Reed High School, was a gang member, Salazar said. Although his family desperately sought some sort of closure, the killer was never found — and the history of gang violence in his family continued.
“That was my first taste of the agony of death of a very close family member,” he said.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.
When Salazar was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall of 2006, he rushed for Nu Alpha Kappa Fraternity. While the process was very demanding of him and required much of his attention, he excelled through it, mostly with a smile on his face. But behind the happy face, few knew of the major health problems his father was dealing with at home.
“My dad had cancer, diabetes and arthritis for as long as I can remember,” said Salazar, a graduate of North Valleys High School. “He was always taking medication and undergoing (chemotherapy) sessions).”
Then February 2007 came — a month that changed his life forever.
On Feb. 10, 2007, Salazar and eight of his pledge brothers crossed into the NAK family. They were the Gamma Class.
Just five days later, on Feb. 15, 2007, Salazar’s father died when Ricky was 18 years old. The complications his body had endured were too much for him to overcome.
Now, Ricky was forced into the role of “man of the house” — a very daunting task for any teenager.
“It was unbelievably sad,” Salazar said. “…But I think it’s just made me stronger. It’s made me accept the realities of life and how harsh it is.”
Instead of cowering away from life and dwelling on what happened, Salazar worked harder than ever. He continued with his studies at UNR and worked diligently to bring his family closer, all the while keeping his family’s band, Ritmo Ardiente, alive and well.
Now, Salazar is 23. Already having completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in the spring of 2011, he is enrolled in a two-year program at UNR to attain his Master’s Degree in Social Work.
But his continued education wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his mother throughout the tribulations in his life.
“For a while after my dad died, I thought I had to get out of school and find a job to support my family,” he said. “But very luckily, my mom told me, ‘Hell no. You’re going to stay in school and you’re going to make it.’ Like she would tell me, ‘Aunque sea comiendo frijoles y tortillas cada día, we’re going to make it.’” (Translated: “Even if it’s through eating beans and tortillas every day, we’re going to make it.”
Salazar also currently works at the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office as a portion of his graduate school education (a public defender advocates and defends the rights of everyone in the legal system). He dove into the criminal justice line of work because of the history of violence and deaths in his family.
“It’s kind of ironic that I want to get into the criminal defense side of things since in my family, there are a lot of criminals,” said Salazar, who is planning on taking the Law School Admission Test soon. “I have a lot of family members who gang bang. I have some family members who have committed some pretty gruesome crimes. But that’s all driven me to do what I do now. It makes me want to help everyone — especially those in dire need.”
And through it all, he has kept his customary smile.
Knowing Salazar now, one would never know he’s experienced death after death and agony after agony in his life. So how does he persevere?
“It astonishes me how many things people take for granted,” he said. “I don’t like to plan out 10 years from now. I kind of take it day by day because we never know. You might not be here the next day. So in general, I try to be happy…
“I think I get that from my dad. Even though he was sick for most of what I can remember, he would always have a smile on his face — everywhere. He knew the entire community. We couldn’t go anywhere without people stopping to say hi and bye to him.”
Salazar’s sense of appreciation also plays a large role in his consistently positive outlook on life.
“You never want pity from other people,” he said. “The last thing you want is pity from other people and them to feel sorry for you. There are certain events in life that shape you and make you who you are. It’s an unfair world, but I thank God every day that my mom is still with us, that she still has a job, that I still have a job, that my family is still intact, that I’m still in school that we still have our health — because considering all of these circumstances, a lot of people would’ve called it quits a long time ago.”
–Written by Juan López, Nu Alpha Kappa Omicron Chapter Secretary