Friday, May 7, 2010

Teresa Mira: Book Review: Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days In L.A. By Luis Rodriguez

Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days In L.A. is an autobiography by Luis Rodriguez about his youth in East L.A. and his involvement in gang warfare. As a young child, he moved around with his family, his mother, father, brother Joe and two sisters, living in various poor neighborhoods in the L.A. area mostly populated by Chicanos. With this moving around came the switching of schools making it difficult for him to fit in and do well especially with his background of being a Mexican American and speaking little English. Finally settling in South San Gabriel Luis encountered his first gangs. They began innocently, like cliques of friend for sports and trips. These small cliques evolved into larger and more dangerous groups later becoming gangs. The two towns, South San Gabriel and Sangra, became mortal enemies with their respective gangs, La Lomas and Sangra. Luis became a member of La Lomas and slowly was drawn into this dangerous and destructive lifestyle. Drugs, violence and other destructive behaviors fill their young teen lives. They get high in every conceivable way, smoking, snuffing, heroine, pill popping, anything. Fights are a norm with their lives as they become more violent and deadly. The idea of attending and finishing school is almost out of the question with a combination of their disinterest and the school’s racist attitudes. With the construction of the Community Centers, life turns around for the better for Luis. He reenters school and participates in violent and destructive gang activities less. Luis also has a large part to do with reforms within his school, one that initially expelled him. The formation of Chicano groups and the spreading of awareness allows for the bettering of the school and the possible education of future Chicanos. Luis attends College for a short time, though it is ended by a small run-in with the ever-abusive police, his life turns for the better with his leaving the gang and it’s activities.
Police brutality and violence are huge themes within this book. The violence of a force that is meant to protect the public is ever evident through Luis’s experiences with the police. When he is caught by the restaurant for attempting to leave without paying, he makes it clear how very violent the police can be. He says, “They beat on us all the time. Especially them sheriffs. They’re the worst.” (144). In every incident that involves police, enforcement there is mention of unnecessary and horrible violence from the police. They not only beat them with their nightsticks and fists, but also entice them and find reasons to start with the Chicanos. Violence is seen everywhere in Luis’s life. It begins with his brother’s treatment toward him as a child. When we are first introduced to Rano, Luis is yelling to his mother, “Amá mira a Rano, He’s hitting me again.” (13). His mother also is a violent character as she is the one who gives the punishments of lashings with a belt. Violence is carried through the stories, as it is a central part of the gangs. They get into countless fights, with each other, the police and anyone who they feel like. Initiation into the gangs often involves violence as well. Violence is also not simply a male characteristic as not only his mother, but many of the females in the gangs are very dangerous and violent as well.
The amount of violence especially from the police was quite appalling and alarming to me. I had heard of police brutality and racism from the police of course, but the extent to which they take it is incredible. As I have been doing research on the Tompkins Square Park Riots, the violence Luis speaks of seems far worst than seen in New York. The first incident at the beach seemed at first relatively calm, it didn’t seem too wrong seeing how they were young teenagers alone with drugs and alcohol. The treatment they received, however, was horrible, “They had us squatting there for five, ten, then fifteen minuets. We couldn’t stand up, kneel or sit. The circulation in my legs felt blocked. The muscles cramped and ached. But we weren’t supposed to do anything but squat.” (66-7). They treated them as if they weren’t human and gave them harsh and undeserved punishments even before they had proof they had done anything seriously wrong. The police continue this behavior in escalating forms throughout the story.
In relation to the class, the main theme that I noticed was how they used public places for private use. Almost all of their major battles and confrontations take place on streets, in parks and lots. They use the tunnel as a place to get high and even sleep in lots and other such open places. There are various sexual acts that take place in general open places as well such as on porches and on the hills. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of differentiation between acts that they do in private and in public places throughout the book.

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