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Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.

Here is a beautifully written insider's account of what it's like to live in the desolation of America's urban ghettoes. The poet Luis J. Rodriguez grew up in Watts and East Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. This is his autobiography, and it recounts the racism he and his family felt upon coming to the United States from Mexico. (They were treated, he said, "as if we were phlegm stuck in the collective throat of this country.") He tells how he and his older brother one day entered a white neighborhood and were immediately assaulted. "What do we got here? Spics to order - maybe with some beans?" the white kids said, and then pummeled Rodriguez's older brother, who "slid to the ground, like a rotten banana squeezed out of its peeling." Beset by prejudice and poverty, Rodriguez and his friends drifted into gangs for protection and self-respect. "It was something to belong to - something that was ours. We weren't in boy scouts, in sports teams, or camping grounds. . . . We wove something out of the threads of nothing." Rodriguez recounts his many run-ins with other gangs, with the police, with the schools. "I'd walk into the counselor's office for whatever reason and looks of disdain greeted me - one meant for a criminal, alien, to be feared. Already a thug. It was harder to defy this expectation than just accept it and fall into the trappings. It was a jacket I could try to take off, but they kept putting it back on. . . . So why not be proud? Why not be an outlaw? Why not make it our own?" But the outlaw life rapidly took its toll, and by the time he turned eighteen Rodriguez had seen a couple of dozen friends die, several at the hands of the police. He managed to escape - barely. He stumbled onto some radical literature in the library, which opened his eyes. And an administrator of a local youth center took Rodriguez under his wing and brought him to a radical study group, where his political ideas took shape. Around the same time, he began to exert leadership in school, organizing protests against abuses. He also began showing talent in dancing, writing, and painting - especially murals. With the help of the youth center administrator, Rodriguez moved on. But this is much more than the story of one gang member who got out. It's the story - raw and vivid and packed with power - of how our society leaves minorities and the poor no viable alternatives, and why under those circumstances it is perfectly normal, natural, and human to join a gang. The problem, Rodriguez makes clear, is not with the gangs but with the society that creates gangs.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:452
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