"The driver of the DeSoto tried to pull out, but somebody threw a brick at his head. For a long time, I observed the beatings as if I were outside of everything, as if a moth of tainted wings floating over the steamed sidewalk. Then I felt a hand pull at my arm and I sluggishly turned toward it. Puppet looked squarely into my one opened eye. He had a rusty screwdriver in his other hand.
'Do it, man," he said. Simply that.
I clasped the screwdriver and walked up to the beaten driver in the seat whose head was bleeding. The dude looked at me through glazed eyes, horrified at my presence, at what I held in my hand, at this twisted, swollen face that came at him through the dark. Do it! were the last words I recalled before I plunged the screwdriver into flesh and bone, and the sky screamed."
That's Luis J. Rodriguez describing a gang initiation he went through around age 13 or 14, in Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. When his son encountered peer pressure to join a gang, Rodriguez "tried to get Ramiro to understand the systematic nature of what was happening in the street which in effect made choices for him before he was born."
And he wrote this book, a book to help show what happens in the street.
"At 18 years old, I felt like a war veteran, with a sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome. I wanted the pain to end, the self-consuming hate to wither in the sunlight. With the help of those who saw potential in me, I got out.
And what of my son? Recently, Ramiro went up to the stage at a Chicago poetry event and read a moving piece about being physically abused by a step-father when he was a child. It stopped everyone cold. He later read the poem to some 2,000 people at Chicago's Poetry Festival. Its title: 'Running Away.'
There's a small but intense fire burning in Ramiro. He turned 17... ; he's made it so far, but every day is a challenge. Now I tell him: You have worth outside of a job, outside the 'jacket' imposed on you since birth. Draw on your expressive powers.
It is a powerful story. Note that there is a helpful glossary in the back that explains the Spanish slang terms, which I failed to notice until I finished the book! If you like it and want more, try Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh, or Brothers and Keepers, by John Edgar Wideman.
back to main page