Luis, Wilo, Clavo, and Chicharrón spend more time together after they join The Tribe. They spray-paint their names on walls. One afternoon, they sit together, drinking and cooking in a roasting pit. All around them are the ruins of houses that burned down in fires. Suddenly, the gang notices a car driving by. Clavo shouts out that he and his friends are affiliated with The Tribe. In response, somebody rolls down the window of the car and fires a gun at the gang, yelling, “Sangra Diablos!” As the car drives away, Luis sees that Clavo’s face is “shot full of pellets.” The gang takes Clavo to the hospital. Later, they talk about starting a war with the Sangra.
Luis begins to adjust to the gang life—which means living with the constant threat of violence. Notice the matter-of-fact way that Luis describes his friend’s injuries, and the way he and his friends move immediately from caring for Clavo to planning a massive retaliation against the Sangra gang. It’s also significant that the violent encounter takes place in the ruins of outer Los Angeles, perhaps suggesting that gang violence is both a cause and effect of the deteriorating neighborhood.
As the years go by, more and more of Luis’s family ends up in Los Angeles. Many of his cousins stay with him, and he becomes fascinated by his aunt Chucha. Luis respects Chucha for singing and telling good stories. Other family members hate her, but Luis respects her free-spiritedness. Another important influence on Luis is his cousin, Pancho. When Luis is ten, Pancho moves in. In his late teens, Pancho is very cool. He introduces Luis and Rano to soul music and weightlifting.
Luis’s family members are relatively minor characters in the memoir, but that doesn’t mean Luis isn’t inspired and influenced by his family. The qualities that Luis finds so compelling in Chucha and Pancho—good storytelling, machismo, and good taste in music—suggest the different aspects of his personality.
One day, after weightlifting, Luis feels a pain in his abdomen. It turns out that Luis has ruptured his intestine while exercising, and must go to the hospital. While he’s there, Luis’s parents decide to have him circumcised. But the doctors make a clumsy mistake, and Luis has to get painful stitches on his penis.
This short section confirms the squalid conditions of outer Los Angeles: its medical institutions are so incompetent that the doctors can’t even perform a routine medical procedure without complications.
Luis returns to the incident he described at the beginning of the chapter. Clavo survives his shooting, but loses an eye. To celebrate Clavo’s survival, the gang decides to make a trip out to the “white people’s beaches,” where Latinos traditionally aren’t welcome. At the beach, they play football, get high, and flirt with the young women with whom they arrived. At one point, a few gang members grope a pretty young woman named Hermie, throw her in the water, and laugh.
Luis portrays Los Angeles as a very segregated city: there are neighborhoods where, every knows, certain races go and other races don’t. Therefore, it’s an act of rebellion for Luis and his friends to go to a “white beach,” even though there’s no law against it. Notice, also, that the male gang members disrespect Hermie, suggesting their disrespectful attitude toward women in general.
In the afternoon, a group of white surfers arrives and starts harassing Luis’s friends, saying, “Fuck you, beaners!” Luis’s friends prepare for a fight, smashing bottles. Just then, the surfers pull out guns and badges—they’re cops. They arrest everyone, continuing to call them “beaners.”
It’s impossible for Luis to tell the difference between some racist white guys on the beach and the LAPD—because, as it turns out, those two things are one and the same. This just confirms what Luis has already written about the LAPD’s racism.
The cops take Luis and his friends to the police station, since they’ve committed a felony by drinking on the beach. After a couple hours, Luis and his friends are freed. However, one gang member, Black Dog, is sent to prison, since he has a few prior arrests.
Luis and his friends have committed a felony, but it’s arguably indicative of the officers’ racism that they choose to prosecute this felony to the fullest extent instead of letting it slide (as, one might imagine, the officers would do if the perpetrators had been white).
At the age of nine, Luis’s parents tell him that he needs to start earning money. Rano is working as a newspaper boy, and when Luis turns twelve, he begins doing the same. To his own surprise, Luis becomes a great paperboy. He’s so quick that his name is published in the local paper. Luis is less successful at selling newspaper subscriptions, however. One day, he gives up trying to sell them and just gives away free papers. When Luis returns, his boss praises him for selling a record number of subscriptions.
Luis dips his toe into earning an honest living and finds that he can be a responsible, hard-working employee. However, he continues to break or bend the rules. This actually shows that Luis is a smart, quick-thinking kid—he knows how to use the system to his advantage.
At the age of the thirteen, Luis starts working at a carwash. This job gives Luis a foot fungus, because he often has to work in wet sneakers. Luis’s sores become so bad that his mother and his uncle Kiko slice open the sores and treat them with herbs. It’s the most pain Luis has ever experienced up to this point in his life.
This passage is another reminder of the awful conditions in Luis’s neighborhood—even a simple foot fungus is an ordeal to treat (and, understandably, Luis doesn’t seem too eager to return to the hospital after his circumcision).
The chapter skips ahead: Luis is standing in a jail cell. A guard brags to him that the cops detain every Latino teenager in the neighborhood in order to keep track of their names. In his neighborhood, Luis thinks, the police are “just another gang.” He and his friends give different cops their own nicknames—Cowboy, Maddog, etc.
It’s never explained how this section fits in with the rest of the chapter. The incident is never mentioned again, and Luis never offers any context for it, either. But this is quite possibly the whole point. Luis feels that he could be arrested at any time for even the most trivial offense. The reason is simple: the LAPD (personified by the guard) wants to fingerprint him and establish his criminal record to make it easier to prosecute him harshly later on.
Shortly after Clavo’s accident, Clavo disappears. Nobody is sure if he’s gone home or to jail. A new boy, Yuk Yuk (real name Claudio Ponce), joins the gang. Yuk Yuk has spent years in a juvenile detention center, and he encourages his friends to steal. At the age of thirteen, Luis steals records, food, and liquor from various stores. At times he gets away with it, but at other times a guard catches him and calls his mother.
Almost as soon as one gang member disappears, another one shows up to replace him. Yuk Yuk seems “harder” and more experienced than Clavo, perhaps suggesting the escalating violence and danger of La Vida Loca at the time.
Yuk Yuk also introduces Luis to two big-time robbers, Jandro Mares and Shed Cowager. Both men are in their thirties and specialize in buying up stolen cars. Luis and his gang scope out nice houses and then break in, stealing everything valuable they find.
Yuk Yuk is instrumental in introducing Luis to a more serious kind of crime. Jandro and Shed are the first older criminals that Luis meets, showing that gang life doesn’t end as you grow older.
Yuk Yuk plans armed robberies, too. One night, Yuk Yuk asks Luis and his friends to join him in a robbery. The gang holds up a concession stand near a drive-in movie theater, and Luis carries a gun. Yuk Yuk yells at the concession stand worker and orders him to open the safe, but the man pleads that he doesn’t have the combination. While they’re arguing, a gunshot rings out. With his friends’ encouragement, Luis fires back in the direction of the shot. The gang runs away from the stand and into the night, away from the sound of the gunshots.
The guy who works at the concession stand gets the short end of the stick: even though he’s just a low-level employee, he assumes all the risk when criminals rob his company. The shot fired by a n unknown shooter (possibly a rival gang member) suggests that outer Los Angeles is becoming increasingly dangerous at the time.