Luis dedicates his memoir to his children, especially his son Ramiro. Ramiro is still young, but he’s already endured a lot. Luis writes, “He has a right to be angry. And he’s not the only one.”
Luis has already alluded to the abuse Ramiro suffered at the hands of his stepfather. Here, he echoes the point he made in the Preface: his memoir isn’t just about his own life, or even his child’s life. Rather, Luis wants to use his memoir to educate any and all young Chicanos who are at a crossroads in life, as he himself had once been.
In 1992, tens of thousands of people participate in the Los Angeles Uprising, a citywide response to the acquittal of the four police officers who viciously beat Rodney King. Luis has seen plenty of uprisings in his life—he was eleven years old during the 1965 Watts Rebellion. Later, as a journalist, he saw uprisings all over the world, including in Mexico and Miami.
Notice that Luis refers to these sudden populist movements as “uprisings,” rather than riots (the term that’s often applied to the movements in Watts in 1965 and Los Angeles more broadly in 1992). By using the more positive word, Luis suggests that the uprisings were justifiable responses to the corruption of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Uprising is often seen as an African American movement. But the reality is that Latinos were at the heart of the uprising. In fact, one could argue that the uprising was one of the country’s first “multi-ethnic” revolts. The people involved in the uprising were crossing racial lines in order to protest the economic changes in their city—for example, the closure of big factories and the growing unemployment rate. In the nineties, Los Angeles has one of the largest homeless populations in America, and this, not just the Rodney King verdict, was the cause of the uprising.
Luis celebrates the Los Angeles uprising as a response to police brutality with regard to Rodney King, and to corruption in the city of Los Angeles in general. The uprising is a confirmation of Luis’s theory that exploited people need to work together, rather than working within racial boundaries. It’s worth mentioning that the Los Angeles uprising resulted in dozens of deaths, many of them impoverished black, Asian, or Latino people, and millions of dollars in property damage done to the working classes. This calls into question Luis’s optimistic interpretation of the uprising, and it also calls into question the use of violence as a political tool.
In the early nineties, there was a major decline in gang violence in Los Angeles. Gangs proposed truces and peace treaties. However, police officers broke up many of the gangs’ truce meetings and rallies. Following the increase in truces and treaties, the FBI has allocated far greater resources to monitoring gangs. And the federal government has “terrorized” Latino immigrants, breaking up families and sending people back to Central and South America. This is not the first time that the government has “derailed” the unity between Latinos under the guise of “breaking up the gangs.”
Luis reiterates his earlier theory: the city authorities of Los Angeles have an incentive to keep gangs fighting one another, because they see gangs as being most dangerous when they work together for the rights of marginalized people. While the government sanctimoniously talks about fighting addiction and keeping people safe, the reality, as Luis sees it, is that the government’s true priority is weakening the minority populations of the United States.
When powerful people in the U.S. can’t accommodate Latinos, they turn them into criminals, “declare them the enemy,” and “wage war.” But these strategies never work in the end. Gangs are a dangerous problem, but not because gang members are inherently dangerous, and definitely not because of declining “family values,” as many American politicians claim. Quite simply, many people join gangs because they can’t find “a productive, livable-wage job.”
Luis reiterates his economic theory of crime and gangs—in other words, that people join gangs and turn to crime because they’re impoverished and need help, not because they’re inherently wicked (as more than one conservative politician has suggested). By framing gang violence as a class issue, he makes it a problem for which everybody shares responsibility—instead of seeing it as a problem to be handled by the police.
Recently, Ramiro—now aged seventeen—read a poem about the abuse he endured from his stepfather. Since that time, he has read his poetry to audiences of thousands. Luis sees a fire in Ramiro; he encourages him to “draw on your expressive powers” and “stop running.”
Like his father, Ramiro turns to artistic expression as a way of coming to terms with the pain and injustice he’s experienced. Luis hopes that many more Chicanos will take after his and Ramiro’s example: instead of running from their problems, they’ll use art, education, and politics to confront these problems, and become mature, confident adults in the process.