Following me, Ramiro was a second-generation gang member. My involvement was in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Los Angeles, the so-called gang capital of the country. My teen years were ones of drugs, shootings and beatings, and arrests. I was around when South Central Los Angeles gave birth to the Crips and Bloods. By the time I turned 18 years old, 25 of my friends had been killed by rival gangs, police, drugs, car crashes and suicides.
With little productive to do, drug selling becomes a lucrative means of survival. A 10-year-old in Humboldt Park can make $80-$100 a day as a lookout for local dealers. The drug trade is business. It's capitalism: Cutthroat, profit- motivated and expedient.
I just stayed in the back of the class, building blocks. It got so every morning I would put my lunch and coat away, and walk to my corner where I stayed the whole day long. It forced me to be more withdrawn. It got so bad, I didn't even tell anybody when I had to go the bathroom. I did it in my pants.
Tino looked below. A deputy spied the boy and called out, "Get down here...you greaser!”
Tino straightened up and disappeared. I heard a flood of footsteps on the roof -then a crash. Soon an awful calm covered us.
In the barrio, the police are just another gang. […] Sometimes they come up to us while we linger on a street comer and tell us Sangra called us chavalas, a loose term for girls. Other times, they approach dudes from Sangra and say Lomas is a tougher gang and Sangra is nothing. Shootings, assaults and skirmishes between the barrios are direct results of police activity. Even drug dealing. I know this. Everybody knows this.
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. The first hint of trouble and the preconceptions proved true. So why not be proud? Why not be an outlaw? Why not make it our own?
I felt torn. There I was, a vato from Lomas staring into the eyes of a Sangra girl. This made me a traitor. But at the same time, all I could think about was her touch, her scent — those eyes.
Maybe the whites didn't care for them either, but at least they had their money' status and grades. But one Asian guy got into our face. It wasn't so much he thought he was white. It was more in defense of what was "right." It was wrong to jump on innocent people. It was wrong to focus on the color of skin. It was wrong to throw rocks at cars, police and homes.
"You can't do this," the Asian guy clamored. "We didn't do anything to you!
Five guys jumped on him.
Suddenly everything around me exploded. An immense blackness enveloped me. A deep stillness. Nothing. Absolute. No thinking. No feeling. A hole.
Then an electrified hum sank its teeth into my brain. Hands surrounded me, pulled at me, back to the dust of our makeshift hideaway.
I was in my mid-teens and Chente was about twelve years older. I looked up to him, but not as a big brother. He was someone who could influence me without judging me morally or telling me what to do. He was just there. He listened, and when he knew you were wrong, before he would say anything, he would get you to think.
A naked girl, passed out, lay in the back seat. A black patch of pubic hair stood out on a shock of white skin which looked as if she had been immersed in flour'
"Chale, homes," I responded. "I ain't with it." Chicharrón nodded the same sentiment.
There's nothing wrong with being a janitor—and one as prestigious as my dad! But for years, I had this running fantasy of my scientist father in a laboratory carrying out vital experiments—the imagination of a paltry kid who wanted so much to break away from the constraints of a society which expected my father to be a janitor or a laborer—when I wanted a father who transformed the world. I had watched too much TV.
The librarian looked at me through the side of her eye, as if she kept tabs on whoever perused those books.
They were primarily about the black experience, works coming out of the flames which engulfed many American cities in the 1960s.
I had a cell next to Charles Manson. They threw me in with a dude who had killed a teacher and another who had shot somebody in the Aliso Village housing projects. One of the dudes pressed a stashed blade to my neck. But I knew, no matter what, never show fear. I stood up to him, staring without blinking. Then he backed off. Soon we played cards, told jokes and stories. That night, we heard the "East L.A. riot! - this is what the media was calling it! - had escalated throughout much of Whittier Boulevard.
In prisons, where a disproportionate number of Chicano males ended up, pinto organizations and publications flowered into existence.
East L.A. also birthed artists, musicians and writers out of the wombs of conflict. […] Over the years, bands like El Chicano, Tierra, Los Lobos, Con Safo, Los Illegals and Califas carried forth the people's message through Latinized jazz-rock compositions, and later in punk and traditional corrido forms. Publications arose such as La Raza which chronicled through photos and prose the ongoing developments in the movement.
We have somebody willing to teach you," Mrs. Baez said. "He's an instructor for a folklórico dance troupe at one of the colleges. You look Indian enough with your long hair. And I think it would help involve some of the hard-core Lomas students in what we're doing if you tried out."
What do you say, Louie?" Esme asked.
They knew they had me. I accepted as a formality.
The collective explained how workers of all colors and nationalities, linked by hunger and the same system of exploitation, have no country; their interests as a class respect no borders. To me, this was an unconquerable idea.
I could see my mom and dad with a couple of Bienvenidos staff members in the front desk area. I looked over where Night Owl was still holed up.
"Hey dude, here's for Sangra," and I stuck out my hand.
Night Owl looked at me for a second, then smirked, and shook my hand through the bars.
Babies are easy too. Many homegirls become mothers, although they are unfinished children. Whatever comfort and warmth they lack at home is also withheld from their babies. Girls drop out of school. Homeboys become fathers even in their early teens. But there's nothing at stake for them; at the most, having a baby is a source of power, for rep, like trophies on a mantle.
"You all know I'll take on anybody," I countered as I stood up. "They were my homeboys too. But think about it: They were killed by a speeding car, both of them shot right through the heart. Nobody yelled out nothing. Who's trained to do this? Not Sangra. I say the cops did this. I say they want us to go after Sangra when we were so close to coming together."
"We have to use our brains," I continued, talking to every, one. "We have to think about who's our real enemy. The dudes in Sangra are just like us, man."
Then Puppet stood up.
"Only pinche putos would tell us to back off on Sangra, talking bullshit about uniting barrios."
"Leave her alone - can't you see you're hurting her?" At this, a couple of deputies pounced on me. I fell to the ground. Officers pulled on my arms, picked me up and threw me against a squad car. I felt the blows of a blackjack against my side and back. I tried to pull them off me, when suddenly eight other deputies showed up. As they pounded on me, my foot inadvertently came up and brushed one of them in the chest.
Nobody wanted the Super Kool after me! As soon as somebody took a stand and turned it down, the others did the same. I arrived at a point which alarmed even me, where I had no desire for the internal night, the buoyancy of letting go, the bliss of the void. I required more, a discipline as bulwark within which to hold all I valued, a shield against the onslaught.
Money talked here. Big money. Similarly a good part of the Hills found itself swept away with the massive land deals and influx of investments during the 1970s and 1980s. Between the police, Pacific Rim money and developers, the Hills didn’t have much of a chance.
"There’s some things to fight for, some things to die for - but not this. Chava, you're alive. I feel for you' man' but you're alive. Don't waste the rest of your days with this hate. What's revenge? What can you get by getting to me? I'm the least of your enemies. It's time to let it go, it's time to go on with your life."
The heart of the L.A. uprising was in the African American community. But it soon involved large numbers of Latinos (who make up almost half of South Central's population) and whites - Latinos were the largest group among the 18,000 arrests; at least 700 of those detained were white. Some called it the country first "multi-ethnic" revolt; the common link was the class composition of the combatants.