Like many memoirs, Always Running is a coming-of-age story—in other words, it’s a story about how a young, immature person grows into a confident adult. In this case, the immature young person is Luis, the protagonist and narrator of the memoir. Over the course of his early life in the outer neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Luis develops the courage and self-reliance to thrive where other young people struggle to survive.
Many coming-of-age stories feature a mentor—a wise, older character who guides the protagonist from immaturity to maturity—and Always Running is no different. Mentors are important in coming-of-age stories because they provide the main characters with the lessons they need to succeed. A mentor also gives the protagonist the emotional support he or she needs, often acting as a kind of parent figure.
At first, Luis lacks a strong mentor. His own parents, Alfonso and María, are honest, dedicated people, but they’re shown as lacking the experience to help their son navigate the complexities of “La Vida Loca” in Los Angeles. Alfonso is a “hands off” parent who’s never around, and María, though she’s decidedly “hands on,” doesn’t seem to have much positive influence over Luis’s behavior. Put another way, she knows how to punish Luis for doing the wrong thing, but she doesn’t know how to inspire him to do the right thing. Because he lacks a good mentor, Luis feels himself being pulled in many different directions. As a middle school student, he gravitates toward gang life because he’s confused and uncertain of his path in life. But gang life doesn’t give Luis the tools to build a good or happy life for himself—rather, it threatens to destroy his life. It’s no surprise that Luis describes himself as a ball bouncing back and forth: during this period of his life, he has no idea what—if anything—the future holds. Confronted with the possibility that his life has no real meaning whatsoever, he becomes depressed and even suicidal.
Luis’s fortunes change, however, when he encounters Chente Ramírez, a charismatic, intelligent political organizer who runs a community center near Luis’s home. Luis is immediately drawn to Chente, partly because Chente is “cool” and confident, but also because Chente is wise and speaks about the importance of standing up for political causes. And this, ultimately, is what Luis finds so compelling about his mentor. Unlike Luis’s mother, Chente doesn’t exactly tell Luis what to do. Instead, Chente leads by example, showing Luis the kind of person Luis could become if he gets his act together and leaves gang life behind. Inspired by Chente, Luis becomes more involved in grassroots politics, organizing walk-outs and demonstrations in support of Chicano rights. He borrows many of his political convictions from Chente—and in particular the belief that all exploited peoples share a common heritage. In short, Chente shows Luis not only how to be a mature, confident adult, but how to engage in productive political action.
Luis’s coming-of-age story isn’t just about his relationship with Chente, of course. Throughout the memoir, Luis makes his own mistakes as he tries to find his path in life. Moreover, he commits some horrific—and arguably unforgivable—crimes, hurting and even killing people. In no small part, Luis ends up finding success simply because of luck. For instance, he’s lucky that, when he’s arrested for accessory to murder, his case is thrown out. He’s lucky that he has Chente to stick up for him, writing letters to judges and lawyers to ensure that Luis doesn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. And of course, Luis is lucky that he’s not killed in a war with another gang, as dozens of his friends and peers are. By contrast, the other cholos in Luis’s memoir don’t experience their own coming-of-age because they’re stuck in a state of immaturity. They don’t have their own mentors and they don’t catch as many lucky breaks in life.
Luis’s focus on the ways in which others may not have been able to succeed as he did is ultimately the main difference between Luis’s life story and the typical fictional coming-of-age story. As in many other coming-of-age narratives, Luis benefits from a wise mentor and role model who guides him through life. However, Luis’s story isn’t just about one successful individual—it’s also a story about the life of a cholo in Los Angeles. Luis is smart and talented, but he doesn’t have any illusions about why he succeeded where so many others failed. He succeeded because of luck, not just talent or mentorship. Luis could just as easily have ended up in prison for life, or dead at the age of seventeen. Ultimately, Luis writes Always Running not just because he wants to document his own coming-of-age, but because he wants to shed light on why so many good, talented young people in Los Angeles don’t realize their full potential: exposed to danger and violence, they’re never given the chance.
Coming of Age and Mentorship ThemeTracker
Coming of Age and Mentorship Quotes in Always Running
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.