One can’t understand Los Angeles gangs without also understanding the culture (and the cult) of machismo. Machismo—the rigid code of male behavior which male gang members follow to the letter—is the glue that holds gangs together. It builds unity, keeping Luis Rodriguez and other cholos loyal to one another by giving them a common set of beliefs. Machismo influences almost every aspect of the cholos’ behavior. Because machismo prizes the appearance of independence and toughness, it encourages cholos to bottle up their emotions and distance themselves from their families. Machismo also attaches importance to aggressive physical behavior for its own sake, which helps explain why cholos so often get into fights, and why these fights often ignite into full-scale riots. Because machismo is about male power and aggression, it also has a strong misogynistic streak, such that the culture of machismo in Los Angeles gangs encourages cholos to think of women as objects rather than human beings. Always Running is filled with chilling descriptions of women who are raped or in some cases murdered by cholos who seem to think of women as their own property. Rodriguez portrays the culture of machismo as one ugly expression of the culture of violence that racial and economic injustice have spawned.
At the most basic level, it could be argued that machismo as Luis defines it is first and foremost the ability to withstand pain. Oftentimes, this pain is literal: for example, the “initiation ritual” for joining the Lomas—the large, powerful gang to which Luis belongs in high school—involves being viciously beaten for by the senior gang members for three minutes. While it might seem strange that Luis and hundreds of other gang initiates would allow themselves to be punched and kicked—and subsequently join the people who’ve just beaten them up—such ability to endure pain is the core of “La Vida Loca” and the cult of machismo. The implication is that “real men” can take a beating, while lesser men can’t. However, machismo is equally defined by the willingness to inflict pain on other people, which requires the toleration of another kind of pain: the pain that human beings feel instinctively when they witness other people’s suffering. As a Loma, Luis is constantly being ordered to attack other people. Sometimes, he is told that these people are members of a rival gang, the Sangra. But on other occasions, he isn’t offered even that justification—he’s just ordered to set fire to a house with innocent people sleeping inside, no questions asked. Luis is trained to suppress his natural capacity for empathy and compassion, and to tolerate and even welcome physical pain. In this way, insensitivity to violence is central to the cult of machismo.
Luis makes clear that, in the long run, the machismo of Los Angeles gangs is destructive to the point of being suicidal. Every day, gang members are killed in the streets by rival gang members, while innocent bystanders, including young children, are hurt or killed in the crossfire. Luis loses one close friend after another to gang warfare. Meanwhile, many of his friends who don’t die in gang fights overdose on drugs or even commit suicide. In short, Luis and the other gang members are surrounded by pain and misery. And yet, instead of working together to improve their quality of life, the Los Angeles gangs accept pain as a necessary part of life. In no small part, they do so because the cult of machismo encourages them to embrace and fetishize pain. Indeed, it could be argued that machismo emerges as a reaction to—and way of dealing with—misery, poverty, and injustice. It’s as if the cholos, faced with a hard, grim life, use machismo as a defense mechanism, training themselves to celebrate their pain because they see no way of diminishing it. The ultimate tragedy of Always Running (alluded to in the title) is that machismo is not only caused by pain and suffering, but also causes more pain and suffering, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Instead of cooperating with each other to fight poverty and discrimination, the Los Angeles gangs fight with each other. In this way, they are both the victims and the victimizers—a paradox that would be impossible without the culture of machismo holding gang life together.
Machismo Quotes in Always Running
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.
"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."
"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.