Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A.

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Overview

The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

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Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.

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Overview

The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An absolutely unique work: richly literary and poetic, yet urgent and politically explosive at the same time...A permanent testament to human courage and transcendence."
— Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities

"Rodriguez's account of his coming of age is vivid, raw...fierce, and fearless...Here's truth no television set, burning night and day, could ever begin to offer."
— Gary Soto, The New York Times Book Review

"Every spiky anecdote from a life of guns, razors, uppers, downers, glue, heroin, sex, and early death supports this former gang member's view of the violence as collective suicide. That Rodriguez's memoir takes place...before the '92 L.A. riots only makes this beautifully written and politically astute account more compelling."
— Suzanne Ruta, Entertainment Weekly

"Extraordinarily haunting and evocative."
— Paul Ruffins, The Washington Post Book World

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As the preface of this admirable but ultimately disappointing memoir states, Rodriguez, an award-winning poet and publisher of the small press Tia Chucha, decided to document his youth as an East Los Angeles gang member in an effort to steer his teenaged son, Ramiro, away from the gang that he recently joined. A member of various Latino gangs based in and around the South San Gabriel Valley during the late 1960s, Rogriguez participated in random acts of violence, and was imprisoned on several occasions for the crimes he committed. Unfortunately, he offers frustratingly little detail behind the facts of his life and activity in the gangs. Rodriquez presents colorful characters and highly charged events, such as shootings, Mexican funerals, rapes and arrests, but his writing style renders much of that rich material forgettable. (Feb.)
School Library Journal
YA-- Rodriguez tells the story of his youth in the 1970s in South East Los Angeles. Although his parents supported him, they seemed to lose hold when he slipped into street life, which led to a conviction and jail sentence. Finally, he bonded with a neighborhood organizer who never lost faith in Rodriguez's one-step-forward--two-steps-back ``dance'' toward a future as a journalist, poet, and organizer. Beginning and ending with an essay on the socioeconomic roots of the current violence in Los Angeles, the author makes sense as observers who haven't lived through it cannot. Although grim, Always Running never loses its poetic overtones.-- Virginia Ryder, West Potomac High School, Fairfax County, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743276917
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 9/6/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 29,378
  • Product dimensions: 8.38 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

The son of Mexican immigrants, Luis J. Rodriguez began writing in his early teens and has won national recognition as a poet, journalist, fiction writer, children's book writer, and critic. Currently working as a peacemaker among gangs, Rodriguez helped create Tia Chucha's Café & Centro Cultural, a multiarts, multimedia cultural center in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Visit him at LuisJRodriguez.com.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

"Cry, child, for those without tears have a grief which never ends."
Mexican saying

This memory begins with flight. A 1950s bondo-spackled Dodge surged through a driving rain, veering around the potholes and upturned tracks of the abandoned Red Line trains on Alameda. Mama was in the front seat. My father was at the wheel. My brother Rano and I sat on one end of the back seat; my sisters Pata and Cuca on the other. There was a space between the boys and girls to keep us apart.

"Amá, mira a Rano," a voice said for the tenth time from the back of the car. "He's hitting me again."

We fought all the time. My brother, especially, had it in for La Pata -- thinking of Frankenstein, he called her "Anastein." Her real name was Aha, but most of the time we went by the animal names Dad gave us at birth. I am Grillo, which means cricket. Rano stands for "rana," the frog. La Pata is the duck and Cuca is short for cucaracha: cockroach.

The car seats came apart in strands. I looked out at the passing cars which seemed like ghosts with headlights rushing past the streaks of water on the glass. I was nine years old. As the rain fell, my mother cursed in Spanish intermixed with pleas to saints and "la Santísima Madre de Dios." She argued with my father. Dad didn't curse or raise his voice. He just stated the way things were.

"I'll never go back to Mexico," he said. "I'd rather starve here. You want to stay with me, it has to be in Los Angeles. Otherwise, go."

We were on the way to the Uniontrain station in downtown L.A. We had our few belongings stuffed into the trunk and underneath our feet. I gently held on to one of the comic books Mama bought to keep us entertained. I had on my Sunday best clothes with chewed gum stuck in a coat pocket. It could have been Easter, but it was a weeping November. I don't remember for sure why we were leaving. I just knew it was a special day. There was no fear or concern on my part. We were always moving. I looked at the newness of the comic book and felt some exhilaration of its feel in my hand. Mama had never bought us comic books before. It had to be a special day.

For months we had been pushed from one house to another, just Mama and us children. Mom and Dad had split up prior to this. We stayed at the homes of women my mom called comadres, with streams of children of their own. Some nights we slept in a car or in the living rooms of people we didn't know. There were no shelters for homeless families. My mother tried to get us settled somewhere but all indications pointed to our going back to the land of her birth, to her red earth, her Mexico.

The family consisted of my father Alfonso, my mom María Estela, my older brother, José René, and my younger sisters, Ana Virginia and Gloria Estela. I recall my father with his wavy hair and clean-shaven face, his correct, upright and stubborn demeanor, in contrast to my mother who was heavy-set with Native features and thick straight hair, often laughing heartily, her eyes narrowed to slits, and sometimes crying from a deep tomb-like place with a sound like swallowing mud.

As we got closer to the Union station, Los Angeles loomed low and large, a city of odd construction, a good place to get lost in. I, however, would learn to hide in imaginative worlds -- in books; in TV shows, where I picked up much of my English; in solitary play with mangled army men and crumpled toy trucks. I was so withdrawn it must have looked scary.

This is what I know: When I was two years old, our family left Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, for Los Angeles. My father was an educated man, unusual for our border town, a hunger city filled to the hills with cardboard hovels of former peasants, Indians and dusk-faced children. In those days, an educated man had to be careful about certain things -- questioning authority, for example. Although the principal of a local high school, my father failed to succumb to the local chieftains who were linked to the national party which ruled Mexico, as one famous Latin American writer would later say, with a "perfect dictatorship."

When Dad first became principal, there were no funds due to the massive bureaucratic maze he had to get through to get them. The woman he lived with then was an artist who helped raise money for the school by staging exhibitions. My father used his own money to pay for supplies and at one point had the iron fence around the school tom down and sold for scrap.

One year, Dad received an offer for a six-month study program for foreign teachers in Bloomington, Indiana. He liked it so much, he renewed it three times. By then, my father had married his secretary, my mother, after the artist left him. They had their first child, José René.

By the time my father returned, his enemies had mapped out a means to remove him -- being a high school principal is a powerful position in a place like Ciudad Juarez. My father faced a pile of criminal charges, including the alleged stealing of school funds. Police arrived at the small room in the vecindad where Mama and Dad lived and escorted him to the city jail.

For months my father fought the charges. While he was locked up, they fed him scraps of food in a rusted steel can. They denied him visitors -- Mama had to climb a section of prison wall and pick up 2-year-old José René so he could see his father. Finally, after a lengthy trial, my father was found innocent -- but he no longer had his position as principal.

Dad became determined to escape to the United States. My mother, on the other hand, never wanted to leave Mexico; she did it to be with Dad.

Mama was one of two daughters in a family run by a heavy-drinking, wife-beating railroad worker and musician. My mother was the only one in her family to complete high school. Her brothers, Kiko and Rodolfo, often crossed the border to find work and came back with stories of love and brawls on the other side.

Their grandmother was a Tarahumara Indian who once walked down from the mountainous area in the state of Chihuahua where her people lived in seclusion for centuries. The Spanish never conquered them. But their grandmother never returned to her people. She eventually gave birth to my grandmother, Aha Acosta.

Ana's first husband was a railroad worker during the Mexican Revolution; he lost his life when a tunnel exploded during a raid. They brought his remains in a box. Aha was left alone with one son, while pregnant with a daughter. Lucita, the daughter, eventually died of convulsions at the age of four, and Manolo, the son, was later blinded after a bout with a deadly form of chicken pox which struck and killed many children in the area.

Later Aha married my grandfather, Mónico Jiménez, who like her first husband worked the railroads. At one point, Mónico quit the rails to play trumpet and sing for bands in various night clubs. Once he ended up in Los Angeles, but with another woman. In fact, Mónico had many other women. My grandmother often had to cross over to the railroad yards, crowded with prostitutes and where Mónico spent many nights singing, to bring him home.

When my parents married, Mama was 27; Dad almost 40. She had never known any other man. He already had four or five children from three or four other women. She was an emotionally-charged, border woman, full of fire, full of pain, full of giving love. He was a stoic, unfeeling, unmoved intellectual who did as he pleased as much as she did all she could to please him. This dichotomous couple, this sun and moon, this curandera and biologist, dreamer and realist, fire woman and water man, molded me; these two sides created a life-long conflict in my breast.

By the time Dad had to leave Ciudad Juarez, my mother had borne three of his children, including myself, all in El Paso, on the American side (Gloria was born later in East L.A.'s General Hospital). This was done to help ease the transition from alien status to legal residency. There are stories of women who wait up to the ninth month and run across the border to have their babies, sometimes squatting and dropping them on the pavement as they hug the closest lamppost.

We ended up in Watts, a community primarily of black people except for La Colonia, often called The Quarter -- the Mexican section and the oldest part of Watts.

Except for the housing projects, Watts was a ghetto where country and city mixed. The homes were mostly single-family units, made of wood or stucco. Open windows and doors served as air conditioners, a slight relief from the summer desert air. Chicken coops graced many a back yard along with broken auto parts. Roosters crowed the morning to birth and an occasional goat peered from weather-worn picket fences along with the millions of dogs which seemed to populate the neighborhood.

Watts fed into one of the largest industrial concentrations in the country, pulling from an almost endless sea of cheap labor; they came from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas...from Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit. If you moved there it was because the real estate concerns pushed you in this direction. For decades, L.A. was notorious for restrictive covenants -- where some areas were off limits to "undesirables."

Despite the competition for jobs and housing, we found common ground there, among the rolling mills, bucket shops and foundries, All day long we heard the pounding of forges and the air-whistles that signaled the shift changes in the factories which practically lay in our backyards.

We moved to Watts at the behest of my oldest sister, really a half-sister, who was already married with two children of her own. Her family eventually joined us a few months later. Her name was Seni, a name my father invented (although rumor has it, it was an inversion of the name Inés, an old girlfriend of his). The name, however, has stayed in the family. Seni's first daughter was named Aha Seni and in later years, one of Aha Seni's daughters became Seni Bea.

When Seni was a child, my father often left her for long intervals with my grandmother Catita, whom she called Mama Piri. One family legend tells of a 9-year-old Seni answering the door during a pouring rain. A man, with soaked hat and coat, stood at the doorway. Seni yelled out: "Mama Piri, Mama Piri -- there's a strange man at the door."

"Don't worry, m'ija," Catita said. "He's only your father."

Seni lived in several rentals in Watts until she found a two-story on 111th Street near a block of factories. The place later got razed to build Locke High School. I stayed there a couple of summers, sleeping in a cobweb-infested attic with exposed 2-by-4 studs. Rats and cockroaches roamed freely in that house: huge rats, huge cockroaches. Seni would place a chair at the bottom of the attic steps and she convinced me it could ward off the creatures. I believed it until one night I noticed the chair was gone. I ran down to tell Seni. But she yelled back in Spanish: "Go back to bed...that chair couldn't keep nothing away, and only a fool would believe it could."

I was devastated.

Seni was my father's daughter from one of his earlier relationships; her mother died giving birth to her. My father was handsome and athletic as a young man. He was the pole-vaulting champion at one of the schools he attended. But his looks apparently got him into a lot of trouble. His father Cristóbal, then a general in the Mexican army, once disowned him when Dad fell for a woman and neglected his studies in medical school. Dad quit school to be with the woman who would later become Seni's mother.

I also had two older half-brothers, Alberto and Mario, who lived in Mexico. Another half-sister, Lisa, died as an infant after she accidently ate some chicharrones my father was forced to sell on cobblestone streets in Mexico City after his father cut him off. My mother kept a sepia-colored black-and-white death photo of Lisa in a white lace baptism dress, looking like a doll, looking asleep, so peaceful, as she lay in a tiny wood coffin.

Our first exposure in America stays with me like a foul odor. It seemed a strange world, most of it spiteful to us, spitting and stepping on us, coughing us up, us immigrants, as if we were phlegm stuck in the collective throat of this country. My father was mostly out of work. When he did have a job it was in construction, in factories such as Sinclair Paints or Standard Brands Dog Food, or pushing door-bells selling insurance, Bibles or pots and pans. My mother found work cleaning homes or in the garment industry. She knew the comer markets were ripping her off but she could only speak with her hands and in a choppy English.

Once my mother gathered up the children and we walked to Will Rogers Park. There were people everywhere. Mama looked around for a place we could rest. She spotted an empty spot on a park bench. But as soon as she sat down an American woman, with three kids of her own, came by.

"Hey, get out of there -- that's our seat."

My mother understood but didn't know how to answer back in English. So she tried in Spanish.

"Look spic, you can't sit there!" the American woman yelled. "You don't belong here! Understand? This is not your country !"

Mama quietly got our things and walked away, but I knew frustration and anger bristled within her because she was unable to talk, and when she did, no one would listen.

We never stopped crossing borders. The Río Grande (or Río Bravo, which is what the Mexicans call it, giving the name a power "Río Grande" just doesn't have) was only the first of countless barriers set in our path.

We kept jumping hurdles, kept breaking from the constraints, kept evading the border guards of every new trek. It was a metaphor to fill our lives -- that river, that first crossing, the mother of all crossings. The L.A. River, for example, became a new barrier, keeping the Mexicans in their neighborhoods over on the vast east side of the city for years, except for forays downtown. Schools provided other restrictions: Don't speak Spanish, don't be Mexican -- you don't belong. Railroad tracks divided us from communities where white people lived, such as South Gate and Lynwood across from Watts. We were invisible people in a city which thrived on glitter, big screens and big names, but this glamour contained none of our names, none of our faces.

The refrain "this is not your country" echoed for a lifetime.

Although we moved around the Watts area, the house on 105th Street near McKinley Avenue held my earliest memories, my earliest fears and questions. It was a small matchbox of a place. Next to it stood a tiny garage with holes through the walls and an unpainted barn-like quality. The weather battered it into a leaning shed. The back yard was a jungle. Vegetation appeared to grow down from the sky. There were banana trees, huge "sperm" weeds (named that because they stunk like semen when you cut them), foxtails and yellowed grass. An avocado tree grew in the middle of the yard and its roots covered every bit of ground, tearing up cement walks while its branches scraped the bedroom windows. A sway of clothes on some lines filled the little bit of grassy area just behind the house.

My brother and I played often in our jungle, even pretending to be Tarzan (Rano mastered the Tarzan yell from the movies). The problem, however, was I usually ended up being the monkey who got thrown off the trees. In fact, I remember my brother as the most dangerous person alive. He seemed to be wracked with a scream which never let out. His face was dark with meanness, what my mother called maldad. He also took delight in seeing me writhe in pain, cry or cower, vulnerable to his own inflated sense of power. This hunger for cruelty included his ability to take my mom's most wicked whippings -- without crying or wincing. He'd just sit there and stare at a wall, forcing Mama to resort to other implements of pain -- but Rano would not show any emotion.

Yet in the streets, neighborhood kids often chased Rano from play or jumped him. Many times he came home mangled, his face swollen. Once somebody threw a rock at him which cut a gash across his forehead, leaving a scar Rano has to this day.

Another time a neighbor's kid smashed a metal bucket over Rano's head, slicing the skin over his skull and creating a horrifying scene with blood everywhere. My mother in her broken English could remedy few of the injustices, but she tried. When this one happened, she ran next door to confront that kid's mother.

The woman had been sitting on her porch and saw everything.

"¿Qué pasó aqui?" Mama asked.

"I don't know what you want," the woman said. "All I know is your boy picked up that bucket and hit himself over the head -- that's all I know."

In school, they placed Rano in classes with retarded children because he didn't speak much English. They even held him back a year in the second grade.

For all this, Rano took his rage out on me. I recall hiding from him when he came around looking for a playmate. My mother actually forced me out of closets with a belt in her hand and made me play with him.

One day we were playing on the rooftop of our house.

"Grillo, come over here," he said from the roof's edge. "Man, look at this on the ground."

I should have known better, but I leaned over to see. Rano then pushed me and I struck the ground on my back with a loud thump and lost my breath, laying deathly still in suffocating agony, until I slowly gained it back.

Another time he made me the Indian to his cowboy, tossed a rope around my neck and pulled me around the yard. He stopped barely before it choked the life out of me. I had rope bums around my neck for a week.

His abuse even prompted neighborhood kids to get in on it. One older boy used to see how Rano tore into me. One day he peered over the fence separating his yard from ours.

"Hey, little dude...yeah you. Come over here a minute," he said. "I got something to show you."

This time I approached with caution. Little good that did me: I stepped into a loop of rope on the ground. He pulled on it and dragged me through the weeds and foxtails, up the splintery fence, and tied it down on his side. I hung upside down, kicking and yelling for what seemed like hours until somebody came and cut me down.

The house on 105th Street stayed cold. We couldn't always pay the gas or light bills. When we couldn't, we used candles. We cleaned up the dishes and the table where we are without any light, whispering because that's what people do in the dark.

We took baths in cold water, and I remember wanting to run out of the bathroom as my mother murmured a shiver of words to comfort me:

"Así es, así será," she explained as she dunked me into the frigid bath.

One night, my parents decided to take us to a restaurant since we had no heat to cook anything with. We drove around for awhile. On Avalon Boulevard we found one of those all-night, ham-eggs-&-coffee places. As we pulled up, I curled up in the seat.

"No, I don't want to go in," I yelled.

"And why not?" my mother demanded. "Por el amor de Dios, aren't you hungry?"

I pointed a finger to a sign on the door. It read: "Come In. Cold Inside."

Christmases came with barely a whimper. Once my parents bought a fake aluminum tree, placed some presents beneath it, and woke us up early to open them up. Most of the wrappings, though, had been haphazardly put together because Rano had sneaked into the living room in the middle of the night and tom them open to take a peek. The presents came from a church group which gave out gifts for the poor. It was our first Christmas. That day, I broke the plastic submarine, toy gun and metal car I received. I don't know why. I suppose in my mind it didn't seem right to have things that were in working order, unspent.

My mother worked on and off, primarily as a costurera or cleaning homes or taking care of other people's children. We sometimes went with her to the houses she cleaned. They were nice, American, white-people homes. I remember one had a swimming pool and a fireplace and a thing called rugs. As Mama swept and scrubbed and vacuumed, we played in the comer, my sisters and I, afraid to touch anything. The odor of these houses was different, full of fragrances, sweet and nauseating. On 105th Street the smells were of fried lard, of beans and car fumes, of factory smoke and home-made brew out of backyard stills. There were chicken smells and goat smells in grassless yards filled with engine parts and wire and wood planks, cracked and sprinkled with rusty nails. These were the familiar aromas: the funky earth, animal and mechanical smells which were absent from the homes my mother cleaned.

Mama always seemed to be sick. For one thing, she was overweight and suffered from a form of diabetes. She had thyroid problems, bad nerves and high blood pressure. She was still young then in Watts, in her thirties, but she had all these ailments. She didn't even have teeth; they rotted away many years before. This made her look much older until later when she finally obtained false ones. Despite this she worked all the time, chased after my brother with a belt or a board, and held up the family when almost everything else came apart.

Heavy blue veins streak across my mother's legs, some of them bunched up into dark lumps at her ankles. Mama periodically bleeds them to relieve the pain. She carefully cuts the engorged veins with a razor and drains them into a porcelain-like metal pail called a tina. I'm small and all I remember are dreams of blood, me drowning in a red sea, blood on sheets, on the walls, splashing against the white pail in streams out of my mother's ankle. But they aren't dreams. It is Mama bleeding -- into day, into night. Bleeding a birth of memory: my mother, my blood, by the side of the bed, me on the covers, and her slicing into a black vein and filling the pail into some dark, forbidden red nightmare which never stops coming, never stops pouring, this memory of Mama and blood and Watts.

One day, my mother asked Rano and me to go to the grocery store. We decided to go across the railroad tracks into South Gate. In those days, South Gate was an Anglo neighborhood, filled with the families of workers from the auto plant and other nearby industry. Like Lynwood or Huntington Park, it was forbidden territory for the people of Watts.

My brother insisted we go. I don't know what possessed him, but then I never did. It was useless to argue; he'd force me anyway. He was nine then, I was six. So without ceremony, we started over the tracks, climbing over discarded market carts and tore-up sofas, across Alameda Street, into South Gate: all-white, all-American.

We entered the first small corner grocery store we found. Everything was cool at first. We bought some bread, milk, soup cans and candy. We each walked out with a bag filled with food. We barely got a few feet, though, when five teenagers on bikes approached. We tried not to pay attention and proceeded to our side of the tracks. But the youths pulled up in front of us. While two of them stood nearby on their bikes, three of them jumped off theirs and walked over to us.

"What do we got here?" one of the boys said. "Spics to order -- maybe with some beans?"

He pushed me to the ground; the groceries splattered onto the asphalt. I felt melted gum and chips of broken beer bottle on my lips and cheek. Then somebody picked me up and held me while the others seized my brother, tossed his groceries out, and pounded on him. They punched him in the face, in the stomach, then his face again, cutting his lip, causing him to vomit.

I remember the shrill, maddening laughter of one of the kids on a bike, this laughing like a raven's wail, a harsh wind's shriek, a laugh that I would hear in countless beatings thereafter. I watched the others take turns on my brother, this terror of a brother, and he doubled over, had blood and spew on his shirt, and tears down his face. I wanted to do something, but they held me and I just looked on, as every strike against Rano opened me up inside.

They finally let my brother go and he slid to the ground, like a rotten banana squeezed out of its peeling. They threw us back over the tracks. In the sunset I could see the Watts Towers, shimmers of 70,000 pieces of broken bottles, sea shells, ceramic and metal on spiraling points puncturing the heavens, which reflected back the rays of a falling sun. My brother and I then picked ourselves up, saw the teenagers take off, still laughing, still talking about those stupid greasers who dared to cross over to South Gate.

Up until then my brother had never shown any emotion to me other than disdain. He had never asked me anything, unless it was a demand, an expectation, an obligation to be his throwaway boy-doll. But for this once he looked at me, tears welled in his eyes, blood streamed from several cuts -- lips and cheeks swollen.

"Swear -- you got to swear -- you'll never tell anybody how I cried," he said.

I suppose I did promise. It was his one last thing to hang onto, his rep as someone who could take a belt whipping, who could take a beating in the neighborhood and still go back risking more -- it was this pathetic plea from the pavement I remember. I must have promised.

It was a warm September day when my mother pulled me out of bed, handed me a pair of pants and a shirt, a piece of burnt toast and dragged me by the arm toward 109th Street School. We approached a huge, dusty brick building with the school's name carved in ancient English lettering across the entrance. Mama hauled me up a row of steps and through two large doors.

First day of school.

I was six years old, never having gone to kindergarten because Mama wanted me to wait until La Pata became old enough to enter school. Mama filled out some papers. A school monitor directed us to a classroom where Mama dropped me off and left to join some parents who gathered in the main hall.

The first day of school said a lot about my scholastic life to come. I was taken to a teacher who didn't know what to do with me. She complained about not having any room, about kids who didn't even speak the language. And how was she supposed to teach anything under these conditions! Although I didn't speak English, I understood a large part of what she was saying. I knew I wasn't wanted. She put me in an old creaky chair near the door. As soon as I could, I sneaked out to find my mother.

I found Rano's class with the mentally disabled children instead and decided to stay there for a while. Actually it was fun; they treated me like I was everyone's little brother. But the teacher finally told a student to take me to the main hall.

After some more paperwork, I was taken to another class. This time the teacher appeared nicer, but distracted. She got the: word about my language problem.

"Okay, why don't you sit here in the back of the class," she said. "Play with some blocks until we figure out how to get you more involved."

It took her most of that year to figure this out. 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 comer 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. Soon I stunk back there in the corner and the rest of the kids screamed out a chorus of "P.U.!" resulting in my being sent to the office or back home.

In those days there was no way to integrate the non-English speaking children. So they just made it a crime to speak anything but English. If a Spanish word sneaked out in the playground, kids were often sent to the office to get swatted or to get detention. Teachers complained that maybe the children were saying bad things about them. An assumption of guilt was enough to get one punished.

A day came when I finally built up the courage to tell the teacher I had to go to the bathroom. I didn't quite say all the words, but she got the message and promptly excused me so I didn't do it while I was trying to explain. I ran to the bathroom and peed and felt good about not having that wetness trickle down my pants leg. But suddenly several bells went on and off. I hesitantly stepped out of the bathroom and saw throngs of children leave their classes. I had no idea what was happening. I went to my classroom and it stood empty. I looked into other classrooms and found nothing. Nobody. I didn't know what to do. I really thought everyone had gone home. I didn't bother to look at the playground where the whole school had been assembled for the fire drill. I just went home. It got to be a regular thing there for a while, me coming home early until I learned the ins and outs of school life.

Not speaking well makes for such embarrassing moments. I hardly asked questions. I just didn't want to be misunderstood. Many Spanish-speaking kids mangled things up; they would say things like "where the beer and cantaloupe roam" instead of "where the deer and antelope roam."

That's the way it was with me. I mixed up all the words. Screwed up all the songs.

Eventually I did make friends. My brother often brought home a one-armed Mexican kid named Jaime. Sometimes we all hung out together. Jaime lost his arm when he was a toddler. Somehow he managed to get the arm stuck in the wringer of one of those old washing machines which pulled the clothes through two rollers. It tore his arm off at the socket. But later he made up for it with soccer feet and even won a couple of fights with his one good arm.

And then there was Earl. I didn't really know him until one day when we lined up following recess, he pulled the trenzas of a Mexican girl in our class named Gabriela. We all liked Gabriela. But she was also quiet, like me. So Earl pulled on her braids, the girl wailed, turned around and saw me standing there. Just then the teacher ran out of the classroom. Gabriela pointed in my direction. The one who never says anything. Because of this, I suffered through an hour's detention, fuming in my seat the whole time.

Later that evening, Earl came to my sister's house where we were visiting. Seni answered the door and looked askance at him.

"What do you want?"

"I want to know if the boy upstairs can play?"

"I don't know, I don't think so."

"Tell him I got some marbles. If it's okay, I'd like him to play with me."

"I don't know, I don't think so."

I looked down from the attic window and saw the tall, thin boy in striped shirt and blue jeans. Under an arm was a coffee can. Inside the can, marbles rattled whenever Earl moved.

But going through Seni was becoming a chore. Earl looked past her to a large, round woman in a print dress: My mom. She looked at the boy and then yelled up the stairs in Spanish.

"Go and play, Grillo," she said. "You stay in the attic all the time. Go and play. Be like other boys. ¿Ya!"

Earl waited patiently as the Rodríguez household quaked and quavered trying to get me downstairs and into the yard. Finally, I came down. Earl smiled broadly and offered me the can of marbles.

"This is for taking the rap today, man."

I looked hard at him, still a little peeved, then reached out for the can and held the best marble collection I had ever seen. I made a friend.

Desert winds swept past the TV antennas and peeling fences, welcome breezes on sweltering dry summer days when people came out to sit on their porches, or beneath a tree in dirt yards, or to fix cars in the street.

But on those days the perils came out too -- you could see it in the faces of street warriors, in the play of children, too innocent to know what lurked about, but often the first to fall during a gang war or family scuffle.

103rd Street was particularly hard. It was the main drag in Watts, where most of the businesses were located, and it was usually crowded with people, including dudes who took whatever small change one might have in their pocket.

On days like that Rano, Jaime, Earl and I ventured out to the "third," as 103rd Street was called, or by the factories and railroad tracks playing dirt war with other kids. Other times we played on the rooftop and told stories.

"Did you ever hear the one about the half-man?" Earl asked.

"The what?" Jaime replied. "What's a half-man?"

"Well, he's a dude who got cut in half at the railroad tracks over there by Dogtown."

"Yeah, go on."

"So now he haunts the streets, half of him one place, the other half in another place -- and he eats kids."

"Man, that's sick," Rano said. "But I got one for you. It's about el pie."

"What the hell is that?"

"Pie means foot in Spanish...and that's all it is! One big foot, walking around."

Gusts of winds swirled around the avocado tree branches as the moonlight cast uncanny shadows near where we related our tales.

"And you heard about La Llorona, right?" Rano continued.

"Oh, yeah, sure..."

"She's an old Mexican lady --"

"You mean Mrs. Alvarez?"

We laughed.

"Nah, this lady once got all her children and cut them up into tiny pieces."

"And..."

"And then she went all over the neighborhood, sprinkling bits of their bodies everywhere."

"And then..."

"So then God saw what she did and cursed her to walk the world, looking for her children -- weeping -- for all eternity. That's why she's called La Llorona, the weeping woman. And you know what, she picks up other kids to make up for the ones she's killed."

The leaves rustled, giving out an eerie sound. All of us jumped up, including Rano. Before anyone could say good night, we stumbled over one another, trying to get out of there, climbed off the roof, and ran through bedsheets and dresses hanging on a line, dashing like mad as we made our way home.

We changed houses often because of evictions. My dad constantly tried to get better work; he tried so many things. Although he was trained as a teacher, graduated with a degree in biology and had published Spanish textbooks in Mexico, in Los Angeles everyone failed to recognize his credentials. In Los Angeles, he was often no more tall over the neighborhood, sprinkling bits of their bodies everywhere."

"And then..."

"So then God saw what she did and cursed her to walk the world, looking for her children -- weeping -- for all eternity. That's why she's called La Llorona, the weeping woman. And you know what, she picks up other kids to make up for the ones she's killed."

The leaves rustled, giving out an eerie sound. All of us jumped up, including Rano. Before anyone could say good night, we stumbled over one another, trying to get out of there, climbed off the roof, and ran through bedsheets and dresses hanging on a line, dashing like mad as we made our way home.

We changed houses often because of evictions. My dad constantly tried to get better work; he tried so many things. Although he was trained as a teacher, graduated with a degree in biology and had published Spanish textbooks in Mexico, in Los Angeles everyone failed to recognize his credentials. In Los Angeles, he was often no more than a laborer.

One day a miracle happened. My dad obtained a substitute teaching job in the San Fernando Valley, at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, teaching Spanish to well-off white children.

My dad must have thought we had struck oil or something. He bought a house in Reseda. In those days, this made us the only Mexican family around. It was a big house. It had three bedrooms, which meant the boys could have their own room, the girls theirs and my parents could be alone. It had two baths, a large, grassy yard and an upstanding, stucco garage.

I went to a school on Shirley Avenue which actually had books. I remember being chased back home a lot by the Anglo kids. But we were so glad to be in Reseda, so glad to be away from South Central Los Angeles.

Even my brother enjoyed success in this new environment. He became the best fighter in the school, all that he went through in Watts finally amounting to something. The big white kids tried to pick on him, and he fought back, hammered their faces with quick hands, in street style, after which nobody wanted to mess with him. Soon the bullies stopped chasing me home when they found out I was José's brother.

My dad went nuts in Reseda. He bought new furniture, a new TV, and he had the gall to throw away the old black & white box we had in Watts. He bought a new car. He was like a starving man in a candy store, partaking of everything, touching whatever he couldn't eat. He sat on a mountain of debt. But his attitude was "who cares?" We were Americans now. We were on our way to having a little bit of that dream. He was even doing it as a teacher, what he was trained for. Oh what a time it was for my father!

My mother, I could tell, was uncomfortable with the whole set-up. She shied away from the neighbors. The other mothers around here were good. looking, fit and well-built. My pudgy mom looked dark, Indian and foreign, no matter what money could buy. Except she got her false teeth. It seemed Mama was just there to pick up the pieces when my father's house of cards fell. She knew it would.

When it happened, it happened fast, decisively. It turned out Taft High School hired my father to teach Spanish on a temporary basis. Apparently the white kids couldn't understand him because of his accent. He wrote letters to the school board proposing new methods of teaching Spanish to American children so he could keep working. They turned them down, and Taft High School let him go.

We weren't in Reseda very long, less than a school year. Then the furniture store trucks pulled into the driveway to take back the new sofas, the washing machine, the refrigerator -- even the TV. A "For Sale" sign jabbed into the front lawn. The new car had been repossessed. We pulled out of Reseda in an old beat-up Dodge. Sad faces on our neighbors were our farewell. I supposed they realized we weren't so bad for being Mexican. We were going back to an old friend -- pobreza.

We moved in with Seni, her husband, and their two daughters. They were then occupying an apartment just outside East Los Angeles. Seni's girls were about the same age as me, my brother and sisters, although we were their uncles and aunts. They also had nicknames. Ana Seni was called Pimpos, which doesn't mean anything I know of. But Rano called her "Beanhead" and that took. Aidé was called La Banana because as a baby she had shades of blonde hair. They later had another daughter named Beca, also güerita.

Like most Latinos, we had a mixture of blood. My half. brother Alberto looked Caribbean. His mother came from Veracruz on the Caribbean side of Mexico which has the touch of Africa. The rest of us had different shades of Spanish white to Indian brown.

Uprooted again, we stuffed our things in a garage. The adults occupied the only two bedrooms. The children slept on makeshift bedding in the living room. My grandmother Catita also stayed with us. There were eleven of us crushed into that place. I remember the constant fighting. My dad was dumped on for not finding work. Seni accused her husband of having affairs with other women. Mama often stood outside alone, crying, or in the garage next to all our things piled on top of each other.

Rano and I sought refuge in the street.

One night, we came home late after having stocked up on licorice and bubble gum. We walked past police cars and an ambulance. Colored lights whirled across the tense faces of neighbors who stood on patches of grass and driveway. I pushed through low voices and entered the house: Blood was splattered on a far wall.

Moments before, Seni had been brushing Pimpos' hair when, who knows why, she pulled at the long sections. The girl's screams brought in my sister's husband. An argument ensued. Vicious words. Accusations.

Seni then plucked a fingernail file from the bathroom sink. She flashed it in front of my brother-in-law's face. He grabbed for her hand. The nail file plunged into his arm. Mom and Dad rushed in, ramming my sister against the wall; nail file crashed steely bright onto the linoleum floor.

Soon after the incident, the landlord evicted us all. This was when my mother and father broke up. And so we began that car ride to the train station, on the way back to Mexico, leaving L.A., perhaps never to come back.

We pull into a parking lot at the Union station. It's like a point of no return. My father is still making his stand. Mama looks exhausted. We continue to sit in our seats, quiet now as Dad maneuvers into an empty space. Then we work our way out of the car, straightening our coats, gathering up boxes and taped-over paper bags: our "luggage." Up to this juncture, it's been like being in a storm -- so much instability, of dreams achieved and then shattered, of a silence within the walls of my body, of being turned on, beaten, belittled and pushed aside; forgotten and unimportant. I have no position on the issue before us. To stay in L.A. To go. What does it matter? I've been a red hot ball, bouncing around from here to there. Anyone can bounce me. Mama. Dad. Rano. Schools. Streets. I'm a ball. Whatever.

We are inside the vast cavern of the station. Pews of swirled wood are filled with people. We sit with our bags near us, and string tied from the bags to our wrists so nobody can take them without taking us too. My father turns to us, says a faint goodby, then begins to walk away. No hugs. He doesn't even look at us.

"Poncho."

The name echoes through the waiting area.

"Poncho."

He turns. Stares at my mother. The wet of tears covers her face. Mama then says she can't go. She will stay with him. In L.A. I don't think she's happy about this. But what can a single mother of four children do in Mexico? A woman, sick all the time, with factory work for skills in a land where work is mainly with the soil. What good is it except to starve.

"Está bien," Dad says as he nears my mother. "We will make it, mujer. I know it. But we have to be patient. We have to believe."

Mama turns to us and announces we are not leaving. I'm just a ball. Bouncing outside. Bouncing inside. Whatever.

Copyright © 1993 by Luis J. Rodriguez

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Guide

Always Running

Luis J. Rodriguez

1. Luis Rodriguez relates the events that led his family from Ciudad Juarez to Los Angeles. What do you think the events that surround his father's coming to the United States say about the immigration experience? How do you think such a history could influence the self-perception of the locos and other Mexican kids — as well as the way Anglos perceive them?

2. The yearly battle, "the Tradition," seems to help reinforce the identity of the groups involved. Why do you think this tradition could be reassuring to both groups, even though it centers on violence? What does each group get out of it?

3. Luis reflects on the power of prejudice in this way: "If you came from the Hills, you were labeled from the start...Already a thug. It was harder to defy this expectation than just to accept it....Why not make it your own?" (p. 84). What are some examples of Luis and others making the stereotypes and prejudices "their own"? Do you think Luis's logic is empowering or self-defeating? Why?

4. Always Running gives many examples of how the violence between Sangra and Las Lomas is constantly renewed. Do you think this cycle of vengeance could be broken? If so, how?

5. Discuss Luis's near-death experience and attempted suicide? How were these two events connected to his officially becoming a Lomas loco during the same period?

6. Did the community centers affect gang life? If so, how? Discuss the influence of community center organizers Chente Ramirez and Sal Basuto in the life of some of the gang members — do you think more of these centers could alleviate the problem of gang violence? Why or why not?

7. Why do you think drug use was so prevalent in the communities Luis describes? Compare and contrast the different roles drugs played in the lives of the residents of these communities.

8. Discuss the role of women in Luis' life. How does he treat them? What do you think shaped his attitude towards women — the media? In his community? In his family life?

9. What role did politics and politicians play in Luis' life? Do you think political organizations were more effective than the many religious groups who also converged on the barrio?

10. The power of expression plays an integral role in Luis's journey, both in terms of personal growth and in terms of becoming a voice for an underrepresented community. Is there a difference between art as an expression of an individual and art as an expression of a culture? Is one more valuable than the other?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 106 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(71)

4 Star

(26)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 106 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 20, 2011

    A Good Book to Get Urban Kids to Start Reading

    I am from a low-income neighborhood in NorCal and this was the first book I ever read. Thank you, Mr. Lenoble, my English teacher. I grew up around gangs-nortenos in my area- and this book does by no means glorify that gang lifestyle. Because this book allows the reader an in-depth omni perspective into Luis' mind, you feel his fear and desperation. Thank you Luis for trying to turn kids away from this gang crap.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2013

    Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez is a novel that captures the

    Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez is a novel that captures the truth about gang life in L.A in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s. Throughout the novel the character seems to always be running from all of his problems as he is surrounded by many of them. As you are reading a movie is being portrayed in your mind throughout the whole book. The author uses a thousand words to describe the intense situations and what he witnessed happening from the start of his childhood to his teens.

    This novel informs of the tragedies that have happened to the people that have were involved in felonies. It informs about the corruption with the police and they had a lot to do with people from different gangs. The police would tell one gang that the other said that they were weak; this made gangs want to fight each other. Due to all of the things that were wrong in the community dealing with the fear of the police and rival gangs Rodriguez was also having family problems, he would intoxicate himself to try to forget about everything. To take easy way out he thought that by committing suicide would end it all. After trying to commit suicide he realizes that’s the right thing to do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Great!

    read this back in 8th grade. Love it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    The opinion paper by: Cristian g. In the book Always Running Lui

    The opinion paper by: Cristian g.
    In the book Always Running Luis j. Rodriguez is an astonishing writer because of his truthfulness and his use of wonderful slang. He expresses himself in ways no one has dared to try. His story starts off with him being the son of two Mexican immigrants and a brother to many siblings. In the book he describes how he lives in L.A in a very small house with two parents and several brothers and sisters. Very early in the book he is faced with gang related things and joins a gang. He grows up and goes into his teenage years but at the same time he gets more involved into the gangster lifestyle. He attends parties, robberies, shoot outs, gang meeting. Luis is a very talented author and writer and he shares his experience with us as he grows up in all the gang violence and the political and racial differences in which those times were many. In this book we are exposed to learning how Mr.Rodriguez change his life by taking what little things he had and knew and changing them into tremendous and wonderful things. His use of Spanish word make the book more interesting than it already is. The readers that are now reading this book learn how hard it was to walk on certain streets or to go to certain parks without with people looking at them wrong because of their skin color .They learn that the problems that they have now aren’t as half as bad as what people back in the day had. After years in the gang life Luis starts realizing that he has a purpose in life and he started changing his attitude. Now Luis is a very respected man and role model to most teenage boys and girls. He goes to schools and talks to teenagers all over the country. His book shows that you can start off with little and end up with a whole bunch. Instead of being respected for what he did wrong, he got more respect for what he did right. This book is a great read and would recommend it for grades seventh and up. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    wwfjef

    wwfjef

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Always Running is a great book. The book tells a story of an imm

    Always Running is a great book. The book tells a story of an immigrant, rising from the bottom, that is well written. This was a great read and an inspiring story.

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  • Posted September 25, 2012

    Always Running By: Luis J. Rodriguez is a fabulous novel. Alwa


    Always Running By: Luis J. Rodriguez is a fabulous novel. Always Running tells a story about Gangs down in L.A. and how you can live to overcome the bad influences. The story is about the author growing up; He comes to live in L.A. and is raised there. He is constantly beat down by his brother and as he gets older other gangs. In his life he constantly moves in and out of homes because of the loss of money. He is in and out of trouble with the cops and has gone to jail. In the end, the book tells you how he overcame all the issues and bad influences. I highly recommend this book to young adults and adults because of the sense of passion in his writing; also how he writes a purpose. The author convinces you that life is hard and unexpected but if you live through it and accept life’s challenges. You will be fine. My overall rating of this book is excellent. Always Running kept me on edge till the very last word! Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    This book was intriguing and always had your mind thinking

    This book was intriguing and always had your mind thinking about what could go wrong. Always Running is a writing combining some of the history in gang life and a young boy’s life story being involved in these gangs. Luis Rodriguez grew up in a struggling home of many children and argumentative parents. As a child it was difficult for him and his siblings to stay out of trouble. After moving around many times and crossing the boarder from Mexico to the United States the family ended in Las Angeles, California. Right away Luis got involved in gang related events. As he entered his teen years, he had already been a part of fights, break-ins, shootings and many other destructive incidents. As he grew older, peers and significant persons in his life did as much as they could to break him from his unhealthy habits related to his gang he was a part of. He soon realized he had a better life meant for him and went around to schools teaching them about what he went through and how if he could go back again he would think twice about the decisions he made. This is where this book came from. He told of writing a book during the story.
    This book was very graphic in it’s descriptions of some of the circumstances the boys took place in. Although the descriptions were somewhat disturbing, they were real eye openers. They painted an image in my head that I will never forget and I will always remember the pain that those people felt. It proved that these shootings and rapes are all real and are a very serious matter in the world. Luis Rodriguez described many incidents where he really did not want to be involved. He ended up in these situations mainly because of peer pressure. He didn’t want to hurt his reputation with his friends and those around him. This is a huge role in our world today. Every child faces these decisions under these conditions. This book shows the bad side of the decisions. you could tell Rodriguez wrote this book with passion and meaning. He had a message to convey to his young and even to the world that there is always a better choice and there is almost always a way out if you start to travel down the wrong path.
    One thing that was really displeasing about this book was, some of the easiest words were spelled incorrectly, as if in slang. Although this way of writing showed how little education these families received it was very irritating and something that really stood out to me. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It really made me think and realize what others are going through. Now I know what it’s like in the shoes of a gang member and I am thankful that I didn’t choose that path for my life.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    Always Running is an inspiring book about the struggles that a y

    Always Running is an inspiring book about the struggles that a young boy experiences when he is sucked into the gang scene. The book is heart wrenching to read because of the innocence that Rodriguez and his friends lost so early on. Their early experiences with violence and drugs will shock you. For readers who have direct experience with gangs this book eliminates all the glamour that you might associate with being in a gang. Rodriguez speaks from his heart and from his mind at the time of the story and the reader can really get an understanding for the pressure that many young boys are under to join their peers in gangs. I could feel the sense of urgency that Rodriguez felt to find a way to protect himself and he sought protection in numbers by joining in on “la vida loca.”
    I really appreciated Rodriguez’s voice as a narrator because I could tell that his words were sincere. He wrote the book in order to show his son the dangerous life he will face if he continues down the gang path. Because Rodriguez is so passionate and genuine in what he is writing, this book is very effective in the fatherly message it is trying to convey. If I was a parent and was worried about my son I would have him read this book before he goes too far down the wrong path.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2011

    Best Book EVER Read

    Things Fall Apart is the most interesting and amazing book I've ever read. From the time when Luis, a Mexican boy growing up in the burbs of L.A., was just a boy to the time when he was a young man in high school, his story never ceases to amaze. When he was a boy him and his older brother Rano would fight with each other and "play around". Apparently to Rano, playing around meant pushing Luis of the roof and getting in fights at school. By the time Luis was in middle school, he was sexually active, already experimenting with drugs, and Rano was dead due to a fall through a skylight at the elementary school.
    Luis had it tough enough being of color in a prejudice 1960's community; doing it while in the gang and doing drugs made it even harder. Luis was thrown out of school multiple times and got in many fights including one that broke his jaw which never healed correctly giving him the nick-name "chin". By the time he was a senior in high school, he was done experimenting with drugs, trying to kick the gang life, and was the head or an organization which helped kids in the gang and tried to change the appearance of the community. Luis had really turned his life around.
    The reason I love this book so much is because it is the only book that has ever captured my attention fully; it's the only book I've ever wanted to read. The way Luis tells his story is with such passion and detail that you feel like your right there beside him. He has such a way with words that you feel his pain or sadness or anger. Many times throughout the book I just wanted to hit something because I was so mad about what happened to him and the way Chicanos and Latinos were treated. Luis goes through so much that you just feel sorry for him. Luis's story will go down as one of the greatest survivor and fighter stories I've ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2011

    Highly Reccomended Non-Fiction Book

    The book Always Running is about a Latino boy named Luis who grows up in a tough gang-infested neighborhood. Luis joins a few gangs while watching and feeling the intense effects that the violence can have on people. Eventually he begins to create school and neighborhood groups for his Latino peers to try and stop the gang violence and give the Latino people the respect and rights they deserve. In the book it has many life lessons that the author experienced throughout his life. This lesson Luis learns completely changes his life around and transforms Luis from a fierce gang-banger into a role model to all in society. It gives courage and strength to anybody who is the underdog in a situation. Luis pushes through the harsh conditions of his environment to achieve what he set his goals to never giving in or settling for what life gave him. All he did was refuse to step down and instead go the extra mile, where none of his peers had gone before. I highly recommend the book to anybody over the age of 13 because it does have some pretty graphic and descriptive scenes throughout the book so it is not a good fit for young readers. The extremely descriptive flow of the story makes the reader feel the pain, depression and triumph that Luis experienced in the book. It captivated and caught my attention once I got into the book and is easily one of the better ones I have read in quite a while. The book was also inspiring to me because it made me want to become a strong leader character in my own life like Luis. I also loved the purpose of the story and how it was meant for Luis's son and to guide him in the direction that Luis took. I give it a perfect 5 out of 5 stars because it was an all-around great book. The style of writing put you right in the ghetto setting and emotional situations of the book. It also has a great flow of the timeline within the story never droning on or leaving a scene not described enough. The book never falls short on word choice and gives all the characters separate personalities to have a wide variety of people in the book. This is in the top 5 books I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2011

    A Great Read

    Always running tells the life story of Luis J. Rodriquez, who had for most of his life growing up being involved in multiple gangs. He grew up surrounded by gangs in Chicago, when his family packed up and moved to Los Angeles, California, his gang days were just getting started. He struggled with his family especially his brother who was fighting most of the time. When he moved to LA he became involved in multiple violent gangs. By the young age of twelve he was an experienced member of street gang warfare. He explains that when involved in a gang it is hard to get out of the gang. Once you're in, you're in. Rodriquez shows the darker side of white America, a side that most people would rather not read about, by explaining how he dealt with racism. He was always a victim of racism either by the cops, his teachers or even classmates at school. Whereas the book was written magnificently, there are graphic descriptions of the gang's actions towards other people. Intentionally or un-intentionally while writing the book Rodriquez exposed the faults of gangs, and also the faults of individuals and society as a whole. The book tells the story that an individual can leave a life behind and triumph over society. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the way that the book was written, it is practically flawless. I especially like the way that the book reads like a fiction but is actually a non-fiction. The graphic portions of the book make it an adult read only, but if anybody is looking for an excellently written book, then I highly recommend Always running.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2011

    Amazing book

    Always Running by Luis Rodriguez is a great auto-biography about the hardships and terrors of the gang life in LA. As a kid Luis was mistreated by everyone be it his brother or his teachers. His life at school was always hard because he couldn't relate to anyone. Soon he found the gangs as his only form of family and once he got mixed into the gangs it was nearly impossible to leave. Though he was a talented writer and artist Rodriguez never had an oppurtunity to show his true talents until he met a person who got out of gangs named Chente. Chente was able to show Luis how terrible gangs really were. Once Luis got over the terrors of gangs he was able to flourish in the real world. Though this is a great book that is definitely worth reading it is not for children. This story is extremely graphic but it is only detailed because it has to be in order to show how gang life really is. Throughout the book Rodriguez is able to convey the wrongs not only about gangs but of society as well. The book really shows the ghastly ways of rich white America. Rodriguez recalls his life being full of racist comments from not only teenagers but adults and teachers at his school. The worst part of the racist part of the book was about the police men in the innercity. It is stated that the police were like there own gang where as they thrived off of beating up the latinos and arresting them for no reason. In my opinion this is an exceptional book that is a must read. The book is at some points very hard to read just because it is so real. But in the end it is very redeeming not only for the reader but for other young individuals who are in the gang life. I really liked part of the book was when Luis made the change from a harsh and mean gang member to a sweet and simple young man. I also enjoyed when he stood up to society because he wasn't going to be pushed around anymore by people who thought they were better then him. In my opinion the book was the closet thing there is to flawless. The only thing that I didn't enjoy in the book was having to look at the glossary when the characters would use slang words in Spanish. Overall, this book was a perfect 10 in my mind. So if your ever looking for a real book that is a great read and you can deal with the graphic portion of the book I highly recommend Always Running.

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  • Posted September 11, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Overcoming Life - Inspriational Life Story

    Always Running is the amazing true story about life in a gang and getting out. With love, loyalty, and action this story is a captivating account of the hardships involved in gang life. Perseverance is prominent throughout the whole book, jumping out of pages and forcing you to feel the struggle of the unchosen fate of many of the men with neglected lives. Starting life with pristine conditions may have altered the outcome for many gang associates. After starting down the road most traveled, the only thing that would help Luis now would be himself, and some serious change. This book is not only graphic in the details of which Rodriguez recalls his past, but also uplifting in his triumphs. Being from the suburbs with rows of houses mimicking one another with Desperate Housewives perfectionism emanating from each household with wives at home with kids, cooking in the kitchen, I can't really say I can relate with his tales of murder at a young age and hardcore drug use under bridges. But that is the appeal of this story to me. Diving into a world of unknown experience without scrambling my brains and being locked up sitting on a bench wearing the most unflattering orange. I could also see the appeal of this story for people who have been in those experiences though. Seeing how one man conquered the odds is inspiring to many to get themselves out of their own difficult circumstances. The only difficulty in reading this book was the use of Spanish words within the text. Flipping to the glossary in the back of the book was very time consuming in my effort to understand what was going on in the story. If you are in the search for a nonfiction story that reads more like a piece of fiction and keeps your attention page to page then this book is for you. From the beginning of the story you fall in love with the character, keeping you reading just to find out what happens next, hoping for the best. Luis Rodriguez evoked fear and deep thought within me. My experiences nowhere near compare to his but it did make me reflect on my own life, helping me to find the courage to persist through the tough situations. Appreciation for my own life was also a result of reading this heartfelt tale. The differences between lives cannot overpower the universal themes that this story expresses. This book may not be for all ages but it is for all people, because everyone has hardships. Everyone has a story.

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  • Posted May 18, 2011

    highly recomended

    This capitivating book is about Luis J. Rodriguez and his life through his big life change, crossing the border to live in america. Luis and his family needed more money, so they moved to L.A. where his father became a school teacher, forcing Luis to attend school, without knowing how to speak much english. Luis soon realized that he was much different from the other kids, he was ignored, treated like he was ignorant because of the language barier and picked on. Throught out his whole life he learned that he was different. then came a major turning point in Luis' life , he joined a gang. By his ate teens luis saw more than most teens haven't seen from beating, to murder to arrests, gang life was not the road Luis wanted to go down. This book was written for his son, Ramiro, and any other teens involved in gangs. This book shows the impact of gang life and how it claims and impacts the people around it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2010

    i highly recommend this to the people who like autobiograghies that focus on the hardships of grownig up as a young chicano that comes from a different heritage.

    By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East L.A. gang warfare in 1975. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed shootings, beatings, and arrests, then watched with shakining fear as drugs, murder, suicide, and senseless acts of street crime claimed friends and family members o his own. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation. Achieving success as an award-winning Chicano poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more , until his son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    Fantastic Read

    takes the reader through Luis J. Rodriguez's life story. The chapters travel through the beginnings of gangs to the author's gang life to his son's gang life. It is written so simply, but that is perhaps what makes it even more fascinating. He portrays himself as himself: a simple citizen of Los Angeles just living his own life, which happens to be different than most of you reading this review. It is a wonderful story, and harsh truth. It will expose you to the rougher experiences in life, as well as show you the most meaningful times and the privelages we have. I love this book. Very well done; I would highly recommend it!

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    My Favorite!

    This strong book is about the struggle of a family trying to make a living in Los Angeles in an extremely rough neighborhood. It is an autobiography of Luis J. Rodriguez and his life as one of the youngest in his family, growing up in gangs, dropping out of school and many other things that a kid shouldn't see when he is being taught what is right, and what is wrong. Yet, Rodriguez uses his talent for writing and his knowledge he gains from fighting his entire life and his extreme talent for writing to create amazing writing pieces. This book involves a tough outlook on a young child's life, yet, it involves so many details and descriptions of each event that it makes this book a fascinating novel that I didn't want to put down. I read this book numerous times over the summer because of its passion and dedication to involve the reader in his life. I would recommend this book to anyone with an excitement for learning about a harsh different culture, and for someone with an ability to absorb lots of compelling information, which will help you in your own life to better understand other situations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An amazing story filled with suspense and conflict...

    The book "Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A." by Luis Rodriguez is a great example of a book that is very entertaining and interesting, but also sends a very weighted message. The autobiography shows how Luis' life is all about going through the darkest hours of life and living to tell about them. In the beginning he is just young immigrant trying to find his place in a brand new country, one that doesn't want him there. He enters elementary school, but is shoved out of sight by the ignorant faculty who simply don't know how to handle him. Luis is never given a role model to look up to, so he turns to the raw power of the gang lords. The violence and commotion excite him, so he enters the world as a child. His teenage years are dominated by the gang, and he stumbles through barely making it out alive. When Luis finally does escape the life, he is mentally and emotionally scarred, but determined to make his life right again.
    This book is one of my all time favorites because it has so much suspense and conflict, but you know that somehow everything will turn out right in the end. It really gets the reader a good luck at "the life" and how it's not really "cool" to be a gangster. Luis Rodriguez is an amazing author not just because he was able to tell his life's story so well, but also because he touched so many people's lives. Everyone should read this book because it shows that absolutely anyone can overcome their situations and make something of themselves. He also illustrates the importance of staying in school, and learning as much as you can about yourself. Another important theme Rodriguez shows is that no matter how bad life gets, you can always push yourself up again. Everyone experiences theses themes in their everyday life, and this book can help you get through them.

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  • Posted September 14, 2010

    AWESOME READ!

    This is the life story of Luis j. Rodriguez, an L.A. Latino. He tells us of his life as a teen gangster, and how he survived those years while he watched his friends and family die in gang fights, racist police, and drugs. Luis shows in this story the darker side of American society in that time, a side which many refuse to acknowledge. He shows how he has participated in acts of crime against himself and others. Luis found his way out through writing and powerfully describes his actions. He intertwines Spanish throughout the novel, using the same slang he used in the barrios while talking to his "homeboys". I like this because not only does it show his true colors and heritage, but the connection he felt with his "homeboys". Along with his bravery he shows his weaknesses in his attempts to do suicide, and succumbing to drugs. I would recommend this book to everyone. It's captivating and hard to put down because the way Luis includes the reader into the story. The reader feels the emotions that Luis did at that time, making it that much more fantastic. It flows like poetry and truly makes it a pleasant read. It's a riveting book and is worth the time put into reading it.

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