Republic of East L.A.

Republic of East L.A.

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by Luis J. Rodriguez

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From the award-winning author of Always Running comes a brilliant collection of short stories about life in East Los Angeles. Whether hilariously capturing the voice of a philosophizing limo driver whose dream is to make the most of his rap-metal garage band in "My Ride, My Revolution," or the monologue-styled rant of a tes-ti-fy-ing! tent revivalist named


From the award-winning author of Always Running comes a brilliant collection of short stories about life in East Los Angeles. Whether hilariously capturing the voice of a philosophizing limo driver whose dream is to make the most of his rap-metal garage band in "My Ride, My Revolution," or the monologue-styled rant of a tes-ti-fy-ing! tent revivalist named Ysela in "Oiga," Rodriguez squeezes humor from the lives of people who are not ready to sacrifice their dreams due to circumstance.

In these stories, Luis J. Rodriguez gives eloquent voice to the neighborhood where he spent many years as a resident, a father, an organizer, and, finally, a writer: a neighborhood that offers more to the world than its appearance allows.

Editorial Reviews

Body & Soul
“a flashy take on the vital Spanglish-Speaking culture of East Los Angeles.”
Publishers Weekly
Poet, essayist and editor Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca; Gang Days in L.A.) assembles 12 gritty, hard-hitting snapshots taken from the lives of careworn characters struggling to survive amid crime, poverty and racism in the barrio of East Los Angeles. "My Ride, My Resolution" features Cruz Blancarte, a tough but likable limousine driver who witnesses firsthand the heartlessness of the city's rich and famous. When he's allowed to keep the limo overnight, Cruz seizes the opportunity to take sexy neighborhood girl Bernarda out on a date, but with disastrous results. Many stories play on themes of freedom and emotional release, interrelated for better or worse. In "Boom, Bot, Boom" an afternoon of barhopping turns two friends both newly unemployed and miserable into outlaws, while the poignant "Finger Dance" features a heavyhearted son who, after a lifetime of feeling unwanted, searches his dying father's face "for signs of love." Life falls apart quickly for steelworker Enrique in "Mechanics" when he gets laid off and his wife of 12 years moves out, taking the kids with her, yet he experiences a "pervasive serenity" despite his misfortune. Though there are few uplifting moments such as the one in "Sometimes You Dance with a Watermelon," which finds a grandmother attempting to rumba with the giant fruit on her head the collection as a whole attains a spirited, resilient rhythm. (Apr. 9) Forecast: Rodriguez has a strong reputation not only as an award-winning writer, but as the editor of Tia Chucha Press. The marketing campaign including an eight-city author tour, 15-city NPR campaign and print ads is excellent and will help extend what are likely to be strong regional sales in Southern California. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve stories from poet and memoirest Rodriguez (Always Running) paint a disturbing portrait of East Los Angeles, but fail to populate it with characters who transcend the political sensibility they seem to emerge from. In "My Ride, My Revolution," a limo driver crosses back and forth over the line between rich and poor while reading the Bible and Stephen King in his spare time; "Shadows" is an unformed depiction of the horror of alcoholism in a Hispanic family; the tough life of gang girls begins "Las Chicas Chuecas," but we quickly sneak behind the facade to witness the fragile lives of innocents; "Boom, Bot, Boom" reveals the adventures of an ex-con trying to right his life; "Mechanics" is a clumsy tale of love, labor and loss; "Oiga" offers a Mexican-Indian woman's bleak meditation on the love and life she's capable of; and "Miss East L.A." is a miniature mystery about a young man who wants to be a scribe finding himself conveniently given a job as a feature writer on the trail of a local murder. Rodriguez is skillful at rendering the aura of East LA, but too often shoots for a kind of scope that he has yet to master. In the scenes and exchanges that want to be the heart of the collection, there's a failure of execution: the people never quite become characters, and the stories fall short of the literary. The only previously published piece ("Sometimes You Dance With a Watermelon") has appeared widely, as both fiction and nonfiction, but despite its effort to assign nobility to difficult lives, its own political will more clearly formed than the characters it tries to defend. One wishes Rodriguez step back and look again at these lives, from the distance where East LA appears like a "skid row of lost dreams and spent realities, of fury—this is a riot town, after all—and acid rain." Misfires orbiting a worthwhile theme.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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7.94(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My Ride,
My Revolution

The long sleek limousine lays into the curved street as kids of all sizes, of many coughs and giggles, skirmish around it, climb its blinding chrome and white armor, smearing dirt and fingerprints on its tinted windows. The unshaven men gather around to put words together about this wonder on the roadway, to excavate a new vocabulary for this intrusion that seems to smirk at their poverty, to lay like a diamond on a garbage-strewn lot. But still, it's kind of their hostage. Here in a run-down section of East Los where limos don't belong — although here it is, laughing at fate, at "everything in its place," at a segmented society of "who has" and "who hasn't," and practically telling the world, " I am, in the barrio — how about that!"

I'm awake, sitting at the edge of my bed with my hands on my head, startled by the wedges of daylight through torn curtains, by the voices and inflections, their wild abandon, and by the men's search for living poignancy from the polished enormity in their midst.

We're all neighbors of small cottages near Prospect Park in Boyle Heights. The cottages face each other and onto a dry courtyard as vecindades are wont to do wherever old Los Angeles still rises out of gray ground, which I know something about because I read, because I spend many hours in libraries, because I care to know most everything about most nothing. One of the cottages, I swear, has twenty people in it: children, grandparents, wives, husbands, uncles, aunts, and probably a stranger whonobody knows, but they make him breakfast anyway.

I'm the limo driver. It's hard to believe that me, a longhaired, chiseled-faced, brown-red man can be the chauffeur of a luxury vehicle that we mostly only see in movies or magazines. But this is just the latest gig in a lengthy row of short-term and sometimes bizarre jobs I've had in my twenty-nine years — mostly because I won't do any work that demands commitment or an emotional investment. Like I won't clean the windows of downtown highrises or dig ditches — which only the undocumented would do anyway — or kill rats in sewage tunnels, or sit in an office cell, surrounded by half walls, bulletin boards, and phones.

Man, I hate phones.

I've been an extra in obscure movies, though I have to say I'm like an extra extra — you'd never spot me in a crowd of nobodies. I've played acoustic guitar at the Metro station downtown when it first opened — and before the cops started pushing the musicians out. And I've sat for people's apartments with their flea-bitten cats — one time I had to bomb a place with Raid to clear out the annoying blood-sucking vermin that practically ate me alive. Those cats were probably the most grateful co-workers I ever had.

What I like are jobs where I can think, listen to music, maybe read a book, and check out every mole and pimple of the city.

Like a limo driver.

I've just started. Only the other day, I first brought the limo home. It's not your basic paint-peeling Chevy or rusty pickup like the rest of the junk heaps around here. It is an extra seventy-one inches of curved metal-and-glass epiphany-creamy white, tinted windows, and dark gray leather interior. And apparently it's a big hit. I don't normally score big points with my cottage neighbors as it is.

My name is Cruz Blancarte. I'm Mexican, but I'm Indian. That's what everyone around here always brings to my attention — like they're not. Only I happen to look like I come out of the reservation. That's because I'm what you call a Purépecha. It's good to be clear about these things, especially for those who don't have an inkling about these matters. Some people call us Tarascans. We're known for taking on the Aztecs — the Mexikas — back before the conquista. We even made the Spaniards wish they'd never crossed our paths. We're a tough people from the hardiest parts of Michoacán. Many Purépechas still speak their original tongues and don't have anything to do with the mestizos — who are mostly Indians who've forgotten they're Indians. But the Purépechas are getting close to their last stand as poverty and neglect piles up against them. They're now too hungry, too drunk, and too despised most of the time to do anything substantial about it.

The thing is I don't wear my hair long because I'm Indian. I wear it long because I'm in a rap-and-rock band. The group is called La Cruz Negra — the Black Cross. It's a play on my name but also on darkness, Christ, and not being Christ. Somebody may consider us a rockero band — you know the Spanish-language rock groups that have streamed out of Mexico and other Latin countries. But except for our name, we only throw in Spanish words here and there. We sing mostly unintelligible English. But nobody cares. It's yells and hiccups. It's gravelly throats, guitar feedback, and ass-kicking drums. It's heart jumper cables — this is what we are.

There are four of us — four like most garage bands, like Metallica, like Rage Against the Machine, like Limp Bizkit. There's Lilo, Dante, Patrick, and myself. The other guys in the band don't know how to play that good — I'm the only one who's actually studied some music: guitar, a little piano, and bass. But they're the shits, man. They rock.

My mom, Ruby, is a Chicana activist from back in the day — you know, the sixties and seventies...

The Republic of East L.A.. Copyright © by Luis Rodriguez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Luis J. Rodriguez is the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Always Running, The Republic of East L.A., and Hearts and Hands, as well as poetry and books for children. He lives with his family in California.

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Republic of East L.A. 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Luis J. Rodriguez once again has painted a vibrant and complex picture of those who work, live, love and die in 'The Republic of East L.A.' Rodriguez's prose is straight-forward yet poetic as he tells us about the varied struggles of cholos/as, a budding journalist, a limousine driver, immigrants, working people, all sorts of gente. My favorite story is 'Sometimes You Dance with a Watermelon,' where forty-year-old Rosalba (an immigrant living in poverty and already a grandmother) needs to escape her crowded home to get a momentary bit of joy. She rouses her favorite granddaughter, Chila, and they drive to Grand Central Market where they buy a watermelon. Rosalba balances it on her head and starts to walk swaying 'back and forth to a salsa beat thundering out of an appliance store.' She and Chila get caught up in this joyous dance: 'Rosalba had not looked that happy in a long time as she danced along the bustling streets of the central city in her loose-fitting skirt and sandals. She danced in the shadow of a multi-storied Victorian -- dancing for one contemptuous husband and for another who was dead. She danced for a daughter who didn't love herself enough to truly have the love of another man. She danced for her grandchildren, especially that fireball Chila. She danced for her people, wherever they were scattered, and for this country she would never quite comprehend. She danced, her hair matted with sweat, while remembering a simpler life on an even simpler rancho in Nayarit.' This is powerful, beautiful collection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is incredible i mean its just breath taking to read storys that just are amazing. as you read this book it just makes you think about the stuff that you've seen or heard. luis rodrigue is amazing he is a great author and great story writer. this book is just there's no other word but amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book because i am 14,almost 15 and the book described somethings i know a lot about.I got in this life when i was 12.the book gives a lot of detail which i like.Im mexican-American(chicana)this book is inspiring me to get out of this life.I realized i've chose the wrong path but im still young and have a future.I dont think Ill be able to get ot of this life, maybe when im older.Luis,thankyou for writing this book.I grew up in East LA but when I was 8 i moved to Sacramento.Mi VIDA LOCA!