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Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. Kindle Edition
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About the Author
- ASIN : B0084LHW2Q
- Publisher : Open Road Media (June 12, 2012)
- Publication date : June 12, 2012
- Language : English
- File size : 4596 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 292 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #256,854 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Each one of the chapters in the book has a short phrase at the start which sets the theme for that section. The book is also not a traditional linear tale, but rather something like a series of short vignettes or mini-stories. Chapter Four for example starts with the phrase, “Oh, you’ll get over it…eventually.” It covers Luis’ teenage years where he goes through all the typical experiences that people do when they’re young and then they grow up and out of them. For instance, he was getting in so much trouble at school and with his gang that his mother kicked him out of the house and he had to live in the garage. His school was de facto segregated with the Mexicans all put in the lower track classes and he eventually dropped out. He started doing drugs first with sniffing glue. He got his first girlfriend, and he started working to support his family. Some of these were typical teen affairs and others not, but the point of the opening phrase was that this was a phase of his life, and then he would get over them as he matured.
The power of the book comes from the way he explains his experiences in a simply and straight forward, yet engaging way that draws the reader in along with all the craziness that he went through. For example, his gang life was all about violence. One time he randomly walked up to some low riders hanging out, started a fight, and stabbed a man in the chest. Another time there was a gang war and he fire bombed the family home of a rival gang member. Another time he became a student leader at his high school and organized walk outs to support Mexican American teachers and students. As part of the Chicano movement he organized kids and painted murals depicting Mexican culture. At the end, his life turned out bitter sweet. He got out of the gang life, graduated high school, and went to college, but then he dropped out over an older woman. His attempts to end gang violence and fight against racism also failed. To go through so much, from one extreme to another and survive it all is simply amazing, and what makes this one of the great books to read.
Though Always Running is a personal account of Rodriguez’s gang activity and later activism, it’s as much a historical account of the factors that led to the rise of gangs in LA in the 20th Century—and he blends the two perfectly. We see how those factors are similar to those that led Rodriguez to join a gang himself. He didn’t join because he wanted to do drugs, have power, and kill people, he joined because, if he didn’t, he’d be more vulnerable to being beaten, robbed, and/or killed growing up as an oppressed minority in a dangerous and chaotic world. A gang affiliation meant protection—but it also meant identity. Mexicans have long faced discrimination in this country, and many joined gangs as a way to celebrate their heritage of struggle. The book is filled with great quotes that explain this identity: “I’d walk into the counselor’s office for whatever reason and looks of distain greeted me—one meant for a criminal…It was harder to defy this expectation than just accept it…It was a jacket I could try to take off, but they kept putting it back on…So why not be proud? Why not be an outlaw? Why not make it our own?”
Though the book exposes a lot of ugliness, one of the major themes Rodriguez explores is his pride in Chicano heritage, and how this pride eventually inspired him to give up the gang lifestyle. When he’s able to explore his identity in more positive ways, such as through joining Chicano pride groups, painting murals, and writing about his experiences, Rodriguez slowly starts to leave the gang lifestyle behind, and in doing so, he begins to see through its shallowness and pointlessness. Though it may give kids protection and a feeling of pride, he shows how those doing the “protecting” may be the very people who you need protection from when you question their lifestyle and how silly their pride is when it comes at the expense of selling your own soul. Luckily for Rodriguez, he was able to escape this lifestyle, which is not something many of his friends could say. Death is always around every corner, and every turn of the page, and so few kids like Rodriguez are able to live long enough to see through this lifestyle and develop into productive members of society.
One of the most valuable parts of this book is its socio-political message about the horrible affects the oppression of minorities has on a society, and this message is as current and poignant today as it was when the book was written. Rodriguez explains how systemic racism was used throughout the history of LA to keep certain minority groups poor, disenfranchised, and controlled by their oppressors, and how this not only hurts the minority groups, but also hurts the oppressors. Society creates gangs then lives in fear of being attacked by them and police brutality results. It’s impossible today to turn on the news and avoid stories of policemen and women harassing, intimidating, assaulting, and sometimes, killing, specific demographics of US citizens for no other reason than their skin color, religious affiliation, national origins… This books is filled with so many examples of horrific crimes committed by police officers that it's hard not to be outraged. Granted, most of these crimes were committed against gang members, but these gang members were mostly misguided kids, and the cops, who are adults who’ve sworn to protect and defend US citizens, oftentimes cause more violence and crime than the gang members. Again, Rodriguez has a lot of great quotes to explain this: “In the barrio, the police are just another gang…Shootings, assaults and skirmishes between the barrios are direct results of police activity. Even drug dealing. I know this. Everybody knows this.” Quotes like this show why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important, and how it didn’t just emerge out of some bubble—the problem has always been here, and the more that people read books like Always Running, the better chances we have as a society to address it.
Part poetic personal story, part engaging historical lesson, part inspiration tale of redemption, part exultation of Chicano heritage, part poignant work of socio-political activism, Always Running is a multifaceted book dripping with live-in human experience and emotion, and I highly recommend it to everyone who cares about improving the world they live in.
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