During the early nineties, Luis Rodriguez, author of the book Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., was inspired by writing a memoir on his early life in Los Angeles, named Always Running after learning that his son, Ramiro Rodriguez, was getting involved in the la vida loca, or according to Luis Rodriguez, “the life of a cholo or gang affiliate,” Luis Rodriguez was then further inspired to finish the memoir to dedicate to his son. In summary, the main purpose of the memoir was to make his son, Ramiro Rodriguez, become aware of the dangers of gang life, or by getting involved into one.
Luis Rodriguez was aware of the gang life due to the fact that Luis Rodriguez himself spent his initial years in Los Angeles, where he was engaged with other mischievous groups, or (violent) gangs, due to poverty. According from litcharts.com, during his first two years, Rodriguez was living in Juarez, Mexico along with his parents. Alfonso, Luis Rodriguez’s father, moved the whole family to Los Angeles where they lived in poor neighbourhood. Growing up in Los Angeles became a challenge due to the neighbourhood is dangerous, and Rodriguez is mocked by his teachers for not knowing how to speak English very well.
Eventually, Rodriguez learned that Los Angeles Police Department, or LAPD, is not to be trusted as he witnessed his friend, Tino, being chased by police officers but ended up falling to his death as he tried to escape. As gangs offered protection from LAPD, Rodriguez became attracted to gang lifestyle. Rodriguez then resorted to stealing by the age of seven, and he joined a “gang” when he was just eleven years old. At the same year, Rodriguez was gradually introduced to using drugs by the age of twelve (Rodriguez).
By the age of eighteen, Rodriguez officially joined a “big time” Los Angeles gang, wearing gang colors as part of membership. As he fought with the gangs, he slowly realizes that he was a victim of racism. Rodriguez began to suffer from depression and finds relief by listening to music, eventually began writing poetry and introduced himself to saxophone. By the age of twenty, five friends of Rodriguez had died because of the barrio gang life in which they were engaged. By becoming aware of his friends’ fate and breaking down, Rodriguez gradually turned his life around and his memoir, “Always Running,” depicts Rodriguez’s struggle with the gangs and some of his recoveries from gang life.
The main themes of the book are poverty, family, discrimination, and violence. It can be said that “Always Running” is an angry autobiography of Rodriguez who survived the gang wars of the late sixties and early seventies (Brunner). Nowadays, Rodriguez is a reputable poet, publisher and one of well-known editors. During his early teenage years, he was one of the key participants of la vida loca, or “the crazy life” in Spanish, the experience of the barrio gang. He has written this memoir to caution his son about the dangers and risks associated with the gangs before it’s too late. For Rodriguez, his childhood was all about poverty, discrimination and despair, in which the journey of his family from Mexico to United States has brought in memories, which stayed with Rodriguez “like a foul door” (Salinas).
Rodriguez’s father and his mother offered some stability to his life but even those were not enough. His school contributed nothing to his life other than some incompetent teachers and some violent playmates. When he was just thirteen years old, Rodriguez got tattooed, went deep into the world of drugs and sex, and also experienced severe gang wars. His life was something that spiralled downward into hell: armed robbery, heroin addiction, and paint snorting. Rodriguez then later attempted suicide after becoming aware of his friends’ fates. Several times he bounced in and out of incarceration.
One thing to note that one of the most valuable parts of “Always Running” is the socio-political message regarding the horrible impacts of oppression on the minorities has on the society. This message is as poignant in this contemporary world as it was when the book was actually written. Rodriguez has explained in his book the way systematic racism was used throughout the history of Los Angeles for keeping certain groups of minorities poor, controlled and disenfranchised by the oppressors of theirs. This not only affects the minorities, but also the oppressors as well. It is the same society that created such gangs, and then living in the fear of being attacked or killed by the gangs. Also, as stated in his book, Rodriguez took up boxing: “I came to kill. I rushed up to my opponents and mowed them down.”
However, later on when Rodriguez enrolled into his new high school, he discovered about student activism. He became a student journalist and the president of Chicano Club as well as the spokesman of the community of Mexican-American student (Metcalf). He also started writing by that time and had won a literary context, attended the Cal State and turned his life around. However, looking ahead, he sees a much more uncertain and severe path for his son.
As a preface of such an admirable memoir states, Rodriguez, who is an award-winning poet and the publisher of Tia Chucha, have decided to document his childhood and teenage days as a gang member of the East Los Angeles, in an effort to caution and awaken his teenaged son, Ramiro Rodriguez, so that he can get away from the gang life as early as possible, of which he has recently joined. Luis Rodriguez, in his youth have participated in several acts of violence himself. He was also imprisoned several times on several different occasions for the crimes that he has committed.
Unfortunately, the story depicts very little details behind the facts of his life as well as the activities in the gang in which he had participated in his early years. Rodriguez has presented several colorful characters in the book along with highly changing events like Mexican funerals, shootings, arrests and rapes but his style of writing renders much of the rich material unforgettable. He speaks out of a virtually unheard experience of himself, a young Chicano man who has survived the la vida loca gang culture in the South San Gabriel. Noting that his style of writing is completely raw, however, the setting and his style is brutally honest.
However, it is the lyricism that would potentially stop the readers in their tracks. With the same, Luis also gives voices to the unheard cry and brightens the heart, breaking cycle of violence and poverty which continues the cycle of the gang warfare and violence. Luis neither admits the defeat nor try to simplify the problem according to Brumble. He has a strong passion for true empowerment and reconciliation of the minority groups, such as the Mexican-American community. The book is actually thought-provoking. Reading the book, the readers may easily realize how lucky they are to live the life that they actually live, which is far from the world of gang life and violence.
The writing technique of Rodriguez is also very effective according to Theisen-Homer. The way in which his words flow from one page to another is really effective and attractive. Also, all of the characters in the book were well put together and were brutally real. The themes of the book: poverty, family, discrimination and violence can be seen by even the most casual readers. It is also to mention that, although this book is the personal account of the gang activity of Rodriguez and the later activism, the book is pretty much a historical account of the several different factors which resulted in the rise of gangs in the 20th century Los Angeles.
Hence, from the analysis, the book Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. provides a controversial and engaging look into the social-political factors which may have resulted in the proliferation of the street gangs in the last century in the areas where high proportion of the citizens have less opportunities and have significant obstacles. Although the story is equitably common, like Luis’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles for improving their lifestyle and despite of putting best efforts, his parents were not able to protect Rodriguez from getting involved into the world of violence and gangs that were surrounding him. The way the writer has presented the story makes the book valuable and unique.
Also, unlike other writers, Rodriguez did not romanticize the lifestyle of gangs: drugs, sex and crime, the way that most of the other writers would do, instead, he made use of the true human emotions and several insights to explain and describe the utter horrors of such a lifestyle in an attempt to stop any teenagers from seeking to live on the gang life. On Luis Rodriguez’s epilogue, fortunately for his son, Ramiro Rodriguez, has been avoiding gang life and has been reading poetry and listening to music. He concludes the memoir by celebrating the Rodney King aftermath of beating, which then Latinos and Blacks were working together in Los Angeles to protest oppression.