Luis J. Rodríguez began writing Always Running as a sixteen-year-old gang member in East Los Angeles, but he did not complete it until his own son, Ramiro, joined a similar street gang in Chicago at age fifteen. Rodríguez’s description of la vida loca (the crazy life) is a testament to his difficult adolescence in a poor barrio, a memorial to friends of days and times long dead or lost, and an attempt to communicate with his son and save him from a fate that Rodríguez himself narrowly escaped.
As have many children of Spanish-speaking background, Rodríguez began school at a disadvantage, unable to speak English. “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 . . . 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.” Rodríguez thus entered mainstream culture as a social outcast, uncomfortable in the English of the dominant culture, and made uncomfortable in his native language.
Rodríguez had his first skirmish with the police at ten, after climbing a school fence to play basketball after hours. “We were constant prey,” writes Rodríguez. He and his friends were pursued by the police, known to be racist and violent toward minorities, pursued by gangs, by junkies, by older white adolescents, even...
(The entire section is 455 words.)