Synopses & Reviews
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.
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 - Publishers Weekly
"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
"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
"Extraordinarily haunting and evocative."
-- Paul Ruffins, The Washington Post Book World
This award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member is now updated with a new Introduction and reading group guide.
About 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.
Reading Group Guide
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?