Poet shares work, gang experiences

By Sandra Masibay

Luis Rodriguez, a critically acclaimed novelist and poet, spoke about his life and work Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Heritage Room of the Holmes Student Center.

His new work, “La Vida Loca” translated to “The Crazy Life,” depicts the life he lead as a former gang member and his personal experiences of Los Angeles life, his family and fatherhood.

He said it was difficult for him to adapt and adjust to a new life and a new country, where he always felt unwelcome.

Rodriguez related his personal history as evidence of this.

Rodriguez’s father, a school principal, packed the family and its belongings into their car and headed from Chihuahua, Mexico, to the U.S., after disputes erupted between the school’s management and his father.

In the U.S., Rodriguez and his older brother faced setbacks in elementary school because of the language barrier. Rodriguez was set back a grade, his brother put in a class for retarded children. Neither had learning disabilities.

When faced with the question, “Why gangs?,” Rodriguez, who joined his first gang when he was 11, replied, “I was broken down by the schools, police, being in a community where I was not wanted. I saw the ‘Mystics’ one day at school. They brought the whole school to its knees. I was shy, broken, fearful. I wanted that power.”

Rodriguez took that power and “ran with it.” Many times it was his ability to run, to hide, that saved his life. Friends of his were not so lucky.

By the time Rodriguez turned 18, 25 of his friends had died. Four of them were shot by police, he said.

It is no coincidence the subjects of many of Rodriguez’s poems tell stories about the loss of loved ones, containing underlying themes of police brutality.

“The Best of Us” is one of Rodriguez’s poems dealing with the issue of police brutality.

“It was dedicated to a friend who was shot by the police for no reason. He was one of the best of us, but they killed him anyway,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s strong voice resonated against walls of an almost-filled room as he read excerpts from “The Best of Us.”

“‘They say I should be glad I am not suffering from hunger, but I am starving from the pangs of discontent. The lies come in with suits and ties, take these eyes and see the truth,'” he read.

Rodriguez was not only lucky he lived, he also was lucky to break out of the cycle of gangs and give back to his community.

“I was tired of all the killing—when you’ve been to all the funerals, seen all your friends dying. We can’t let this happen. We’ve got to fight this. We’re not going (to) get anywhere if we fight between ourselves,” Rodriguez said.

It was only after Rodriguez found solace and power in his writing that his life began to change.

“Language is power. The only way I dealt with my anger before was to hurt people. When I finally found a way to bring it out, things began to change. I encourage people to have a command of language,” Rodriguez said.

To budding artists and authors, Rodriguez said, “My book is hopeful. There needs to be more movies and books out there with hope. Our communities are rich, full of life, not just gangs. Hope comes from young people themselves. Don’t give up.”

For more information, contact the University Resources for Latinos at 753-1986.