Always Running and It Calls You Back are two powerful memoirs by Luis J Rodriguez. I had no previous knowledge of these, but saw them on the shelves at the Library I’m working at. The library I work at was destroyed by hurricane Sandy and we now work out of a trailer space. Some publishers donated books to us. We had a lot of titles unfamiliar to us, and books not on the current best sellers. When I glanced at these two books, and read the blurbs on the jacket, I decided to check them out.
I’ll start with Always Running, published in 1992, that tells of Mr. Rodriguez experience growing up in East Las Angeles as the child of Mexican immigrants. He got involved in gangs in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as he came into his teenage years. This book also in an articulate way explains the history of Chicano and LA gangs, and the mentality of people involved. There was also injustice, racism, and hurdles that a lot of people went through because of urban poverty and lack of resources.
There is also a glimmer of hope from his experiences, as after bouncing around high schools he finally developed and gained interest in community activism. He got some assignments for his murals, art, and poetry. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the ultimate book that tells of overcoming a criminal youth to really take a stand to make a difference. I think Luis Rodriguez’s books are an update of the struggle, and urban gangs need to be discussed.
It Calls You Back, published in 2011, starts with Mr. Rodriguez in his early twenties, and after a failed attempt at college. He bounces around from factory job to factory job where they wouldn’t give union membership to minorities. He married at a young age, I believe twenty, had two kids quickly, and divorced after a few years. Also he became an alcoholic. Amidst all this chaos in the 1970’s though he got involved in the poetry scene in Las Angeles. In the middle of the book it really gets interesting when he gets a newspaper journalism beat in the 1980’s. He went to murder scenes, covered neighborhoods others would not go to, and developed his craft.
In the late 1980’s he got writers grants to go to Europe, and really developed as a writer. In 1992 when Always Running came out he got some fame including being on Oprah. The timing of the books release was when the LA riots were on everyone’s mind and his son was a gang member.
Through all this what I found inspiring is that he was from a background of poverty, and as an adult gave back. He became a community organizer, and was active in gang intervention. I think it’s people like him involved that give some hope in the world, it takes people to bring education and conversations to areas of urban plight.
These memoirs are also very human too. He admits failing his son by not being there in the early years. It Calls You Back ends with the trail of his twenty one year old son for attempted murder on a truck driver and two cops. No one died, but shots were fired, and the kid got 28 years but ended up serving 14. The author felt responsible that his son made a huge mistake like that.
One of the reasons he was not there for his son was alcoholism. Reading this even though I’ve never been in a gang or experienced a fraction of what the author went through, hit a nerve for me. For ambitious people, which I include myself, we want to do everything, with a career, good well to others, and personal pursuits. After reading this I decided I’m done with booze. Being sauced even if it’s just a few nights a week gets in the way of everything. For me I want to skate better, write more, be in good shape, and do good work at the library. This is what good books do, a reader connects to something in it, and things can change with thought.
I’m glad these two books are in my library now, and I’m sure that some of the future readers of these books, especially teens or younger adults, will connect with it on various levels.
Here are the two books on amazon: