Friday, October 28, 2011

Always Learning

          I was first introduced to Luis J. Rodriguez in 1995. I won't lie. I was introduced to his writing. His book, "Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days In L.A.", had just been out for about year and a friend of mine thought I should read it. I was 16 years old and I'll be honest with you, I didn't read books if I didn't have to. I began to read this book and it immediately had ALL my attention. I felt like I could relate to a lot of what he wrote and even though I was never tempted to join a gang, living in Boyle Heights during my teenage years, I saw many friends who were tempted and eventually did. That and the familiarity of the places he wrote about kept my face between the pages. Yeah, I knew the places he mentioned, Boyle Heights, The San Gabriel Valley etc. but it was the way he wrote about 'em that made it so easy to picture.
        Man, I loved that book and I talked to everybody I could about reading it. I looked for more of his books and began to read as many as I could get my hands on. Working for the library, years later, made it easy to pick up those I missed. I read the novels first but threw in some poetry books to mix it up a bit. There was a poem in one of them called "Echo Park". I related to this poem most of all and as a matter of fact posted it here, on my blog, a while ago. You see even though I spent my teenage years in Boyle Heights, my childhood belonged to Echo Park. I associate a lot of happiness and even though there were some sad times growing up in Echo Park, I only feel good every time I visit her. Yes, I call Echo Park "her". Her original name IS Eden. I knew the places Mr. Rodriguez wrote about in that poem. He mentioned the "Paradise Motel". I lived with my grandparents on a hill on Everett St. It looked over "Paradise" and the carnival my parents took me to that was held every year in the empty lot across from the motel.
     I got the chance to meet Luis J. Rodriguez (in person this time) one night at "Tia Chucha's", his Cultural Center in Sylmar. I say I "got the chance" but maybe it was supposed to happen. He was working at a desk. I wanted to meet him but didn't want to disturb him. I was worried I'd piss him off and he'd might not be as personable as I hoped. The lights came on as "Open Mic" took a break and I went for it. I told him everything you read in the first two paragraphs in about as many seconds. I also told him my mom was born in El Paso in 1954, the same year he was. That really was a great night. I went home and couldn't wait to text, tweet and tell anybody and everybody. I even asked him if I could take this picture with him. My son, Anthony jumped in at the last second. Smart kid.
          Months later I found out that someone I met through my kids interest in music was related to Mr. Rodriguez and introduced me to someone else who knew him very well.It was at that point that I started thinking how crazy it was that someone you've been a fan of could be so close one day.
          Luis J. Rodriguez held a signing for his latest book, "It Calls You Back" on Oct. 15th at Tia Chucha's. This book is a sequel to Always Running and one I've been waiting a long time for. His writing is honest and strong and like I said before, even though I was never in a gang, I related to a lot of other things in the book. Feelings as a man, husband, father and son. That's another post.
      You see, I honestly believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. People are put in your path for a reason. You meet people because you are supposed to meet them. Everything IS a learning experience but sometimes you've gotta work hard to find that lesson and learn from it.
      We've all heard, "What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger." I believe that's true as long as you learn the lesson. If you don't, how much stronger are you?


  1. Luis J is the awesome that you got to meet a chicana literallia..I have to say he is among my top 5 favorite authors..mostly because he speaks of my Echo Park.

  2. i also immediately felt in love with his story.your right it automatically resembled my growing up in BHTS.I like him believe we have good hearts but where forced to show our evil side to fit in.