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.
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?