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Book Review of "Always Running" by Rodriguez 2005

Updated on January 21, 2022

The book “Always Running” is an autobiography authored by Rodriquez since it documents the day to day life of Rodriquez as a gang member. The story is a true narration of the author’s life in a Chicano gang and what he does to free himself from these challenges. The book is a non-fiction novel which describes the life and obstacles encountered by adolescent gang members. The story is centered around economic and social forces that influence and affect members of a gang especially those at the adolescent stage and the challenges they encounter in their environment. Rodriquez is the main protagonist of the story who narrates his gang life and how he managed to escape from it. The setting of this story is in East Los Angeles, Chicano, United States. In this book, the author documents a number of challenges he goes through in East Los Angeles as a gang member, as well as the strategies he employs to deal with these challenges. The particular theme of this story is gang life and its related destructive challenges for those who involve in it.

Rodriquez begins this biography by presenting some bit of his family background. Despite his mother being a school secretary, and his father a principal in Mexico, they find it cumber to find a stable employment in United States. There are also constant wrangles and conflicts involving his parents. For instance, Rodriquez’s mother is unhappy because his father does not want to return to Mexico. Though the mother is making every effort in making sure the family does not disintegrate, these efforts seems not to bear fruit as there are constant misunderstandings in the family. Consequently, the lack of a stable employment and frequent misunderstandings affects the stability of the family putting Rodriguez at a crossroad in his childhood. The economic instability, made him and his family to move from one region to another and coming face to face with racism. The constant discrimination creates a sense of alienation in Rodriguez which he carries to his adolescence. He equates the kind of life in which he lives in to that of the gang culture that was prevalent in his environment and which he comes to document in his subsequent narration.

At twelve years, Rodriguez Luis was already an expert of gang warfare in East Los Angeles. In this life, he came face to face with the dark side of gang life including arrests, beatings, shootings and the felling down of his close allies and family members. The particular gang group in Rodriguez’s environment is headed by himself who with his three other youth friends form a group they identify as “The Impersonations”. The urge and inspiration to form the gang was because of the gang culture in their respective environment and that they had a desire to form a belonging. This inspiration makes the four members to become serious about this gang to an extent that they go on to join a larger gang which is identified as the “Animal Tribe”. Another reason that makes Rodriguez and his group to form a gang is due to alienation and discrimination in the society. For example, when Rodriguez is taken to school by his mother, he finds himself a lone ranger since he cannot speak English, though it was a language that was spoken by other students. This experience creates an inferiority complex on Luis who refuses to speak since nobody understands him. This also makes him unable to learn effectively and hence falls in trouble with the school system. This experience therefore makes him to want to join a group or belonging where members can understand and recognize his individuality. At the “Impersonations” he realized that he truly belongs here since a part from being understood, all members are there for a common purpose: protection and common interests. The Impersonations comprises of four members though it is later amalgamated into a larger group “The Animal Tribe” where Rodriquez is known by the nickname “Chin," because of his broken jaw.

The group and particularly its leader were involved in more serious crimes which go beyond a mare youthful deviance. For instance, there is a time where Luis Rodriguez, the leader of the gang group with other members of the group holds a drive in using guns, an incident which gets Rodriguez arrested by law enforcement officers at a popular beach. Another incident is when Rodriguez helps in bombing a rival’s house despite knowing very well that his families were inside. In this gang life, he encounters the murdering of girls and boys as well as the disintegration of families due to gang violence. Though his instincts are against this kind of life and these encounters, he endures though unwillingly with a hope that these things will change some time. Furthermore, he continues to be part of the gang because he does not want to let them down.

After some time, Rodriguez observed that gang life had no real meaning and that he did not see any benefit from belonging in the group or taking part in its activities. However, he finds it hard to disengage from the group and this conflict makes him want to commit suicide so that he can escape the experiences. Rodriguez’s addiction to drug abuse, his expulsion from school and the feeling by his family that he can no longer be controlled all add to his adolescent pressures. He finds himself rejected by his family and he does not have a home to live in, subjecting him to live in a garage. Further, his demeanor delineates him from his Hispanic community which no longer wants to associate with him. On the other hand, he is also not able to fit into the white population considering that he does not even understand English, which is the main language of communication within this group. He constantly gets in trouble at Mark Keppel High School for showing unsocial tendencies such as fighting, insulting others and inability to associate with others.

Accordingly, he decided that the best way to avoid such challenges was to come out of the group and rescind all the associated activities. With this understanding, he decided to enroll himself in education classes which enabled him to come out of desperation, violence and unorganized life. Though filled with conflicts of loyalty and emotions to his gang, Rodriquez decides to embrace education to the fullest and with time he comes to understand that he has a special talent; writing. His teacher identified as Mrs. Baez recognizes this talent and offers him assistance until his works are published. She also assisted Luis by proofreading his work and providing necessary guidance and submitting the work to various contests. Interestingly, Rodriguez went on to win scholarship and being put in charge in writing projects.

Though I found some of the chapters and scenes could be brutal, sad and heartbreaking, there are significant insights that can be derived from this story especially concerning the dangers associated with gang life. It is very rare for someone who had taken a firsthand experience in gang life to come up in the open and narrate these experiences to the public as well as the dangers which they go through. This is irrespective of the fact that the realism of gang life can be seen in news, movies or in the actual streets, reading about it and visualizing the scenes in one’s mind is like taking a firsthand experience in these events.

“I made a promise that I do not want to continue seeing the beatings occurring in the neighborhoods, whippings and risking life “(Rodriguez, 2005, p209).

These insights therefore present significant insights and information concerning the day to day activities of gang life and the motivations behind them. For instance, we get to learn that most youth are lured into this kind of life by poverty, culture and peer pressure. It is apparent that in this narrative, the author has shared his life with the readers and particularly, my eyes on gang life have been enlightened.

However, from the author’s experience, gang life does not always solve the problem of poverty nor is it a solution to meet the expectations of culture or Peer pressure. These are hard earned insights for this and future generation. Despite the sadness and brutality encountered in this story, the story, especially its end is uplifting and filled with a lot of hope.


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