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Always Running | Study Guide

Luis J. Rodriguez

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Always Running | Chapter 9 | Summary



Luis Rodríguez is now in his senior year at Mark Keppel High School. Still a member of the Lomas gang, he is also president of ToHMAS (To Help Mexican American Students, a Chicano student group), the student council's speaker of the house, and a columnist for the school newspaper. One day, a female member of ToHMAS, called Cha Cha, tells him that the history teacher, Mr. Humes, has just thrown her out of class for being late, calling her a "chola (lowlife) whore." Rodríguez storms to Humes's classroom with several students following him. He confronts Humes in front of his class, and Humes orders him to leave. When Rodríguez refuses, Humes goes to see Mr. Madison, the principal.

Word gets out quickly about the incident, and someone slashes the tires of Humes's car. Fights between Chicano and Anglo students begin breaking out throughout the school. The student council establishes a group of 60 Chicano and Anglo students (Rodríguez among them) called the Communicators. Its purpose is to roam the hallways and resolve differences among students.

Three days later, Rodríguez attempts to separate two fighting students. He is hit in the face with a soda can filled with sand, and his lower lip is split open. The doctor at the clinic asks him whether he attends Keppel High School. When he says he does, she tells him that since he is tough, she will not use an anesthetic as she stitches his lip. This angers Rodríguez, but he says nothing. He returns to school, where the students are staging a spontaneous walkout to protest his injury. Speaking at the top of the school steps, he declares that the battle must continue until it is won.

A short time later, the school fires print-shop teacher Mr. Perez, a favorite among the Chicano students. Rodríguez declares that they will conduct a walkout until Perez is rehired. Mr. Madison counters the plan by holding a special assembly at the time the walkout is scheduled to occur. As Madison speaks about the need for cooperation and harmony, Rodríguez realizes that this is all occurring because of him. He ponders how far he has come since his elementary school days, when he had been placed in a corner and given blocks to play with.

Home-school coordinator Mrs. Baez is impressed by some poems and stories that Rodríguez has given her to read. She helps him prepare his work and enter it into a literary contest that a Chicano press in Berkeley is running. Around the same time, a local state college offers him a grant to attend, and an art professor at Loyola-Marymount University gives him a paid job painting a mural. A few weeks later, he is informed that his entry for the literary contest has won him a $250 prize and a publishing contract.

He graduates from high school but does not attend the ceremony. In the fall of 1972 he begins college, majoring in broadcast journalism and Chicano studies. He works on a book, tentatively entitled Barrio Expressions. He also joins a Chicano outreach group called MEChA and travels to local high schools to talk with students. On one of these excursions he meets a "cute, Filipina-looking, curly-haired, dark-eyed student" named Camila Martinez. He begins to fall for her, which is complicated by the fact that he is already seeing a few other women. One of them, Terry, tells him that she is pregnant and that the baby is his. He does not want to become a father when there are so many promising things happening in his life, and he tells her that she should have an abortion. She becomes very upset and runs off. He never sees her again and never learns whether she had a child or ,if so, whether it was really his. Throughout it all his involvement with Camila deepens.

One night, Rodríguez comes upon a couple of deputies beating a woman as they arrest her. He attempts to intervene and is likewise assaulted and taken in. The two are booked, and as a bus takes them to the county jail, he learns that her name is Licha Rubalcava. She is 27 with three children, married to a man who is doing time.

They appear together at their preliminary hearing; she is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, while he is charged with disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer. Both are required to post bail, but only Rodríguez manages to do so. When he visits Licha at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women, she tells him she has attempted suicide. He promises to help her and raises money for her bail. The two of them are scheduled for a second court hearing together. Rodríguez obtains a number of letters from high school teachers, college professors, and education coordinators, pleading on his behalf.

He finds out that the publisher contracted to put out his book has put it on hold. When his trial date arrives, his public defender advises him to take a plea deal. He does not want to since he considers himself not guilty, but he relents at the last moment. He is convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct, fined, and sentenced to a few months in county jail. When he is released, Licha is waiting for him. He goes home with her, and they make love. Within a month, however, she is no longer interested in continuing the relationship. He is too young for her, she says.


Rodríguez is in his senior year of high school, which places the beginning of this chapter's narrative in 1971. The two major elements of his life—involvement in Lomas and activist politics at his school—might seem incongruous to the reader. In Rodríguez's eyes, however, at least at this point, it is likely that his gang membership is an offshoot of his overall political activism. Both his school and gang activities, after all, involve an assertion of his own identity (as a Chicano living in the barrio of Las Lomas) and the protection and advancement of those in his group. It is also undeniable that much of the difference between his approaches in school and on the street is predicated on the differences in the environments themselves. After all, he neither stages a walkout to protest the police assault on Licha nor responds violently to the history teacher calling Cha Cha a "whore."

It is equally obvious that Rodríguez is far more effective in effecting change in his academic surroundings than he is on the street. The reader may reasonably infer that as Rodríguez becomes more adept at working "within the system," the untenability of the simplistically violent methods of la vida loca is becoming plainer to him. (The reader may recall his run-in with Puppet at the end of Chapter 8, where his measured attempt to avoid violence is met with a punch in the face.) The stark contrast between the two compartments of his life and their basic incompatibility will be terrifyingly driven home to him in the next and final chapter.

His involvement in the Communicators further illustrates his growing penchant for negotiating resolutions to conflict. Despite this, or maybe because of it, he gets his lip split when he tries to break up a fight. The choice by the clinic's doctor to stitch his lip without anesthesia seems deliberately provocative, yet in macho gangster fashion, Rodríguez submits to the unnecessary pain without a whimper (answering the doctor's implicit challenge).

Another aspect of the "macho" ethic—womanizing—seems to largely define him in this chapter, even as he actively works to pursue his goals and improve his life. He falls for Camila (who will, in fact, become his first wife) while at the same time "seeing" several other women, and he is also disinclined to start a family, as indicated by his reaction to Terry's announcement that he has gotten her pregnant. When she becomes upset at his suggestion that she get an abortion and vanishes, Rodríguez is left with the possibility that he has fathered at least two children he will never know.

Additionally, none of this keeps him from becoming involved with Licha after attempting to save her from a beating by police (and getting arrested and doing time as a result). His short relationship with her runs a similar course to the one he had with Viviana in Chapter 7; both culminate in sex, followed by the woman breaking it off for little or no stated reason. The reader might conclude that the married Licha used Rodríguez to fill a desperate need for support, whereas Viviana likely dumped him for reasons having to do with the Sangra membership of her brothers.

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