Luis Rodríguez is the author and central figure of Always Running. He is two when his family immigrates to the Los Angeles area from Mexico. His early education is inadequate because of the lack of facilities for Spanish-speaking students, and this faulty groundwork results in an educational disadvantage throughout his school years. He becomes involved in gang activity in his early teens, with the violence, drugs, and sexual promiscuity that it entails. After years of trouble with both school authorities and the police, he turns his life around and emerges as a successful writer and political activist.
Luis Rodríguez, at 16, meets Chente Ramírez. Ramírez is influential in raising Rodríguez's self-awareness, creative potential, and social consciousness and becomes instrumental in removing Rodríguez from gang life.
Ramiro is Luis Rodríguez's first child, by his first wife, Camila. Although he does not appear in the main narrative of Always Running, Ramiro's life and difficulties—and his father's role in them—are described in the book's new introduction, preface, and epilogue.
Mrs. Baez is instrumental in empowering a teenage Luis Rodríguez to create a more significant presence for Chicano students in his high school. She also encourages him to develop his talent for writing, helping him to prepare and submit his work.
María Estela is largely unhappy in the United States and overwhelmed by Luis's problems at school and with the police. She throws him out of the house when he is 14 and then allows him to return, provided he live in the garage. She is supportive of him later when he takes up boxing as an acceptable means of channeling his aggression but cries a mother's tears when he is injured during his first bout.
Alfonso is the principal at the high school in the Mexican border town in which the Rodríguez family lives, until political disagreement with his superiors costs him his job. He responds by moving his family to the United States, where his background and poor English make it difficult for him to find good, steady work. Throughout most of Luis's childhood, Alfonso is a custodian at a college laboratory. He is a distant, uninvolved father to Luis, and his relationships with the rest of his children are left unaddressed in Always Running.