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Always Running | Study Guide

Luis J. Rodriguez

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Always Running | Themes


Family and Society

Statements are made and questions raised throughout Always Running about the nature of family and society—and in particular the nature of belonging. Even when young, Luis Rodríguez seems to be largely removed from an unaffectionate father and an overwhelmed mother. Similarly, the subculture of which they are a part (the Chicano community of Los Angeles) derives a large part of its identity from its separation from the dominant white, "native" society. As the reader follows Rodríguez's story, it is easy to discern how la vida loca fills the vacuum in his life that should be filled by his family and the larger culture. In a very real sense the gangs to which he belongs—Lomas in particular—become his family, just as community organizer Chente Ramírez for a time serves as a surrogate father. At the same time, the reader might ponder why Rodríguez's brother José René (Joe) was able to not only survive but comparatively thrive in precisely the same environment.

Alcohol and Drugs in Gang Life

Alcohol and drugs become part of Rodríguez's life at a young age. In Chapter 2 he tells the reader that, at 13, he is "already into drugs." Illicit substances are portrayed throughout Always Running as part and parcel of gang life. They serve as a major source of income, for one thing. Rodríguez notes in the epilogue that if there are no jobs to be had, "people will do the next best thing—such as sell sex or dope." Drugs also offer an escape from the deadening nature of an existence with no opportunity—and at one point they nearly result in Rodríguez's escape from life itself. Finally, and perhaps primarily, they provide a means of bonding among gang members: in Chapter 5 Rodríguez describes his first hit of heroin as an initiation into the "fellowship of la carga, so integral to 'la vida loca.'" It is ultimately Rodríguez's rejection of that fellowship (and his influence on other Lomas members to likewise shy away from drugs) that sparks Lomas's decision to turn on him in Chapter 10.

Cruel and Corrupt Nature of "The System"

Throughout Always Running racial insults and profiling by police toward Chicanos are depicted as commonplace, with no fair or humane application of the law on display at any point. From age 10, when Rodríguez loses his friend Tito as the result of the brutal techniques of the LAPD, it is plain that "the system" is stacked against him. (Tito himself at that same age already knows enough to fear that the police will "beat the crap" out of them; he implies, in fact, that he has experienced it.)

Rodríguez also points out in the preface and elsewhere in the book that the LAPD deliberately foments trouble between gangs, as if they do not wish to see the violence subside. "Shootings, assaults and skirmishes between the barrios are direct results of police activity," he states in Chapter 3, "everybody knows this."

A particularly straightforward description of the police's methodical, heavy-handed approach is given to Rodríguez by the Chicano sheriff's deputy in that same chapter. The deputy's smirking observation—"You guys just don't know ... what you're dealing with"—evidences the gleefully sadistic approach they take toward their work. Rodríguez's view that the police are "just another gang" seems well-founded.

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