#LatinoLit Banned Book Review: “Always Running – La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.” by Luis J. Rodriguez

In this powerful autobiography, Luis J. Rodriguez relates stories from his youth growing up in an impoverished East Los Angeles barrio. The son of Mexican immigrants, from an early age Rodriguez constantly faces barriers to success from a system designed to keep him out. As a result, Rodriguez and his peers are forced to invent the rules they will live by as they seek validation and protection in the troubling world of gang life.


Rodriguez brings alive his teenage years through vivid accounts of robberies, shootouts, drug use, gang rivalry and youthful sexual exploits. Despite the barrio’s firm grip on his life, Rodriguez’ inner desire to break free and make more of himself is evident.  As his boxing coach constantly reminds him, he has the jaspia (hunger) necessary to succeed.

First published in 1994, this book came out after the infamous L.A. riots of 1992, but it provides an important historical account of barrio life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. The young people in Rodriguez’ neighborhood faced layer upon layer of discrimination and racism, from exclusion and  alienation at school, to constant surveillance and heavy-handed tactics by local police.

Through involvement in the Chicano movement in the late 1960s, Rodriguez starts to make connections beyond his own personal situation to the wider political and sociocultural factors that influence life in the barrio. This is probably precisely why the book is banned in Arizona: the book implicates police brutality in perpetuating gang culture; it illustrates the extent of racism inherent in the public system; and, crucially, it outlines some of the revolutionary ideas of the early Chicano movement.

In the short clip below, Rodriguez explains that gang life took hold of him at the tender age of 12. By the age of 18 he had lost 20 of his friends to la vida loca and he was facing a six-year jail term for assault with a deadly weapon.

Despite the incredible odds stacked against him, Rodriguez was one of the fortunate ones able to make a break from the barrio through a combination of education and his budding literary ambition—”when you read books whole worlds open up to you, even though your world is so limited that you think there is no way out of it”.

Truly inspiring, this book covers important issues as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.


Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com


Please support these #LatinoLit bookstores before you buy anywhere else:

La Casa Azul Bookstore, New York, NY: http://www.lacasaazulbookstore.com

Tía Chucha Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA: http://www.tiachucha.com

Resistencia Bookstore, Austin, TX: http://www.resistenciabooks.com

Casa Ramírez, Houston, TX: 241 W 19th St – (713) 880-2420


Librería Barco de Papel, Queens, NY: http://libreriabarcodepapelny.com

Girón Books, Chicago, IL: http://www.gironbooks.com

Librotraficante Underground Library locations in AZ, NM and TX: http://www.librotraficante.com/index.php/underground-library/locations

Tell Tucson Elected Officials: MAS Director Sean Arce Should Remain in Current Position


Sean Arce is one of the founders of the successful TUSD MAS Program, and is one of our community's most treasured resources.  He has been a beacon of light, during this time of attack on the Tucson community, and he has risen above the fray to do what he has always done:  educate our children and set them on the path for a successful future. The Tucson community demands that he remain in his position of TUSD MAS Director, and we expect our elected leadership to stand with him, at this critical time, as he has stood with our community and our children.

Call and write the elected officials, below, and let them know that we expect them to:  A)  Sign this petition, and; B)  Call TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone at (520) 225-6000 and demand that he support Sean Arce in his current position of TUSD MAS Director.

U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva:  (520) 622-6788, [email protected]

Supervisor Richard Elias:  (520) 740-8126, [email protected]

Supervisor Ramon Valadez:  (520) 740-8126, [email protected]

City Councilwoman Regina Romero: (520) 791-4040, [email protected]

City Councilman Richard Fimbres:  (520) 791-4131, [email protected]

State Rep. Macario Saldate: (602) 926-4171, [email protected]

State Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales: (602) 926-3278, [email protected]

State Sen. Olivia Cajero-Bedford: (602) 926-5835, [email protected]

State Sen. Linda Lopez: (602) 926-4089, [email protected]



TUSD Board Member Adelita Grijalva Speaks: “We Are Banning Books in This District”

It appears that the Tucson Unified School District's decision to no longer teach Mexican American Studies and prohibit certain books from even being taught (essentially a book ban) continues to find resistance from the community.

Two weeks ago, The News Taco reported a detailed piece about a student protest in TUSD against the decision to drop the program. This weekend, the YouTube Channel of The Three Sonorans ran a video of TUSD board member Adelita Grijalva (daughter of US Congressman Raúl Grijalva) sharing her thoughts about the board's decision.

Adelita Grijalva acknowledges that she told the board that "We are banning books in the district."

Take a Stand Against Banned Books in Tucson: Submit Your Video

The power of community and social media occurs when different ideas from different people come together to fight for a cause that is matters to them. With all the controversy surrounding Tucson Unified School District's banning of certain book as it eliminates its Mexican Studies program, a new blog is asking for people to submit their videos to protest this decision.

Here is the information from the blog, Banning History in Arizona:


Videos must contain reading of a passage of one of the books on the list.  You can read it, sign it, sing it, draw it, or otherwise showcase a passage in one of these books.

Do not do anything that violates copyright laws and make sure you quote the title of the book, author and page number from where the passage you are reading is from.

If it's a poem, make sure you state the name of the poem.

You can upload to YouTube and then email us that link or embed code to [email protected].  Please include the title of your submission, your name and the date submitted.

Please make sure when uploading to YouTube that you include the hashtag #banninghistory so we have all the videos together in one place.

Please make sure you're not cussing or trashing the state, etc.  ONLY read the passage.  If the passage has cussing then so be it.

If you are an author of one of these books, we want to hear from you.  We want you to read from your favorites too!  Let us know your thoughts.

Every single submission will be posted.