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I was involved in gangs from the time I was eleven until I was eighteen. It was a hard way to grow up. Many of my friends from those years are dead, and I'm very lucky just to be alive. Today I spend a lot of time counseling young people in gangs. I want to show kids growing up now that they don't have to go through what my friends and I did. That's why I've written this book.
Monchi, who tells the story that follows, is like many kids I work with. So are the members of the two gangs – the Encanto Locos and their rivals, the Soledad Night Owls. I know why young people join gangs: to belong, to be cared for, and to be embraced. I hope we can create a community that fulfills these longings, so young people won't have to sacrifice their lives to be loved and valued in this world.
– Luis J. Rodríguez 2016-09-28 16:01:29 GMT 2016-10-12 11:00:00 (GMT -05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada) Yes (click here to learn more about ) Closed 17 0 0 direct invitation(s) have been sent by the voice seeker resulting in 0 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far. Voice123 SmartCast is seeking 30 auditions and/or proposals for this project (approx.) Invitations sent by SmartCast have resulted in 17 audition(s) and/or proposal(s) so far.
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A few months ago, I was walking home from school to the house where I live with my mom. Inside the houses, through open doors, I could see brightly painted walls with lots of pictures. From inside came music and the smells of dinners cooking. I could hear the traffic on the freeway too, and a tap-tapping sound far away.
I turned onto the street where Dreamer lives. She’s my twelve-year-old cousin, two years older than I am. I saw it was Dreamer making the tapping noise, hammering a loose board on her porch. She saw me and stopped, and smiled and waved the hammer at me. "Hey, Monchi!" That's my nickname. My real name is Ramón.
I waved back, but I tripped on a loose rock, which flew toward a couple of chickens in the road. They squawked and flapped their wings, and that made all the dogs bark. Dreamer giggled and pretended to hit her head with the hammer, meaning I was a blockhead! We both laughed.
Then I noticed this dude named Clever watching us from way down the street. He was one of the Encanto Locos' Pee Wees—the youngest members of the gang in our barrio. Clever was old enough to have a little mustache and tattoos. Once he got arrested. People were afraid of him
My uncle, Tío Rogelio, lives a couple of blocks past Dreamer's house. He's a good mechanic. People bring him their cars to fix, and they ask his advice about a lot of things. When I walked by his house, he was busy working on his old Ford. I called to him.
He looked up and smiled at me. "Hey, Monchi, give me that rag, would you?" I handed it to him. "Tell me one of your stories," he said.
While he worked, I told him about tripping and scaring the chickens, and Dreamer teasing me. It made him laugh.
On my way home, there is a big tree where I like to sit and read and write poetry. I stopped there for a while, leaning against the tree in the shade.
Suddenly, Clever was standing over me. I stared at a scar on his lower lip."Quiuvo? What's up?" I asked. I tried to sound cool, but I was scared.
"It's about time you joined the Pee Wees," he said. I nodded. It seemed like the only thing I could do. I was glad he wanted to be friends and wasn’t going to hurt me. But I knew the Pee Wees did things that got them into trouble. "First you have to prove yourself," Clever said.
Lo primero que me pidió hacer fue que me escurriera fuera de casa para mirar cómo iniciaban los de la pandilla a un vato que apodaban Payaso. Esa noche me escapé, trepando por la ventana de mi cuarto. Si mi mamá lo supiera se hubiera enfurecido. Me reuní con los demás muchachos en un lote vacío. Había un letrero grande en la pared que decía “Locos de Encanto” con todos los nombres de sus miembros abajo. Cinco vatos golpearon al Payaso durante sesenta segundos—¡un minuto entero! Yo quería cerrar los ojos porque me dolía ver eso. Luego de la golpiza todos estrecharon su mano y le hicieron su primer tatuaje, una cruz con una rosa que representa al barrio.
The first thing he asked me to do was to sneak out of the house to watch a dude nicknamed Payaso getting jumped in, which is how you join. That night, I climbed out of my bedroom window. My mom would have been real mad if she had found out. I hung out with the homeboys in a vacant lot. “Encanto Locos” was painted on the wall in big letters, with all the guys’ names below. Five dudes beat on Payaso for sixty seconds—one whole minute! I wanted to close my eyes because it hurt just to watch. Then everybody shook his hand and he got his first tattoo, a cross with a rose that stands for the barrio.
After that, Clever taught me a lot of things. He showed me how to wear starched, baggy pants; button just the top two buttons of my flannel shirts; and tie a bandanna on my head. At school, I got respect. Girls talked to me, and older gang members gave me the handshake. Younger kids and even some teachers looked afraid!
One day, two dudes watched for teachers while I put my placa, my name, on the school wall. But then out of nowhere, Ms. Huerta, my teacher, stood there looking straight at me. I thought she’d yell, but she said quietly, “Look, Ramón, you are real smart. Don’t pretend you’re not, or someone might believe you.”
When I walked home after school, my uncle called from under his car, "Hey, Monchi, come talk to me!"
I yelled back, "I'm busy right now!" I was meeting Clever at the store around the corner.
"See that bike?" Clever grinned toward a blue bike leaning against the wall. “You're going to steal it." I walked the bike up the street, then rode it away fast. My heart was pounding hard. Clever caught up.
He took me to a man who gave us twenty bucks for it, then put it into his garage, which was filled with bikes and stereos and TVs. With some of the money, I bought a knife from him.
Later at home, Dreamer talked to my mom while she made dinner. I spread my school books on the table and started to read, but I remembered the knife in my pocket. I took it out and touched its sharp blade.
Dreamer sat down next to me and whispered, "Didn't anybody tell you not to play with knives?" I put it away fast. "Monchi, I used to hang around with Clever and them guys," she said. "I don't like some of the things they do."
In our barrio, everyone heard about everything. Did Dreamer know about the bike and all that? "But I'm getting jumped in tomorrow night," I told her. She looked worried.
The next night I met Clever, Payaso, and the others at the wall. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. Suddenly, Dreamer showed up. “Don’t do this, Monchi,” she begged.
Clever cut in, “Órale pues, Dreamer, you babysittin’ your primo now?”
We didn’t notice a car pull up in the dark with its lights out. Someone in the car yelled, “Soledad Night Owls!” They are the main enemies of the Locos. Just as we turned, they shot at us. Boom! Boom! Boom!
I dropped to the ground and heard the car speed off.
I was okay. I lifted my head and looked around. Everyone was lying on the ground. Then one by one everyone stood up. Except Dreamer. She lay moaning in the dirt. I ran over to her. Her face looked strange, pale. There was so much blood.
Most of the guys ran off. I cried and prayed and talked to Dreamer, but I don't remember what I said. When she was quiet, I thought she might be dead. Clever stayed there too. He looked as scared as I was. We could hear sirens coming.
The ambulance took her away, and the police asked us questions. I answered them, but Clever pretended not to know anything. I ran home. My mom and my uncle were just getting in the car to go to the hospital. When we got there, Dreamer's mother was already in the waiting room. Everyone cried. We had to wait and wait while the doctors worked on Dreamer. I never knew anything like this would happen. It was because of me that she got shot. She was only trying to take care of me.
I felt so bad. I thought my whole family must hate me. In the waiting room, I hung my head and prayed that Dreamer would be okay. But Tío Rogelio put his arm around me. "It doesn't have to be this way, m'ijo," he said. "I know you want to be a man, but you have to decide what kind of man you want to be."
It seemed like we waited forever. Then the doctor came out and told us that Dreamer was going to live.
When Dreamer got out of the hospital, I took her for a walk, pushing her up the street in her wheelchair. We ran into Clever coming the other way. It was the first time I'd seen him since that night. He looked excited as he walked up to us.
"Hey, we got a plan! To pay back the Night Owls for what they did!" He turned to me, "It's tonight! You got to come!"
Dreamer looked up at me to see what I'd do. I thought for a long time. Tío Rogelio's words came into my head. Then I heard myself say, "It doesn't have to be this way."
I asked Tío Rogelio if he would teach me to fix cars. He showed me how to do a lot of things—to change spark plugs and do a tune-up. One day, as we worked, I told him the story about meeting Clever and how I decided not to join the Pee Wees.
"That was a brave thing," he said. "I have a lot of respect for you." Nobody ever said that to me before. It made me feel real good.
Then he said, 'We can make good things happen, m'ijo, if we all work together."
I liked the sound of that.
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