Fidel, now a Business Administration student at LACC, used to run with a tag-banging crew near USC.
In my effort to expand the boundaries of what we consider to be livable streets issues, I present the first of a three-part story about a 19-year old named Fidel who ran with a crew for a few years on the north edge of South L.A. He hopes that by talking about how he grew up, people can begin to see the extent to which some of L.A.’s streets can be very hostile to youth. The insecurity of the streets and the negative encounters they experience there, although not the only factors, can play an important role in their decisions to join a gang or crew. Making some of these communities more hospitable for everyone, then, means considering these factors as well as the socio-economic conditions that facilitate and promote violence. Livable streets, in other words, would do well to ally itself with those working on broader questions of equity and social justice.
WHEN THEY JUMPED HIM IN to the crew in 10th grade, he tells me, the actual beating didn’t last very long. There may have been 6 guys, but Fidel, a natural fighter, was swinging more fiercely than they were. After he connected hard with a couple of the guys, they decided they had had enough and declared it over.
That was it. He was in.
He would quickly become their strongest fighter. Eager to prove himself, he was always ready to make a name for the crew and to protect his friends. He would be the one to step things up a notch by punking on some of their rivals. He would gain a reputation as the one not to be messed with.
“I had a lot of anger,” he admits somewhat sheepishly. “I fought a lot as a kid.”
I study the shy, self-conscious, sensitive 19-year old with the sweet disposition and easy smile as he nervously fidgets with the honey sticks meant for my tea. I know he is telling me the truth, but I still have a hard time believing it.
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I met Fidel a year ago, when he was finishing up his senior year at West Adams High School. He had been assigned the task of writing a personal story about a struggle to overcome an obstacle. He was noticeably not thrilled about having to write about his feelings. He had sat down at a safe distance from me then, burly and reticent, a bit on the defensive, and looking for all the world like a cholo with his closely shaved head, goatee, and, as he put it, “mean mug.” He had stared at his hands and announced he didn’t have anything to write about.
“Yeah, right,” I remember thinking to myself.
He’d been through so much, but had never really talked about any of it before and wasn’t sure how to start. Once he did, story after crazy story tumbled out in a chaotic rush, each one more intense than the last.
He had been in and out of crews since elementary school, but he was feeling remorse about the things he and his current crew were doing. Friends were starting to get deeper into both trouble and drugs. Fights were becoming more intense and guys were ending up in the hospital with broken hands, stab wounds, and their heads split open by metal pipes. Others were heading off to jail. One was later killed.
He could see where it was all going, he said, and knew that he didn’t “want to not have kids and be in jail for life with just guys.”
He was most afraid about what it would do to his parents if something happened to him – he didn’t want them to be stuck with court tickets or hospital bills that he knew they couldn’t pay. They didn’t even know he was in a crew and trying to hide it from them was tiring.
So, he got out. Read more…