Luis J. Rodriguez (born 1954) is an American poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and columnist. His work has won several awards, and he is recognized as a major figure of contemporary Chicano literature. His best-known work, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., is the recipient of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, among others, and has been the subject of controversy when included on reading lists in California, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas schools due to its frank depictions of gang life. Rodriguez has also founded or co-founded numerous organizations, including the Tía Chucha Press, which publishes the work of unknown writers, Tía Chucha's Centro Cultural, a San Fernando Valley cultural center, and the Chicago-based Youth Struggling for Survival, an organization for at-risk youth.
Rodriguez was born in the United States-Mexico border city El Paso, Texas. His parents, natives of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, had their children on the U.S. side of the border to ease the transition into the United States, where they had intentions of relocating. His father was a high school principal and his mother, who is descended from the Raramuri, a people indigenous to Chihuahua, was a school secretary. The elder Rodriguez, who refused to be dominated by local politicians from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, relocated the family to South Los Angeles when Rodriguez was two. There he spent the first part of his childhood and witnessed the 1965 Watts Riots. The family later moved to the San Gabriel Valley, and he joined his first street gang at the age of 12. He had joined the Lomas gang (which translates to the "Hills") during their early wars with the Sangra 13 gang (Chicano slang for "San Gabriel"). The two gangs are still active as of today in the San Gabriel Valley and still maintain a fierce rivalry despite gentrification.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he was an active gang member in East Los Angeles, developing a long rap sheet. However, his criminal activity did not preclude his participation in the Chicano Movement, and he joined the 1968 East L.A. walkouts and attended the August 31, 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. At the moratorium, he was brutalized and arrested along with numerous other peaceful protesters. In 1972, he painted several murals in the San Gabriel Valley communities of Rosemead and South San Gabriel. During part of this period he was a student at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, and he later attended California State University, Los Angeles briefly from 1972–1973, and became a member of the Chicano activist group MEChA.
The two currents in his life came to an inevitable head when at the age of 18, a sentence imposed for a criminal conviction was mitigated by letters of support from community members who saw his potential. Feeling a sense of indebtedness to those who had helped him, he decided to dedicate himself to community organizing on behalf of the Mexican American people.
In 1980, he began attending night school at East Los Angeles College, and working as a photographer for several area publications. That summer he attended a workshop for minority journalists at UC Berkeley, after which he covered crime and other urban issues for the San Bernardino Sun. At the same time, he continued to be active in East Los Angeles, leading a group of barrio writers and publishing ChismeArte, a Chicano art journal, out of an office at Self Help Graphics & Art.
He wrote Always Running as a cautionary tale for his son Ramiro, who joined a Chicago street gang at the age of fifteen and is currently incarcerated.
"Art is the heart's explosion on the world. Music. Dance. Poetry. Art on cars, on walls, on our skins. There is probably no more powerful force for change in this uncertain and crisis-ridden world than young people and their art. It is the consciousness of the world breaking away from the strangle grip of an archaic social order."
"I was pretty upset when I found out The Amazing Race on CBS wasn't about Latinos."