Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Book time

I recently finished a book called My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez (a pseudonym). The book is an autobiography of the author's early life and on into when he joins a Chicago street gang. The events take place in the 1980s, which was a crime-ridden period in the history of many cities. The author's gang made their territory in Humboldt Park, which is not far from the recently gentrified Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.

I recommend the book highly, although it is not for the faint of heart. The author has an insightful perspective on his years as a gang member and a very genuine and straight-forward tone. He often acknowledges the false comradeship that exists in the gang and the way rich drug lords who are at the top of the gang structure basically use the kids who get involved in the gang to do their hits and dealing for them, resulting in often fatal consequences. He points out that gang retaliations, which take place often, only result in mass chaos and death. He underscores the effect drugs and alcohol have on decisions that he makes, often driving him with greater ease towards committing violent acts.

In one review of the book, the reviewer laid the blame for gangs on television. However, I think one thing Sanchez makes clear is that television's biggest role regarding gangs has been to glamorize that lifestyle to people who know nothing about gangs. At one point, Sanchez dates a girl from a suburb who finds some short-lived excitement in dating a gangbanger, being herself far removed from the poverty and crime surrounding that lifestyle. It's all fun and games for kids who throw around words like "bling" and speed around with rap blaring (not that I don't like rap, but as Chris Rock said, the recent rap with its lyrics is hard to defend!).

Sanchez himself was abused at a very young age and quite often, and his mother sends him to Chicago at age 13 to live with his drug-dealing step-brother. He describes the often racist and violent encounters that people in his neighborhood including himself have with the police. He seems to be affected by the one time when policemen actually encourage him to get out of gang life and offer a little help rather than violence.

Sanchez is also manipulated by many people, from rival gang members and their girlfriends to his friends and yet he manipulates his share of people too: fellow gang members, women (actually teenage girls) who he has brief relationships with, but no matter. The point one gets out of this book shouldn't be to assign blame but to realize that crime and gang life constitutes a vicious cycle. To prevent it, it should be a general interest to invest enough in communities and children that being in a gang seems the dead-end that it is portrayed as in this book and not the most appealing option, as it was for Sanchez.

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