Last week saw the release of Luis J. Rodriguez new memoir, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, and Healing.” It is being promoted as a sequel to his best-selling memoir, “Always Running: La Vida Loca; Gang Days in L.A.” Indeed, the book starts off with the last time the author was arrested and released from jail.
My favorite part of the book is the early chapters because they get into how radical politics finally dragged the author away from gang life, (after a few false starts). He writes: “And yet, I managed to attend political meetings among Chicano activists in East L.A. and then a mixed group of revolutionaries in Watts and the Harbor Area.” And in the same chapter he later writes, “Because of the pull I felt toward intelligent revolutionary activity, as well as the artistic pursuits I was dabbling in, my relationship to the gang changed again.”
The author then talks a lot of all the different factory jobs he had and the organizing work he did while working those jobs, and also his good and bad experiences, especially when dealing with racism. The book doesn’t really take a turn until chapter eight when he decides to become a writer. It was a big and risky step, but it proved to be the right choice to make.
From there we see the author doing different things to learn, and then practice, his craft. He hooks up with the Los Angeles Latino Writers Association, takes writing classes at East L.A. College, gets a job at a small community Eastside newspaper, and then gets a big opportunity, a summer program at UC Berkeley where he learns reporting and writing skills from journalists that work for big publications.
Later on, there is another turns in his life when the author moves to Chicago where he gets into the Chicago poetry scene, (something that would prove pivotal), and starts writing for the People’s Tribune newspaper, which allows him to visit different cities to write articles. One great story involved the Appalachian coal country of West Virginia and some young KKK members. Apparently they heard him speak and wanted to talk to him afterwards, so he went to meet with them at a shack in a wooded area. They told him their situation; that they couldn’t feed their families, but no one except for the Klan would come around to talk to them. They told him, “We got your words, your message—that we’re having the same problem as other people and that we have more in common with them than rich folk.”
One thing that bothered me, is that intertwined with all these different stories, the author spends a great deal of time going through what seems like every detail of every single relationship he’s ever had, (and there was a lot of them)! I understand that there is something to learn from these experiences—but not all of them—and sometimes not much.
One of the best things about this book, (which I hope people will notice), is that it shows that life is full of big risks. Most people don’t dare to take them, but this brother did. Not only did taking big risks help him get out of the gang life, but it also helped him become a good writer and one of the best poets out there.