Anita Isaacs


January, 2018

Mexico City, Mexico

Why kids like him joined gangs

1 of 4


*To hear more about Ruben listen to the playlist above

Anita: I want to hear, first of all, why you migrated? Why did you go to the states? How old were you?

Ruben: 5 or 4. We migrated because of the money situation that we had. We had what I remember as a pretty low income. My dad couldn't keep a stable job. He would actually work in the mornings and in the afternoons he would be fixing neighbors cars, their toilet, their shower head, their sinks, paint houses, but it wasn't enough. So we didn't actually come together. They came to the United States, were there for nine months, saved up some money, and then they came back and got me and my sister. They went over there, worked, saved money, and then they came back for us and that's when we landed on 59th and Vermont.

Anita: Who were you living with when they were away?

Ruben: My grandparents.

Anita: In Mexico city?

Ruben: Mm-hmm (affirmative) They were taking care of us. Me and my sister. Yeah.

Anita: Was it hard to leave them?

Ruben: Yeah. They were really strict. They were the types of people that you couldn't put... if you were eating at the table, you couldn't put your elbows on the table. You couldn't speak at the table. They'd wake you up at 4:30 in the morning so you can shower.

Ruben: But I mean they treat us good. It was just little things that you know, kids don't like, but my mom, she had a daughter, her name was Gabriela, she was about nine months, but when she was born, she couldn't breathe that good. And one of the female doctors left her in the night with a baby bottle in her mouth. So she basically choked on the milk. She died. She passed away in the hospital and my mom went crazy and she scratched the doctor's face. So she figured that they were going to look for her. And my dad left, went and saved money, then they came back and picked us up.

Anita: So they left after your sister died?

Ruben: Yeah. She would've been right now, 35.

Anita: How much younger than you?

Ruben : Probably like four years.

Anita: Four years.

Ruben: My other sister right now is 31.

Anita: So your sister, is she still in the states, the 31year old?

Ruben: Yeah, the younger one. Yeah. She's still there.

Anita: So did you like living with your grandparents or not?

Ruben: Yes and no. Well, I mean, you know, yes because they would actually, showed us some good ways to become a good person. You know, I've seen right here in Mexico that if you're in a bus and an old lady comes up in a bus, they won't give her the seat and you know, they'll act like they're asleep. They showed us to, to respect our elders. They showed us a lot of good stuff, and they never mistreated us like hit us or spank us or pulled our hair. None of that. But I liked it. My sister didn't like it. She wanted to be with my mom. But when my mom came and we were leaving, my grandpa didn't want us to leave. You know, we had become like his kids. That's where my mom actually came to pick us up. She even gave us the choice. Do you want to stay? You can stay. She was like, you want to go with me? We're going to go back to the United States. So I had like two days to think about it and it was hard because my grandpa, he loved me a lot. He would take me to, he had like a little ranch and he would have fun with me because he would tell me to grab... By 12 he said you should have two chickens. It was two o'clock in the afternoon. I still didn't have one, but you know, he taught me how to cut the corn.

Ruben: Well he had such a big ranch. He had everything there. He didn't have to buy any vegetables. He had peas, he had cows, he had chickens, he had everything. And he would always make sure school was a priority. He would always tell us that no matter what your school is your priority, you got to finish, you got to graduate. And he was into that political stuff so he wanted me to be like that. And he would take me to his reunions. We would make about 600 sandwiches and give them to the people that will come and you know, hear him speak.

Anita: But he was a politician?

Ruben: Yeah, I don't remember what it was, but I remember he used to take me to the reunions and I would be passing out the sandwiches while he'll be up in the stand speaking to the people and all of that I liked, you know, waking up at 4:30 in the morning I did not like. But I had two days to think about it and at the end I was like, no, I'm going to go with my mom.

Ruben: He was like, "don't worry". He was like, "I mean, that's your mom." Right? But he was like, "I don't want you to leave." It was hard for him, for me too. But my sister, she was like, "No I want to go with my mom." But that's when we actually came over there.

Anita: How'd you cross the border?

Ruben: We took a bus all the way to TJ (Tijuana), and we were there for like two days and then they crossed us through Tijuana. Like a little mountain. There was like a little mountain where you hike, go down and then you come down to where they have a bunch of horses or whatever. What is that thing called? Like a stable? where they have horses?

Anita: A corral?

Ruben: Yeah. Like they have like a bunch of them lined up. And I didn't know there were horses. We were running, I was making noise and all of a sudden they all started making noise at the same time, like telling the owner, you know, there's somebody in here. We were hiking through a little ranch.

Ruben: We hiked for at least five hours. My dad was carrying my sister and I was grabbing onto my mom's hand. Once we landed after these horses, we had to cross a freeway. This is at five in the morning or there's a lot of traffic and I didn't want to cross it. I was scared. I said, no man, they are going to run us over. But we finally crossed, came to a place near the border. That's where they had us for like a day. After that they actually transported us to Anaheim. In Anaheim, the people that had us there were really nice but they still had two people with guns, in case you wanted to run. We're there, they'll feed us and then that's when they start making calls. We contacted my madrina (godmother) and she was like, "I live in LA. Tell him to bring you guys here." And they took us there. I remember they were charging $750 a person. It was like $400 for kids at that time.

Anita: What year was this?

Ruben: 86. And that's where we landed in LA, around 59th street. Right before the Rodney King riot. It was like a few years. Well I think like six years before that.

Anita: Do you remember your first day in LA?

Ruben: Yeah, they took me to a... they had these little swap meets close. Swap meets. I remember they took me there and they bought me clothes, pants, shoes. They knew that I liked playing on the little machines, so they gave me coins. They were there with me. Like my madrina, she's like another mother. While my mom and my dad would be working, she would take care of me and I actually called her mom as well. My mom didn't like it, but she's the one that actually paid for us to stay. And then once we got on our feet, we moved to another part of LA near Bell Gardens. I started going to school there and we used to live in a garage and I didn't like living in the garage cause I was like, "isn't this for a car?" My mom would be like, "yeah, but we're only going to be here for a few months."

Ruben: And three years later we moved to Whittier, which was an area where there were no poor people. It was medium class and high class and there were rich people and medium class people. And we lived there for a while. But at that time I had already learned a few words in English. I could speak to somebody, but in the beginning it was frustrating because I couldn't say, "Hey, can I borrow your pencil?" I will do it with signs, like if I had a pencil in my hand. And in between that we lived in Englewood for about nine months and it was actually not that bad because the African American people there, they didn't discriminate against us, they would try to teach you. How to speak, you know. Ask them stuff or like, they would come and tell me if I wanted to play, and I would be like, "huh?" And they would be like, "You know on your bike? You know your helmet? Let’s go."

Anita: Earlier you alluded to the Rodney King riots. So tell me, how old were you and what it was like

Ruben: When was this, in '90... I was in between what, 11 and 12? And it was an experience, not expected, but as a kid, you see too much violence, and cops hitting people, helicopters putting everything on live on TV. It was scary. It was like the whole world was just like going crazy. And at the time being, there were only a few lettings up in that area. African American people were actually just going crazy, opening the stores, stealing stuff, and being really violent because you actually, the next day you can find safety bags from the banks and that's kind of heavy stuff. It was an experience that actually left a shock for like maybe nine months, it took us to recover from that. We didn't want to go to school. We thought they were going to hit us.

Anita: The rioters?

Ruben: Yeah. And it was just something really, really, really for us, scary. We had just got to LA, from San Diego so basically we tried to understand the situation. We didn't really know what was going on. We just knew it was in between cops and African American people. So it was difficult for us to go to school because we figured they either going to get us on the way or on the way back. You can hear people saying, "Go get food because there's not going to be no food for a long time." We actually never really went into no store, nothing. We just waited until it was over. Find out what was going on. A lot of people would say, "Stay inside." You see cars crashing into the gates of stores, just to get them open. Payless Shoes, I remember we had a Payless Shoes and they lit it up on fire. So it looked like a big ball of fire.

Ruben: Payless Shoes, it used to be a store of shoes that were real, real cheap.

Ruben: Maybe I would say well like $3, in between three and 10. It was just something that I can, if I just close my eyes you can actually imagine exactly everything, how it was happening, even though it's been years.

Anita: Things got difficult for you guys after that, right?

Ruben: Yes, it actually did. I mean, as it was we were low income and with that situation it actually got difficult for my dad to keep going to work.

Anita: Isn't it after that that they started deporting people.

Ruben: Yeah, actually, they started deporting people at the time. My parents got lucky because they had been over there for a minute and they basically had records and they applied and they actually got their permit to be there. I remember my little sister was like three years old. She was really scared. She was scared and at the same time, she will say, "Go get me a game, go get me a game." Something to keep her busy.

Anita: So did the police get tougher on you guys after that?

Ruben: Well, it actually got tough on everybody, on the whole community around there because it was more African American people. But with us it will be only with certain people.

Anita: Yeah.

Ruben: They will stop people to see if they got a driver's license. I remember there was no transportation for a couple of days. So my dad had to work, I mean had to walk from two in the morning till five to get to work, and at night he will get home at 12 at night. Because he had two jobs. But we lived through it. We became a little stronger and stronger minded but took us like around nine months.

Anita: How do you feel about African Americans?

Ruben: Basically, I'm not really racist, you know.

Anita: Yeah.

Ruben: I mean my best friend is actually African-America. At school it was different because they would bully us, they will try to say the bench was theirs. Don't sit there, you cannot sit nowhere. We couldn’t understand all the bad words they will say to us, but we never really pay attention to them. We just try to go day by day.

Anita: But could you understand why they were the riots? Did you sympathize with Rodney King or did you feel like this was crazy?

Ruben: At the time we just thought, everybody was just going crazy and my mom was like, "Don't go out, they might hurt us." But we still, we really, kind of curious though, but I never got anything against them. I actually understood when basically you see the news, when they explaining, I understood their anger, but we thought that was not the way to solve it.

Anita: You were part of a gang. Why do you think kids like you end up in gangs?

Ruben: There's three things that I have noticed why we get involved. Well the first one will be we're Latin, we're Mexican. So, cops don't pick people. Cops, they actually just go directly to you, and they start poking you and poking you saying, "What are you doing? What do you have in your pockets? Take everything out of your pockets, put your hands on your head." For somebody that is not involved in a gang, or at least with kids that are doing something bad, it's something that gives you anger. Not hate towards the cops, because they are actually doing their job, but why you picked me when you just saw the other guy going by and he looks more dangerous than I do?

So, Mexican kids get poked on by the cops. So, you start growing some type of anger like, "Why me? Okay, you want to see me like that?" Because with me, all it took it was six months. When I got to Whittier, California, there was an officer there. His last name was Fuentes. He was Mexican. I don't know if he wanted to show off for his coworkers or the rest of the cops, but he will always, always stop me. Even if I was with my mom, he would get me off the car and search me. I don't think that was legal. But at the same time, I wasn't legal.

Anita: How old were you?

Ruben: I was 11 and 12 when he kept harassing me, harassing me, harassing me. When he saw that I became a gang member, I mean, he saw a whole different person. When I was 14, he came to me and he apologized. He said, "I should've never picked on you. I think I made you the person you are now." I said, "Look, everybody has a choice and I made one." I said, "I became a rebel. Now, you're going to see what you wanted to see. Just some advice. The next kids, just don't do that. Instead of picking them up, taking them to a Boys & Girls Club or taking them to the police station, show them what you guys do. What's important, what's bad. That's what you guys should do, not poking us and searching us and taking off our shoes."

It's embarrassing for people or neighbors to see you. Even when cops come to your door and knock and say, "What do you have in your pockets?" I will say, "Excuse me? I mean, I'm in my house." He will say, "I know. You're just a person I like to mess with."

Anita: You said there were three things. So one is the cops picking on you.

Ruben: One is the cops. The second, it could be the environment you grew up with. For example, when I was in LA around 59th Street, that's where I picked up the little things that I knew when I was already 14, which was when I went to juvenile hall. The third thing-

Anita: What do you mean you picked up? The neighborhood? Explain a little more.

Ruben: Well, I mean, look in LA in 83rd St. from Vermont in 59th all the way to 96th St., there was problems in between African American kids and Mexican kids. They didn't like us because we were not American. So all of that, it actually starts making us say, "Hey, I can fight. I can hit you, just seeing what you do." So, you start growing some type of anger towards the streets and reveal another person. Right away, you actually snap and start doing things you're not used to. You start losing fear. Some people, well actually, I had a friend, he stabbed another kid, and they were both 14. I didn't have the guts to do that. Well when I saw that, I said, "Man, it looks easy. That guy that bugs me might need that."

Ruben: So, those are the ideas that you start getting. The other kids, or other little gang members, see that, so that's going to pull you towards them, "Hey, come here. This is where you belong. We are your family." I always said, "It's dumb to say I got in the neighborhood because my family, they didn't love me."

Ruben: I mean, I'm going to tell you one thing. My mom used to hit me with the cable from, I don't know if you remember the old radios, with those cables because she didn't want me on the streets. When I grew up, I told her, "Every hit that you gave me, it actually made me a little bit stronger on the streets." So when somebody will hit me, it wouldn't even hurt. So, you start growing that anger, that anger, that anger, and you get an attitude. That's when, and you actually join a gang. When they see that you are already ready for that.

Anita: Is that the third thing?

Ruben: Third? Yeah, the third thing, it will be parents. Parents push you to do that.

Anita: How do they do it?

Ruben: There's parents, or well at least Mexican parents, they're real strict. My grandfather was really strict. My mom was really strict, but they didn't push me to be a gang member. My friends, their families would kick them out when they were 13. So, what do we do as their friends? "Hey, come here, man. You can come and sleep in my house," and that will be a group of gang members.

Anita: Why do they kick them out?

Ruben: Mexican parents are tough. They actually, if you don't want to learn the good way, "All right, go to the streets and learn the hard way." They might care for you, they might love you, but some of them are tough. Too tough. My mom was tough, but she never kicked me out. She actually, when I left the house, she went out there with a piece of broom looking for me.

Anita: Piece of broom?

Ruben: Yeah. She was like, "You better go home," but she wouldn't hit me. She will hit my friends. She would tell them that I wasn't their friend and that I didn't want to be a gang member, "Stay away from him." My friends were laughing, saying, "Man, your mom is crazy. Why did she come and hit us?" I said, "I don't know."

Anita: So if you were asked, "How can we prevent this from happening so that Mexican kids or Central American kids don't join gangs?" What would you say?

Ruben: Well, there's different things. I mean, look, before I joined a gang, I was a great soccer player. I used to play for the city. There were actually providers with some type of income, and since we were the good students, and we had good grades-

Ruben: ... we actually qualified for that. I used to play for the city and the soccer team, and I was doing good until the streets started calling me. Actually, we feel like the streets call us.

Anita: So, you're saying that if there are other things to do?

Ruben: There's other things to do. Look, I used to stay busy. I used to go to Boys & Girls Club right after school, stay there until 7, go home, do my homework, shower, and sleep. When my membership from Boys & Girls Clubs ended, my parents didn't have the income to do it. That's when I was like, "So, now what do I do? Let me go to that park and play with those guys."

Ruben: Not knowing that they were already affiliated with gangs, and that's how everything starts involving it, "Oh, all right. Oh, no. I don't want to do that. Here, man, it's okay. All right, just a little bit."

Anita: So, you think that if your membership hadn't expired, you probably might have been different?

Ruben: Yeah, it actually would have, because I was the type of kid that I will go to the police station. I already had probation for something from school. I think it was from ditching school. I ditched like three times and they put me on probation. My mom didn't want me to go to the house, so they put me on probation for a year. My probation officer was actually the coolest guy. He would take me fishing. He would take me to little events. The greatest one was going to see the Lakers. he took me there. He was the first one that took me there, and I enjoyed it. When he retired, well I didn't have him, I didn't have the Boys & Girls Club, so what did I have? The streets. So, that's what you turn to.

Anita: Tell me about the tattoo on your arm.

Ruben: It's a portrait of one of my elementary friends. We grew up together.

Ruben: We were like brothers, inseparable. Wherever he went, I went. Wherever I went, he went. They arrested us for, supposedly, a strong armed robbery, which we never did. Since I had already been in juvenile hall, I ended up taking the blame so he can come out because his mom kept crying. "Oh, my son, I don't want him to go to jail." I took the blame for both of us, and he comes out a month after he actually gets killed in front of his house.

Anita: By?

Ruben: By a drive by, a rival gang. Everything changed for me right there. It actually went insane for a minute. I thought everybody was against me and I didn't really trust anybody until after. He was just a really cool friend. Abraham, Abraham Rodriguez.

Anita: Were you in jail at this time?

Ruben: Yeah, I was in jail at the time when he got killed. So it was hard, but you have to get through it. Some things, you have to be strong in front of people. When you're alone, maybe bring out that little sadness in you. Me and him were inseparable. Even his mom would say, "You guys are brothers, but from different mothers."

Anita: How old were you when this happened?

Ruben: I was 15, 15 and a half.

Anita: Just a kid?

Ruben: Yeah. We were actually just kids. The crazy thing is that when he got shot, he got shot, and he stayed alive until his mom got there. He actually got to say his goodbyes, but he maintained himself alive until she got there. I didn't get to see him. When I came out, I just went to go see him at the cemetery, but it's sad to lose somebody close.

Anita: So how did kids separate into rival gangs?

Ruben: There was actually a group of 15 kids. We all grew up together. First through sixth grade we all went to Elementary. We all went to the same middle school, but by the time we hit middle school, we happened to come from different neighborhoods in the same area in the southeast of LA and in one side we were all enemies, but in the other side we try to keep that friendship of where we can have little reunions and no think about what was happening in the streets. And no think about how a part of my neighborhood went and killed one of them. That was off for that little meeting. It was just us, see how we were doing. Our kids, our wives. Have some type of good time and memories from when we were in first, second, third, whatever you can remember. We'll bring it up and laugh, have a little picnic, but leave all those problems to the side. We'll never bring them there.

Okay. My neighborhood had to respect it, and then their neighbor would have to respect it. We will never do a meeting in either one of our neighborhoods. We will always go to, I don't know if you guys ever heard, in winter, there's a park called, well there's Whittier Narrows, but there's another one where there's a Lake Santa Fe down. That's a big park where you can actually have a picnic, play volleyball.

Anita: Santa Fe down? Like down?

Ruben: Like down. And that was our thing to do every year. Every 4th of July we all get together, bring firecrackers, and do the little things that we like to do. We tried to keep it like that as long as we could, we never let a neighborhood get in between it. Even though they did try it, we never let it get in between. Even them, they had brothers who were like, the younger was from this neighborhood, and the older was from another neighborhood, so they had to respect it. When the peace treaty came around, it was a tough time because we were going through a tough time. We had what's called the green light, where anybody could just come and shoot at your neighborhood. Anybody. It doesn't matter who it was, and we had that for 13 years. It came off in 2004, so it was rough. But the ones that we survived, there's only five of us out of 15.

Anita: Only five of you out of 15 survived?

Ruben: It's kind of sad, but the ones that we made it, we look back and say, "Damn. We should've made a meeting about changing our life, not talking about what we do." Things that a lot of people don't know. That's the anger that some people do have. I don't have no anger, I've just got memories. Those are the things that a lot of people don't know how to handle.

Anita: So how has your life changed after being deported?

Ruben: Yeah, actually, we're in Mexico, I'm seeing a way to do a life that I want to do. Maybe I cannot go to school and graduate from some type of career, but I can work and be free. I can walk anywhere I want. I don't have to watch my back and say, "What neighborhood am I in?". The only thing in Mexico is at night, yeah, it's a little dangerous. Depends on the area you're in, but you don't have to worry about other gang members trying to shoot you or looking for you. I had an experience where we were buying groceries and four people walked in the store, the store was called Chia. They walked up to me, put the gun to my head and said, "Is that your mom right there behind you?" And I said "Yes, she is." "Well, you better thank her, because she just gave you life again."

Anita: Did you ever have the idea of joining another gang in Mexico?

Ruben: No. Actually, if you're going to come over here and do the same thing you were doing over there, I think you would be wrong. A lot of people say, "Oh, they deported me. That's messed up. And the new president..." It's not that. Look if you basically see it in a good way. All right, let me see what I can do. Okay, if I can become a manager here, I can get paid good. I can have my car, I could probably buy an apartment and I can live free. But other people don't see it like that. They come over here, and they want to start fighting with people, or try to intimidate the people from the area, and I don't think that's good.

Ruben: Instead of intimidating them, show them what you can do. "Oh, my bathroom is messed up. It's leaking.", "Hey, I can fix it.", stuff like that. I worked with my dad a lot of times. Trust me, I could do that upside down. But a lot of these guys don't see it that way, and you've got to put it in them. I try to tell them, "I'm going to give you a little bit of line, it's to you if you can get it. Because people here, they judge you by how you look, not by what you want, and that's what you've got to change.

Anita: How do you change that if you look the way you look?

Ruben: I did. People around here, if we walk around, you'll see people saying "Hi" to me. "Hey, hi Ruben" How have you been? You all right?" They offer me food. I don't know if I look like I haven't eaten, but they'll be like, "Hey, are you hungry?" And they've got little taquitos puesto or tortas, and they see you, and they already know that if they've seen you, I used to go in and sweep their little spot. They will be like, "No, no". Look, I'll be like, if you sell food, your place has to be clean, because if I walk by and you have all kinds of trash and you're selling burritos, I'd be like "Nah, I would rather get that hot dog from the 7-11", but if you have it clean, people will be like, "Oh it's a clean spot. Let me sit down right here and eat. Let's see how good it is."

Ruben: And that's how I started getting these people to know me or like me, because they would say, "Why don't you guys go back to where you're from?" and I'll look back and say "I'm from Mexico. I just didn't grow up here." I show them that I'm a different person, not what they thought I was at first, because they will see me and they will move to the side so I can walk by, and I would ask ladies, "Why do you move? If I'm giving you the way for you to walk, out of respect, why do you move to the side? I'm not going to take your stuff." On the other hand, I will probably even help you out if anything is happening to you. So that's what these people are seeing, and with me, they're nice people and they have looked for many ways to help me out.

Ruben: Not money-wise, but they will be like, "Look, if you help me do this, I'll pay you for it. I know you know how to do it." They used to get other people to fix their stuff, and now they call me. They will be like, "Hey Ruben, I got this problem. Can you come and see it?" "Yeah, I'll be there right now." That's what we have to do, not get them more against us. Show them that we care for them, too. If we're going to be here, it's the same community we're going to defend. People robbing, people stealing, doing bad stuff, we get along with them, we get really involved with the environment right now with the same people.

Anita: How hard is it to convince others to follow your path?

Ruben: It's hard. It's hard. Depends on what kind of ideas they have when they got here. A lot of these guys think, "Oh, I'm a gang member. If I just walk up to them and look at them all crazy, they're going to give me something." and that's not the way to do it. I'd rather be like, "Hey man, you got 5 pesos I can borrow? I'll give them to you later on." People will be like "Nah, I don't think you'll give them to me." I work right here. They start to get to know you, they start giving you a little bit of trust. Like the guy in the bathroom, he leaves me right there sitting down, charging people, sitting there watching TV, while he goes and does something else. He comes back, and I have never seen him counting his money.

Ruben: I didn't even know he had a camera, but he was like, "I seen you on the camera, and I don't see you grabbing anything else but grabbing your stuff." And he goes, "I never seen you taking money. I never see you not even eating the chocolate without asking me. So why should I ask you how much did you make?" No, he just comes and be like, "Hey, thanks man. Are you hungry? Do you need anything?" He'll give you money, and on the side he'll buy you something to eat. Me, I will say, "No man, you don't have to give me nothing. I'm not asking you for nothing. I'm not asking you to pay me. All I'm asking is just to get to know me. You think I'm cool or the nice person that you don't think I was, well that's all I want to earn." These people's respect, you know? So he can see me like them. No quiero que me vean diferente (I don’t want to be seen differently), you know?

Anita: Do people, others who don't think like that though, the ones who think they can come here and just act tough. How do you get through to them? How do you persuade them that there's another way?

Ruben: Why should I have to show them the difference? I have taken walks with them and these are the guys that tell me, "I know everybody here. I know what I'm doing. Nothing's going to happen to me." I walk with them and they see when everybody's like, "Hey, how have you been? Where have you been? Would you like to come in? Stay here for a minute. Are you Working? Can I help you out in getting you some job?" And they just look at me and be like, "Why are they interested on helping you?" And that's when I tell them "That's different between me and you. They're not looking to help you, because you walk around like you're going to take their wallet. I don't. I might have the face, but I smile. Good morning. Good afternoon." If they want to answer, Hey, it's more than appreciated. If not, I mean that's them. People are different.

And they see it and some people will be like, "Ah, yeah, you're nice." And I say "No, it's not because I'm nice. Show them who you are, who you really are, not who you were in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is done, gone, past."

Anita: So you can get that neighborhood out of your blood, then?

Ruben: It's always going to be in your heart. You're always going to have that attitude. But to me, I only use it when it's needed. Somebody comes, tries to show me he's tougher or anything, I'm not going to fight right away with them. I'll be like, "Hey, look, is there a way that we can solve this? Because fighting is not going to solve it. It's going to make it worse, but if you're still wanting to fight, I mean, boy, I'm not going to back down, but let's try to tuck it, tuck it up. Explain to me what it is that you're feeling. How do you feel that I disrespected you? And what did I say that you didn't like? Then I can explain to you why I said it." There's people that don't think. They just act.

Anita: Do you think you could have changed If you hadn't been deported?

Ruben: I haven't really changed. I had a job. I worked at my job for five years. Worked with helicopter parts from the government. The government people that used to come, they liked me.

Anita: So you had left the gangs.

Ruben: I did, but then still sometimes you'd run into people that they already know you, that you didn't know they knew you. They were still looking for you for things you did when you were like 14 or 15 so that's when you react and say, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm a gang member too." I don't forget. But if anybody, nobody is still looking for trouble or anything like that, you are actually able to control that. You are actually able to do something right instead of just thinking, "Well I'll just shoot them and it will end." No. We're humans. We just talk it out.

Ruben: Now those that come here, I try to tell them. I try to give them knowledge that people here are different. People that are 60 and up, they don't like us. Some of them are grouchy when you say, "Hey, buenas tardes", they look at you like "What's good about?" but they have to get to like you. There's a lady right here who has been living 50 years. She was like, "You're the first-" she calls us cholos- "You're the first cholo that I actually can say, Hey, that guy's nice." She tells me, "Hey, can you clean up my garden?" I clean it up, put water on it, and she's happy, and she'll say "How come you never charge us for what you do for us?"

Anita: About the word "cholo"?

Ruben: Gangster.

Anita: That’s the meaning?

Ruben: Yeah. You about hit it. You've got the gold teeth, you got the little walk, you're a cholo.

Anita: Is it like your mark?

Ruben: So that's the things you got to change from them. They used to call me "cholo", a lot of them. Now they call me Ruben. Finally, after like a month, they will be like "What's your name? I don't want to be calling you "cholo". What's your real name?" "Ruben." "Oh, okay." Now they call me Ruben. I can go and have a talk with them, laugh, and that's all around here. When I lived in Estado de Mexico, it was the same thing. My neighbors, I would talk to them, "Good morning". I would sweep the whole sidewalk all the way to the corner and people would be like, "Why you sweeping in front of my house?" I'd be like, "I don't know. I felt like it, so I just swept the whole street. Is there a problem? I'll put your trash back." But they started liking it, and they got used to it, too, like "Ruben will clean''.

Ruben: Here too, there was a lot of leaves and stuff, but I would do that because why, all those leaves they actually go down the drain. So when it rains that whole street will get flooded. I used to pay this guy that walked around asking for people that wanted the drain to be cleaned. I paid him 180 pesos and he would clean both of them, so we can have water flowing if it rains. If we wouldn't clean it and it would start raining, all that would come back up inside of your house, because the drains are actually connected to your house so if anything comes back, your patio will get flooded.

Anita: You gave a service, then.

Ruben: So I didn't like this, and what I did is I started getting this guy to clean them. I would sweep the street and I would fix it, and that's what I would tell them. "You guys cry every time these get flooded, but you guys never do nothing to fix it. Something like sweeps. Have that guy clean it up so the water can just flow" Now when I go back, they say they want me back in that block. It's too far.

Just things you got to see. If you don't see it, you can't change it. A lot of these people don't see it. They just, "I'm from LA", and it's good to be like that. I was like that, but I'm a different guy. I'm already older. Things change.

Anita: Thank you so much.

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