Luis J. Rodriguez

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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, Always Running: 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 of 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. In Ciudad Juarez, his father was a high school principal, but in Los Angeles he worked in a dog food factory, a paint factory, in construction, and selling pots & pans and Bibles. He retired as a laboratory custodian at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, CA. Luis's mother, who is descended from the Raramuri, a people indigenous to Chihuahua, was a school secretary but in L.A. worked cleaning homes and in the garment industry when she wasn't taking care of the children. 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, but moved out just before the 1965 Watts Riots. The family later moved to the San Gabriel Valley, and he joined his first street gang at the age of 11. 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").

Rodriguez was the 2012 vice-presidential nominee of the Justice Party.[1] In July 2013, Rodriguez declared his intent to seek the Green Party of California's nomination for Governor of California in 2014.[2]

Gang and early political activities[edit]

During the 1960s and 1970s, Luis was an active gang member and drug user 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 took part in 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. Although Luis dropped out of high school at 15, he later returned and graduated from Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, where he led school walkouts and became president of To Help Mexican American Students (TOHMAS). He later attended California State University, Los Angeles briefly from 1972–1973, becoming a member of the Chicano activist group MEChA, but eventually dropped out.

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 quit drugs and the gang life and dedicate himself to community organizing. Luis also focused on political study and organization, including running for Los Angeles School Board in 1977. In addition, he worked as a bus driver, truck driver, in construction, a paper mill, a lead foundry, a chemical refinery, and a steel mill, learning the millwright trade, carpentry, maintenance mechanics, and welding. At the same time, Luis helped with various gang peace truces and urban peace efforts throughout the L.A. area.

Writing career[edit]

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 began facilitating writing workshops and talks in prisons and juvenile lockups in 1980 starting in Chino Prison. In the early 1980s, he also worked for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, in public radio, and as a freelance journalist until he moved to Chicago in 1985. There he was editor of the People's Tribune for three years, then a typesetter for the Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a writer/reporter for WMAQ-AM, All News Radio. Luis became active in the Chicago poetry scene, birthplace of the Poetry Slam, and founded Tia Chucha Press to publish his first book "Poems Across the Pavement." His readings and talks extended to prisons around the country as well as homeless shelters, migrant camps, Native American reservations, public & private schools, colleges, universities, libraries, and conferences.

In 1993, Curbstone Press of Willimantic, CT published Luis's first memoir, Always Running as a cautionary tale for his son Ramiro, who joined a Chicago street gang at the age of fifteen. In 1994, Luis became a poet/teacher for men's conferences sponsored by the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, founded by mythologist/storyteller Michael Meade, and co-founded Youth Struggling for Survival (YSS) to work with gang and nongang youth and their families. His son Ramiro and his daughter Andrea were also founding members. However, Ramiro began state prison terms at age 17 for various violent acts, eventually serving a total of fifteen years, including thirteen-and-a-half years for three counts of attempted murder. Ramiro was released in July 2010.[3]

In 1998, Rodriguez received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.[4] among other awards for his writing and community work such as the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Lannan Poetry Fellowship, a Poetry Center Book Award of San Francisco State University, a Paterson Poetry Prize, and more. In 2000, Luis moved his family, then consisting of his third wife Trini and their two young sons, Ruben and Luis, to the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. His daughter Andrea and his grand-daughter Catalina later joined them. In 2001, Luis helped create Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural in Sylmar CA with his wife Trini and their brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez, and in 2003 the nonprofit Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore with Angelica Loa Perez and Victor Mendoza. In 2005, he brought Tia Chucha Press, now a renown small press with more than 50 books of cross-cultural poets, to Los Angeles. Over the years, Luis received other recognition, including the Spirit of Struggle/Ruben Salazar award from InnerCity Struggle and as an "Unsung Hero of Compassion," presented by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

Luis's other books included more poetry, children's literature, a short story collection, a novel, and a nonfiction book on creating community in violent times. In 2011 the sequel to "Always Running" appeared entitled "It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing," which in 2012 became a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. By then Luis's writing had appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Weekly, U.S. News & World Report, The Nation, Grand Street, the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, the American Poetry Review, Fox News Latino, the Progressive, and the Huffington Post, among others.

In 2012, Luis was co-editor with Denise Sandoval of "Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community" (Tia Chucha Pess), which in 2013 won an award from the Independent Publishers Association at the annual Book Expo gathering in New York City. He was also co-producer of the documentary of the same name, written and directed by John F. Cantu. The film and book were shown across the country, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Pasadena, and other cities.

He also became a frequent speaker throughout the United States, represented by the Steven Barclay Agency of Petaluma CA. His international travels have included Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Puerto Rico, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, England, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Japan. In October 2011, he became a cofounder of the Network for Revolutionary Change in Chicago, dedicated to bringing together revolutionary leaders, thinkers, and activists from throughout the United States to plan, strategize, and organize social justice, equity, and peace through cooperation, imagination, and meaningful actions.

2012 presidential election[edit]

In July 2012, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson selected Rodriguez to be his running mate on the Justice Party presidential ticket.[1]





  • Rodriguez, Luis J. (2005). Music of the mill : a novel. New York City: Rayo. ISBN 0-06-056076-2. 
  • Rodriguez, Luis J. (2002). The Republic of East L.A. New York City: Rayo. ISBN 0-06-621263-4. 
  • Rodriguez, Luis J.; Daniel Galvez, illustrator (1999). It doesn’t have to be this way : a barrio story / No tiene que ser así : una historia del barrio. San Francisco, California: Children's Book Press. ISBN 0-89239-161-8. 
  • Rodriguez, Luis J.; Carlos Vasquez, illustrator (1996). América is her name. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press. ISBN 1-880684-40-3. 


  • My Name's Not Rodriguez, Dos Manos Records

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gehrke, Robert (July 17, 2012). "Rocky picks activist-author as his VP running mate". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ Schwab, Dave (July 19, 2013). "Luis Rodriguez announces Green campaign for Governor of California". Green Party Watch. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Rodriguez, Luis. "Biography". Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  4. ^ "Hispanic Heritage Awards for Literature". Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 11 January 2011.