Mi Vida Loca

Life as a Virtual Cholo


If youíre clueless, thereís a glossary at the bottom.



When I was six years old, I wanted to be an Indian. Never a cowboy. (Well, maybe a Hellís Angel or a motorcycle cop.) In high school, I wanted to be a cholo. Hung out with Chicano friends, wore cholo clothes as much as I could without looking silly. (I looked silly). Why not just be myself? I had this sense of being different, and I was looking for something physical to hang it on. Something that would immediately clue people Iím not like you. In high school, nobody treated me like I was exotic, dangerous. They treated me like shit, as is fitting and proper for a science geek who uses big words in casual speech.


I was accepted. I was kind of like the white Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity chapter in Revenge of the Nerds. Everyone understood my pain. (There was a price, spelled out with surprising candor: donít compete with us for Mexican women.)


Later I discovered on the web that many, many Chicanos who feel like wannabe Chicanos. Political types (e.g. MEChA) have defined the criteria for being a real Chicano so narrowly that no one fits. A couple of sites even published checklists. They say I was a real Chicano and didnít know it. (Neither list requires actual Mexican ancestry!)What does it take?Speak Spanish, but not muchÖcheck.Be born (this is where most Chicanos fall down) in a hardcore hood. I was born by the corner of 109th and Centinela, South Central, so suck it up, pochos.I was a blue baby (see below). And most importantly, I was a real wannabe just like mis carnales.


109th St Baby Diaper



So. What happened? My run as an O.G. (Original GuŽro) ended the day three gabachos beat the crap out of quiet, innocuous little Roberto L., who was no choloóhe was so far under the badass radar that he didnít even own footprints. Mis vatos didnít invite me along when the administered the traditional barrio payback, and tossed one of the pendejos on a fire plug, cracking a vertebra and a couple of ribs.Nobody ever went down for this, the Omerta held.They shut up the gabacho with threats of retaliation from primos in Santa Ana. (Iíll never tell who did it because I donít remember the names any more!)


If you donít read sign language, these guys are from Florencia

Thatís hardcore. Mi barrio VLH wasnít and still isnít anywhere near that hard.


In the ensuing race riots, I was suddenly colorless, no oneís enemy, no oneís friends.Once again, I was that physics geek who dressed like a Mexican.Still, I had my uses.A gabacho clique leader asked if I could synthesize mustard gas so he could put some on his knife. (I do remember his name!)



Full disclosure: I do remember being a pendejo myself on occasion. There was this one guy who challenged me who was two steps below me on the fear hierarchy.I decided to pull his safety blanket out from under him, so I showed up at his house to fight. His mother answered the door.ďIím here to beat on Kevin,Ē I announced loud enough for Kevin to hear--so he wouldnít feel safe at home.ďHeís around back,Ē his mother said, motioning me in.


By now I was starting to feel sorry for the guy! Safety blanket, eh? So I went out back and shoved him around while his mother polished the dining room table with Pledge. I didnít hit him since he didnít resist.So I made him grovel, declared victory, andómost important--got him to promise on pain of death that thatís the way heíd tell it at school tomorrow.


It was far from the worst thing I ever did to an enemy, but letís change the subject and move on, shall we?



The main thing I remember about this period was an addictive mix of desperation, agony and exhilaration. Working in the school library to avoid enemies on the way home, getting sick on strategic days. The movie El Mariachi, made for $8K of blood donor money, best captures the rhythm of pursuit and evasion.


So in college I finally grew up and became an American Indian wannabe.



If you didnít grow up in LosÖ


  • Los = Los Angeles, puto. Where you from?
  • Mi Vida Loca = my crazy life.What gangbangers lead. Commonplace as a tattoo.
  • Cholo = gangbanger, badass
  • Pocho = coconut, decultured Mexican
  • Mi barrio = my hood
  • Mis carnales = my blood relatives (in the sense of blood brothers)
  • La raza = the race (understood to be the Mexican race)
  • Drogas = drugs, obviously
  • Cuete = gun (esp. pistol)
  • No chingas conmigo = donít fuck with me
  • Pongase trucha (lit. put yourself trout) = be slippery, evasive, ungraspable
  • Gobierno = government, dummy.
  • Gabacho = whitey
  • Primo = cousin
  • Santa Ana = #2 rough barrio at the time, behind Boyle Heights/Hollenbeck (East Los)
  • Vato = homie
  • Pendejo = asshole (lit. pubic hair)
  • GuŽro = fair skinned, can also be applied to Mexicans
  • Omerta (ital.) = code of silence



Easter Egg:My Career as an Indian


My understanding of Indian culture came from Black Elk Speaks and the Book of the Hopi. In college there were a few Indian students.They hung out with the black crowd and sounded like South Carolina even if they were from Pine Ridge.(Real revolutionaries were black.)It was their grandfathers I wanted to meet. No interest in becoming a second-order wannabe.


Black Elk talked from a genuine Indian spiritual tradition. I donít mean chanting and burning sage. He said ďHe who sees the morning star shall be wise, for he shall see moreĒ, which means something if youíre a yogi. I idealized Plains Indian societies into the kind of utopian warmth Iíd experienced on mountain retreats with a small group of friends.



Heard Leonard Crow Dog (son of a well-known Lakota shaman) speak while in grad school. A full hour of whining about the evil white man.I wanted to grab him and shake him. Why donít you guys quit whining, stop drinking, and see what it would take to rebuild a spiritually-oriented hunter-gatherer culture? Is it feasible? Do you have enough space for a bison herd if you pool the reservations? Work it out! See if you can reclaim the culture you keep lamenting before all memory is lost!



I had a no-bullshit ďencounterĒ with an Indian leader, too.Dennis Banks, an AIM leader.During the Pine Ridge civil war, he occupied a, I think it was a trading post against the tribal goon squad, with a bunch of white kids helping out. Telling the story, his voice broke when he got to the part where they actually took him seriously, looked to him for leadership,.Politics aside, he won me over personally in that moment.


I didnít have to be an outsider to be a retro-Indian. Wearing Indian clothes (and face paint on occasion) made me a normal hippie. I remember carrying a handmade spear on AmtrakÖin case of ancestral enemies, I told the conductor.


It was the age of identity politics.I invented my own tribe, the Hiaku (adj.) and the land of Hiaka, and neighboring lands, and so on. These will be the basis for the great fantasy series Iíll write when I retire. As long as Iím going to romanticize everything, why not get a novel out of it?


I posted some of this material on my dorm room door, and a couple guys down the hall wanted to know where Iíd scored peyote. Oh well. Their kids will love my book.


OK, now you know far more about me than you should. Iím going to stop right here. Thatís all you need to know.