I have always been a man of travelin, with family connections reaching as far as Spain and Italy. It was a very hot summer and I had decided to spend some time in the beautiful but deadly city of Chicago.
My home state is plagued by Bloods and Crips. But I stayed on 26th and California Ave, a place riddled with Latin Kings who had many rivals but the main one included the Gangsters Disciples. With many of them unfortunately being locked up on that same street in Cook County Jail, one scary ass place. The only reason I know this is because the streets and buildings were heavily decorated with the creation of these artists. I call them artists because each had their own style, each telling a story with a spray painted statement or with whatever materials they had at hand.
I ashed my doobie as I pulled up to my apartment and parked my car curbside on the street. I couldn't help but feel excited since I was almost all moved into my new apartment. The walls were adorned with the works of many undiscovered artists but also included some of Salvador Dali's works and also some of Frida Kahlo's. The further I walked into the apartment the more art I saw that needed to be hung.
My favorite ones included those in the Chicano category. What is a Chicano you may be asking yourself? Well a Chicano has to declare himself one in order to be a Chicano. That makes a Chicano a Mexican-American with a defiant political attitude that centers in his or her rights to self definition.
It's not a category that appears in any US Census Survey. You can check White, African American, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander and even Hispanic. But there is no little box you can check that says Chicano. However, you can get a Ph.D. in Chicano Studies from Harvard and a multitude of other universities. You can cash retirement checks from those same prestigious universities after having taught Chicano Studies for 20 years, but there is still no official recognition from the government. I recognize the term and embrace it fully.
After I unpacked some more I decided it was time for a break. I grabbed my rollin papers and did what I do best. It was easy to walk around in Little Village smoking a doobie because the cops were too scared to patrol the area, and showed up hours after being called. Colorful pinyatas and dresses for quincenyeras (equivalent to a sweet 16 in America) lined the streets. The aroma of cooked meats and tacos filled my nose. I felt like I was at my home away from home. ((I clearly know how to spell those words, ebaums makes them look weird))
I had been walking around now for quite some time. I decided to stop at my favorite store to buy myself a 40oz to top off my excellent day. The Cermak Produce was only a couple of blocks away. The sun was setting leaving the sky a beautiful glow of orange, red, and yellows. I could now see Cermak at the end of the block. In between the stores leading up to Cermak, the alleys and sides of the building all were embellished with gang art. In the alley right before the store I noticed a hooded figure at work.
In the brief time frame that I watched him I assessed that the figure was in his teens. His back was facing me which allowed me to peek at his work. It was almost finished and from what I could tell he was depicting some sort of Mayan god, holding a beautiful naked native girl in his arms. I was in awe as I watched the teen put down and pick out different colors of spray paint. His hands moved swiftly and effortlessly, as if this wasn't his first mural.
I approached the teen and said, "Hey kid you have some real talent". The youngster turns around and jumps back alarmed. "Are you the fuzz?" he asks me. "Na man, I ain't got no badge", I tell the boy trying to reassure him. "What do you want than if your not the 5-0?", the boy asks bitterly as he returns to painting. He was now painting a five-pointed crown on this deity. He signed the piece as Lil Loco and turned to look at me.
"That's Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent god", the boy starts to tell me. "My name is Lil Loco, who are you?" he asks me as he looks me up and down. "My names Cheech man, how long have you been an artist?" I ask. "For as long as I have been on these streets", this child tells me. He pulled his hood down allowing me to get a better look at him. Looking closer I could tell this boy was definitely of Hispanic descent and no older than fifteen or sixteen years of age. He had tan skin and already had a little bean moustache growin on his upper lip. His jeans were slightly ripped and looked like they needed a wash. What stood out to me the most were his shoes. Lil Loco had on a pair of shiny black and gold FILAS. I could see that he inscribed ALKQN on the side of one of them.
Lil Loco could tell I was staring at his shoes so he began to pack up his materials. "I see your rollin with the Kings eh", I say to him nonchalantly. The moment I said this he stopped what he was doing. He turns to me and gets pretty defensive. "Who you rollin with punk, what set you from!", he starts yelling at me. "Relax homie, I'm not affiliated, I don't roll with anybody", I say as I put my hands up, not realizing how silly I looked backing down from a kid half my size.
There was fire in his eyes as if he had seen more than any child should ever experience. "I probably shouldn't be talkin to ya", Lil Loco mutters under his breath after he takes a moment to relax. "Now why is that?" I ask him. As soon as I asked I could see a group of older guys come from around the corner into the alley we were in.
This pack of hoodlums all had something in common, they all were branded somehow with black and gold colors. The leader of the group whistled a distinct tune. He keeps walking as his thugs stay behind him trying to intimidate me. He walks right up to where me and Lil Loco stood. "Whose your friend and who does he roll with?", the leader directed his question towards Loco as he looked me up and down in a disgusted manner. This man was totally serious and had a tear drop shaped tattoo under his left eye. I told myself this was how I was going to die. Before I could speak for myself Lil Loco answered. "Don't worry he's cool, he's un affiliated. I checked him already", Loco says to this authority figure. I could tell that Lil Loco respected this man but also deeply feared him. "Come, we have business to attend to", the leader says to Loco and his thugs.
Lil Loco gathers his stuff as they begin to leave. I had to take a moment to gather my thoughts. They could have easily beaten me to a pulp, and the only reason they hadn't was because the child stood up
for me. He inadvertently saved my life. Lil Loco turns around to look at me before leaving with his crew. There was somethin in his eyes, as if they were screamin for help on the inside. I knew Lil Loco was a troubled kid who was tumbling down a very slippery dangerous slope. He turned away as he walked away with these guys. They begin to run as they hit the street and all chanted in unison, "AMOR DE REY, AMOR DE REY!"
I was still shocked at what had just happened in those brief moments. There was something special about Lil Loco underneath his rugged tough exterior. There was a child yearning for a normal life inside of him. From that moment on I vowed to myself that I would save this child's life. I would save Lil Loco from himself and the gang.
(to be continued....)