Faces of Milpas

Excerpts of the tape-recorded interview conducted on December 10 in the Tonatierra office at 812 North Seventh Street follow:

Reimundo Mendoza: A lot of those young kids that got in trouble, we have been working them. We were not only working with them but, they are my homeboys, too. I have been with them since they were little kids. I'm an older guy. I was hanging out a generation and a half before. I'm 30 years old. When I was in the neighborhood, they were still like, shit, not even teenagers yet. By the time they started coming around and hanging out we had lost a lot of homeboys, me and my brother. We were looking to act a little different and we wanted to change things for them.

New Times: What do you mean by lost?

Joe Romero and Myra Rosales with their children (from left) Vanessa Rosales, Joeanna Romero, Evonna Rosales and Benjamin Romero.
Paolo Vescia
Joe Romero and Myra Rosales with their children (from left) Vanessa Rosales, Joeanna Romero, Evonna Rosales and Benjamin Romero.

RM: We lost homeboys, man. A lot of homeboys died. Some gangbanging. And others just because of drugs, or because of paint. A couple of them were sniffing paint and shot themselves. We saw all this happen in like a year and a half. It's say, mid-'90s, early '90s. I was in prison in '91; when I came out, all these guys were starting to hang out a little bit more. So, me and my brother, Oso, we tried directing these guys a little different. We were tired of seeing homeboys die, homeboys go to the joint and homeboys strung out on dope

At about the same time we found this place here, pretty much this place found us. Tonatierra. We tried to get involved with all these things here -- culture, the history of our people, the Mexican people. It was something that really interested us and something that was lost to us as a people. The more and more we learned about it, the more and more we realized what we were doing was wrong.

You know? It also changed us. . . . It changed our way of thinking and changed our perspective of life, you know? So, what we did was got all the stuff we learned here, and we just fed it to the homeboys -- Lito, Fat Ray, all of them. No one was as open to it as we were. Because they are still young, they are coming up in the neighborhood and they only see what they see when they come out of their front door.

So, all that craziness going on in the neighborhood, you know? So, we kicked it with them a lot. We just hung out with them.

One of the main things that we did throughout all these times was we had a football league going. . . . We ended up playing football with them [gangbangers from La Victoria] for two years. Man, we had some killer football games. It was real competitive and it was real strong. We played football with these guys so much, that after a while, we start seeing each other here and there, it's like, "Hey, yeah, you're from La Victoria."

We had younger homeboys that were fighting with each other. Me and my brother saw the opportunity there to try and get some kind of understanding with these people. We went at it through a culture perspective. We are all the same people. We all come from the same place. If you look at our different neighborhoods, the only thing that separates us from who we really are, is just our names. They're La Victoria, we're LCM. We all dress the same, we all listen to oldies, you now, we like lowriders, some of the homeboys party in the neighborhood. It's basically the same thing, it's all the same thing, we're all the same. . . .

But of course, the neighborhoods being how they are, some of them fight. That's going to happen. There is no stopping it. But for us, what we said, "If it's going to be a fight, let them fight, but we are going to keep this understanding between each other and it's not going to be some big old thing where we are going to start shooting each other and killing each other." That was all good.

NT: How did you become a gang member?

RM: I came up just like these guys when they were younger. I was into it heavy -- gangbanging. I was 14 years old when I got jumped in. I wasn't born in the neighborhood. My family, my mother and all my uncles are all born and raised in that neighborhood. Well, some of my uncles came from Mexico and moved to that neighborhood. My grandmother she still lives in the neighborhood to this day.

NT: What did you do as gang member?

RM: Just represent your neighborhood. That's it . . . back then (mid-1980s), it wasn't really as serious. As we got older, it got more serious. It's just, it's like chaotic man. When you're young, like that, you're part of the neighborhood, all you are thinking is just to be bad and show the other neighborhoods you can't fuck with the neighborhood. We're tougher than you. If you come trying to act crazy with us, we get crazy with you.

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