Faces of Milpas

NT: Did the movie Colors re-ignite the rivalry with West Side Chicanos

RM: . . . We started really going at it with each other.

Another thing that happened during those years was the dope thing. That was a whole other world inside the neighborhood. There is different levels of gangsterism. There's the soldiers, just doing work for the neighborhood and going out and gangbanging. Then, you have just a group of guys who just hang out. They don't really gangbang, they're just there to hang out and party because we did party a lot.

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.

NT: What do you mean by gangbang?

RM: You go out there and try to get at them. You are looking for them in their neighborhood, at house parties. You just put in work. . . . You drop them, you beat them down, you jump them, whatever.

Then you have the guys that sell dope. That's the third element. They didn't gangbang, they didn't just hang out. They did nothing but just sell dope. That was that.

I went through all that. I saw all of that shit.

NT: How did you end up in prison?

RM: I was stealing cars. That's another thing that jumped up after Colors; youngsters were just jacking cars left and right, man. I never knew about that. Somebody younger from the Milpas came to me in cars. "How are you guys stealing those cars?" They showed us how to do it like that.

So there's a free ride to go and do drive-bys. That's the first thing I thought. Man, you don't have to go in your own car no more. You can get another car, do a drive by, drop the car off and book. You know? That moved gangbanging to another level.

NT: Were most cars stolen for drive-bys?

RM: Nah, it was money. It was joyriding -- just going for a cruise. These guys are poor, man. Most of these guys from the neighborhood are poor. They don't have no cars . . . you don't have to steal a bike no more. You can take a car and it will get you where you want to go.

I got busted for that. I went to jail. I came out. Of course when you go to prison or jail, you get a lot of time to think . . . my time was real short, I was on a minimum yard and it wasn't really that big of a deal. I did real small time compared to a lot of other guys in my neighborhood.

I had a lot of time to think. At the time I was in there, my brother was out here and he met Tupac (Enrique, Tonatierra coordinator). And he was telling me about the different things that he was learning about our people. There is a lot of things, one thing that really hit us, these gangs, all these gangs that are out here, have been around, as we know it, since the beginning of time.

The only thing that has changed is the mentality and the structure of the gangs, the so-called gangs. We call them neighborhoods. Before, we called them Calpuli, an indigenous term for community. They had these all throughout Mexico and here. It was just a little society within a tribe to where that was their little neighborhood. You had all these youngsters who were warriors for that little tribe.

They had names. They had certain functions that they did for that neighborhood. One was protecting it. One was providing food, providing shelter, helping out the old people. There were a lot of things that they did. They had roles. They had a function. They had something to do. They had a purpose. When the Europeans came here, and did what they did, that purpose was taken away and they had to find new things to do.

During all this time of colonialism and all this subjugation that was taking place, the mentality of the Calpulis changed. And it changed so much that it grew into what it is today. So these dudes, all these youngsters have no more direction. They are not living for anything no more. Now they are dying for it. They believe, they think they know what they are dying for. . . . "I'm going to die for my neighborhood."

Say you have a soldier, say an army, and he belongs to a certain battalion. . . . His whole function is to protect his country, and if he has to, he's going to die for his country, for the beliefs his country believes in. Well, for us, it was the same thing, except it wasn't for the country, because to us, the country isn't something that we can relate to. The barrio is something we can relate to. So we took that and brought it into the barrios. And that's how we're doing it.

But it was twisted. It's twisted man. It's all screwed up.

They (barrio youth) know something is wrong. They know . . . a foul game is being run on them. But what can they do? It's something that's out of their hands. In order for them to survive and to have some kind of happiness in their lives, or pride, that's what they are going to do. They are going to sell dope. They are going to be a soldier. Whatever it takes, just to maintain some kind of life. That's all they got. That's all we had. That's all I had when I was younger.

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