When 17-year-old Ramiro Rodriguez began running with a gang, his father poet, publisher, and journalist Luis Rodriguez confronted a personal truth. ''We had become a second-generation gang family,'' he says. In order to help Ramiro, Rodriguez, 39, decided to finish a book he'd begun years before a memoir of his own gang experiences during the late '60s and early '70s in East L.A.'s Las Lomas barrio. ''Ramiro knew my story, but he didn't know some of the details and I decided it was important that he did know them,'' says Rodriguez. ''After all, I survived barely, but I survived, and he needed to know how. As bad as things were then, they are much worse now.'' Shortly before last summer's riots, Rodriguez completed Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. Published this month by Curbstone Press, the book is dedicated to 25 of his childhood friends, all of whom died violently before Rodriguez turned 18.
Curbstone, which published his award-winning 1991 book of poems, The Concrete River, was interested in Always Running from the start. But as a small press ''we didn't have the money to do it,'' says Lisa London, one of the Connecticut-based company's three full-time employees. Thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation, Curbstone was able to offer Rodriguez an advance for the book. The firm printed 7,500 copies of Always Running (it has since gone back to press for another 8,500) and, with two more grants, sponsored a major book tour.
As for Ramiro, ''he's not turning away from gang life, he's not quitting,'' the author says. ''But he's more aware. He has a baby boy as of December, and if things don't change that child could be a third-generation gang member. And Ramiro knows that.''