There goes Rudy!  Now that is a tuff dude— what’s up carnal! Everybody greets him. As the homies pay their respects, and senoras show their fear towards him and his two pit bulls, they also give their kids coscorrones for saying hello to that big scary man.  Rudy, the homeboy with a tattoo next to a scar in his left cheekbone, and dark tone loc glasses covering what the heart really says through the eyes.  He is born and raised in the barrio; he has his roots and memories here. On warm days like this he goes shirtless; he shows that he is still in decent shape; he laughs at his last name tattooed on his stomach because it got chopped when the doctors had to open him up to find where he was bleeding– one of the times he got shot. He grew up hiding his smile; serving at the park that did not allow time to play. He spent his teenage years holding the block with friends, on a playground where growing equals surviving. Every day in this city was like stealing a few more days from death, which waits patiently.


Rudy in the Barrio. Image by Susan Dubrofsky

Rudy became one of the west side’s more famous, and had the record to back it up. He’s an old pinto; he did ten years- during that time he didn’t break or snitch, and he says he became a man. While locked up, his mind grew restless, wanted to grow. He found himself reading and his friends laughing at him, but he swears that the words of Luis Rodriguez and Huey Newton, Corky Gonzales and Malcolm X spoke directly to him.  He claims that one night while listening to some oldies and thinking of his grandma he discovered himself. He became friends with Frank Blasquez; he found his freedom in the sweat lodge that Old uncle Ritchie ran once a month in the Joint.  He corresponded with a homie by the name of Mazatzin in califas; while doing this he realized for the first time that he was capable of independent thinking.

Once out, the realities of lack of education and unemployment had to take its toll. However, being able to define himself, his renewed heart showed him a way to hustle and preserve his soul. He went back home, he reclaimed his place in the block, but wasn’t recycled into the street games. He now takes care of Dona Luz, his grandma. Dona Luz is proud of him and tells with a smile, “My nieto, no matter how wild he was, he always respected mom and dad, to this day he also has no one who calls him dad, he’s been responsible you know”. As he walks the streets every day, the placa recognizes and romances him, an old sergeant doesn’t believe in what he now says, what he stands for and would love to put his hands on him again.  The alderman doesn’t like him either, because in contrast to him he is willing and able to talk genuinely with everyone in the neighborhood.

For money, Rudy referees the softball games at the Y on Thursday and Sundays, he is the basketball coach with the biggest street rep in all of Cook County. He also helps Don Tomas, the guy from Chiapas to run his grocery store.  Once in a while his hands sweat and the old days knock on his door. When the devil whispers in his ear and wants him to find an easy way he meditates, does some yoga and focuses, that takes the noise away in his head.  He is not crazy anymore; when hanging with the OG’s he drinks just a chela, once in a while– a joint. In his life there’s no more time for hard alcohol or blow.

I met him the other day as I walked the streets working with some of the kids that he himself had introduced me to. What up holmes?! How’s the block? He looked at me in a cynical way. We had two more shootings yesterday man. This shit is bogus! A pewee got it in the head. I tried to hold a circle at the high school like I used to; but the principal told me that I couldn’t do it anymore because I am not restorative justice certified. He opened his arms and inhaled all the barrio in one big breath. Look at us man! His eyes were on fire and his voice got deep, look at us, and look at this!  What are we going to do for the barrio? Even if everyone tells you that you have a problem, no one wants to see that the real problem is that the world doesn’t like you to be innocent, and it doesn’t want you to dream of things that make sense to us. “Tomas, man shit is tuff! At times all that we have is simple heartbreak. And that heart break adds to the other heartbreak on the streets, and the end result is anger, poverty and sadness. At times it feels lonely man! Most of all the old locos are dead. The ones who are alive got their girlfriends pregnant on purpose because they were insecure of loving without conditions. Other carnales who want to do right struggle to find work, because with records they cannot make it. You see them around and check how their eyes slowly lose their spark. Their once lean bellies grow big with beer, and their eyes turn red with mota to hide the tears and shame. The block has its circle of life, look at the young homies. You see them grow and play around; their stares are sweet, bright. You see them say what up, and smile; that of course until their first arrest. Man I swear I can hear a part of their soul leaving every time I witness an arrest. Their body hits the floor, their hands let go of toys and the soul detaches. Forced to turn into survivors with susto as tio Jerry said, the difference being that the arresting officer doesn’t do a humming calming song like their nana did. Then they discover the realities of the street, which shows them that the only way they can gain manhood and look up and into somebody’s eye is to have an affiliation or a gun. Desperately looking for a way to be dignified, wanting to protect others while at the same time wanting to be protected. Collecting their new set tattoos acquired at the demos, shining next to battle scars acquired on suicidal missions. And you know the guys in the other hood do the same.  It turns into a game where every affiliated set ends putting a tag in somebody’s life, perpetuating the cycle of broken barrio dreams.

Look at the guys who were my closest homies! Tiger, he is still angry as ever, he is regretful and tries to mend a broken heart by fighting and hitting his kids and wife. Remember Buda? He is dead now, victim of a drive by, that was the only way he was able to stop drinking and to allow people to be close to him physically without fighting. Then there’s Puny, who went from a chief to being a crack head, he wanders the streets unable to even say his name or stand straight.  Man what a sad way to be! Seems that for us brown men, the only alternatives are to die from sadness or by the bullet in the middle of protecting the block. He shook his head and showed a half smile, then gathered himself, took a deep breath kneeled for a second and put one hand on his heart and the other in the concrete. But the world won’t get us homie! Our gente deserves a better world, and we can’t let them down! We shared a hug, some bad jokes, and a smile. We said goodbye, he had to walk his dogs before going to work.  I continued walking and spent my whole shift thinking of who my friend really is.

Who is Rudy? Rudy, is he who in the barrio talks to all, old and young, who role models respect for elders and wisdom earned by concrete and a police baton. Rudy is the light bulb of hope who takes hearth aching paisas, and angry home boys to find healing with his uncles inside the sweat lodge.  Rudy is the voice of sanity holding council to build peace among the gangs. Rudy, who is able to see and feel all that happens in the hood, and who while walking the barrio streets, these recognize his feet. Rudy is the man always resisting, denying fear, because it is contagious. Rudy is the only one who takes little fatherless Dante to Chuckie Cheese for his birthday with whatever little money he has. Rudy is my friend, a true hero who puts himself at risk, trying to calm down angry and hurt homeboys. Rudy is the home boy without formal education or publicity for his organizing work that gives to all his best.   Then I ask again, Rudy who are you not? Rudy you are not one who the alderman or the police like. Rudy you are not what the class structure in this city wants to see; you are not what our good consciousness wants.  Rudy you are, what the barrio really needs.