A Boyle Heights Stage Is Home To A Theatrical Retelling Of The Famous ‘Always Running’ Novel
For centuries, audiences have crowded around the theater stage to watch artists critique social mores or offer a fresh perspective on life. The history of play-righting has long been written by white men, and it’s often reflected in the audience. Finally, for the first time ever, cholos are telling the story and owning the stage platform at one theater in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. “Always Running” is a stage adaptation of Luis J. Rodriguez’s memoir, “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” Critics and East L.A. Latinos alike have lauded the play as more than just a memoir come to life. It’s Angelino history, written by brown people, and come to life in vivid colors by Latinos. This is ownership of the history that isn’t often told: a coming of age story during the rise of cholo culture in the ’60s and ’70s in Southeast L.A.
Instead of watching Hollywood reimagine gang wars and the demonization of Latinos, audience members trust Rodriguez to offer his living experience of when gangs were there to protect the barrio. We can trust this retelling of history, because it belongs to us.
The setting is 1960s Los Angeles.
Glen Bell has already stolen the recipes from San Bernadino County’s oldest taquería and has established Taco Bell. Teenage boy Emmett Till was just lynched in Chicago. The Civil Rights movement is in full swing. Grassroots organizing, including the infamous March on Washington, has prompted the legislator to finally pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”
Meanwhile, Chicano culture, a world of its own nestled in southeast Los Angeles, is experiencing its own uprising. Influenced by the Civil Rights movement, El Movimiento, also known as the Chicano Movement, sought the same equal rights to work and live without discrimination.
El Movimiento sought to find safety from police brutality and worse.
The movement started long before the 1960s. Chicano pride started after the Mexican-American war in 1848 when the U.S. stole Mexican land by force. A community suddenly went from being Mexican to being American. Over time, Chicano pride set in, and the community has fought to protect its people from the government ever since. It wasn’t until 1975 that compulsory sterilization of Latina women who did not understand the forms, in English, they were signing allowed their doctor to sterilize them. Students started organizing walkouts across East LA to demand equal funding of their schools, and consequently, education.
“Always Running” is placed in the context of an urgency to protect the community from people in power, all while trying to humanize the community to those same people in power.
It’s not just a retelling of history for Chicanos across the country. It’s a glimpse into a moment in time through the eyes of a young teenager, Luis, living in the barrio. It’s bright colors, police sirens going all the time, violence by both gangs and the police, and trying to find your place in this world. Luis is already addicted to drugs, hardened by the bloodshed and lack of security felt by the barrio and police that were sworn to protect them. His inner world reflects his outer world. With suicidal tendencies, Luis is always walking the line between life and death, much like any other walk down his own barrio street. Luis turns to the Lomas gang for some semblance of security and belonging.
This isn’t “Stand and Deliver.” Luis continues to go in and out of jail, and in and out of sobriety.
Even when a truce is reached between rival gangs, Lomas and Sangra, its leaders just become victims of police brutality. There isn’t safety or security to be had in the barrio in the 1960s.
Director Hector Rodriguez wanted to ensure that this world from over 50 years ago was as representative as possible. Kam Ying Lee, the production designer, included authentic neighborhood photographs as the backdrop to much of the performance. Abel Alvarado does more than use ‘classic’ 1960s costumes. She ensures it reflects the Mexican fashion and context of poverty.
But Luis comes to understand his story through art, and you can, too.
“Always Running” is a Chicano story. It’s one of many. It’s also a call for more Chicano stories to be shared and celebrated. You can witness all of it at the Casa 0101 Theater for just $20 – $45. Hurry, because shows are already sold out.