Duck Duck Book

21 – east side stories
07.7.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: social sciences

East Side stories : gang life in East L.A. / photographs by Joseph Rodríguez ; essay by Rubén Martínez ; interview with Luis J. Rodríguez.
New York : PowerHouse Books, 1998.
[MCL call number: 364.1066 R696e 1998; two copies, no holds]

Open this book, and before you even get to the title page you’ll see a photograph of a young family, mother, father, and baby daughter. They look happy to be together and fond of one another. The caption is: “The morning after a rival gang tried to shoot Chivo for the fourth time. Chivo teaches his daughter how to hold a .32-caliber pistol. Her mother looks on. Boyle Heights.” I think it’s a beautiful picture, despite how hard it is for me to stomach the juxtaposition of the baby sitting on the floor with a pistol in her hand, three more guns with extra clips scattered across the floor, and bullets strewn here and there.

Keep turning the pages and there is a lot more to East Side Stories. The book begins in earnest with an essay by Rubén Martínez about Rodríguez’s photographs and about life in the part of Los Angeles they describe. Then there are about 100 photographs of kids in gangs, their families, their neighborhoods, and the events of their lives. Most have brief captions, and a few are annotated with mini-essays by Rodríguez’s about what surrounds the pictures. The book is honest and straightforward, and the very lovely photographs show all kinds of moments — proud, scary, sweet, contemplative, generous, and more.

The presence of guns in East LAers lives, their use as tools of persuasion and as weapons, and anything else about guns as objects or as symbols are only a little part of the story that Rodríguez’s photographs tell. But for people who aren’t familiar with the world he’s describing, that first picture of the daddy and the baby with the gun and the mama looking on with a smile maybe provide a bit of a shock, a way to learn how much you just fucking don’t know about other people’s lives, and also a reason to be interested in finding out.

Rodríguez’s photographs were taken between 1992 and 1995. At the end of the book are interviews with Daniel “Chivo” Cortez (the father in the first photograph), and with writer and activist Luis J. Rodríguez. There is no index.


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