“No Soy Cholo”
by Jacob “Jake” Teran
The homies on the block always had something to prove. As mischievous misfits that did not fit in at home or at school, we found solace in the calles, perhaps because the streets had no barriers or rules to bar us from expressing what we thought or felt. We were young niños y niñas that dressed the way we wanted and expressed how we saw the world through our eyes. No parents to tell us to watch the profanity that spewed from our mouths, no teachers to correct the way we spoke, and no one to fear of getting into a fight because we all fought between ourselves. We did not belong to a gang, but we were prospects to the eyes of the gang on our street and they constantly tried to recruit us. As much as the thought of being in a gang flirted with our adolescent minds, it was something that none of us morros were down to do. At the time being, of course.
One summer I vividly remember, would forever change my perspective on joining a gang. This experience began on one summer night I paid a visit to the hood headquarters on my block to pick up a dime of some low-grade mota. Weed always put me at ease, especially at night. The night was warm enough to rock some brown Shaka shorts and a white crisp Pro-Club shirt. It was an hour or so from midnight on this cool summer night and my mom was already asleep. I was craving to smoke a joint to help me sleep and had the Zags but no bud to roll it with.
I became an expert at creeping out of my two-story apartment door with my skateboard on my hip without making a peep. As soon as I crept out from my apartment driveway and placed my foot on the pavement of my sidewalk, I took flight on my board. I rode down Sapro Street on this warm night, ollieing above all the cracks on the beat-up concrete that you could not see, but able to from the memory cemented from skating down my block so many fucking times. Although my street had an active and affiliated gang, us morros never saw them as “cholos,” or “gang bangers.” We just saw them as our “older homies” that had our back if anyone tried to fuck with us. They were also the connect if we ever needed some decent weed. I approached my destination and got off my board to not wake the homies’ grandparents up. I then made a distinctive pop with the tongue and roof of my mouth that we all made. Whether it was a whistle or a tongue pop, us barrio kids had ways to call each other, especially without the existence of today’s technology.
I entered the homeboy’s lot and chilled under a lemon tree to wait for him to come out and serve me. The tree was as old as my homies’ grandparents. It had rusty pocketknife carvings that read, “Barrio 323” and “Sapro Locotes.” I snagged a lemon and hid it in my left pocket just before I saw movement at the backdoor window, hoping it wasn’t my homie’s abuela. The backdoor opened, followed by the screech of the metal screen door, and I saw Bomber come out sidestepping down his 3-step porch. Bomber was a slightly bald and light-skinned Chicano whose shoes looked bigger than his head. He had this stroll when he walked that resembled a penguin due to his flat feet. Stalky and wide at the shoulders, somewhat tall, Bomber was known for scrapping with other rival taggers after school. But he was better known for his name – getting his hood’s tag up on barrio walls, especially since he was a prospect for getting in the barrio gang. At thirteen years old, he had five years on top of me, making him an “older homie.” Until it was his time to get in the barrio and put in real work, he was a notorious tag-banger who was affiliated with Sapro Street by family and preached the street politics to us youngsters whenever we chopped it up and smoked with him.
“What’s cracking, Guillermo, you good? What you doing out here so late?” Bomber’s eyes were wide open and looked as if they were about to pop out of his sockets as he glared at my hand that I stuck out before shaking it.
We shook hands and bumped knuckles. “Chilling Bombs, are you on deck?” I quietly kicked the tail of my skateboard up to my waist to hold.
“You already know you’re at the spot, Guillermo.” Bomber looked to his pad and then back to the street as if someone followed me. “Caile over here and chill behind the stairs. You already know what’s up, Guill.”
Bomber’s pad was rumored to be a “halfway house” – a residential location usually for formerly incarcerated people. A place that usually offered parolees a second chance to the society that they offended to one degree or another. At least, this is what my dad used to tell me when we drove by, but I never bothered to ask him how he knew nor to challenge him that I knew the people who operated there.
Bomber lived down the block from me in a three-building lot with his grandparents and tío that lived in the front, another tío and a distant cousin in an adjacent building to his own, and his mom, baby’s mom, and himself in the third. The third building directly in the back of the lot was where I hid since we both didn’t want his grandparents seeing any transas, although they knew what the fuck was going on.
I hid behind the stairs and looked up to the sky and appreciated the stillness of the night. No jura sirens, no ghetto bird, no train howling, just the sweet calm summer night scent that filled my street as well as the fresh lemon scent that permeated from my shorts. That, and of course, the smell of the marijuana that flooded Bomber’s lot since they had pounds of weed in the garage lots that I hid near. Bomber opened the door, annoyed and rushed.
“Come here!” Bomber exclaimed to me with his hand. I already had my $10 bill folded in the palm of my hand ready and Bomber had his bag of bud in his. We exchanged handshakes with a knuckle bump exchanging what was within. I could hear his grandma saying that it was late and that he shouldn’t be doing any transas or else the juras would come. “Vuelve a dormir, Grandma…fuck,” he told his abuela. I knew I overstayed my welcome.
“Gracias, Bombs.” I stashed my sack of weed within my sock and was about to power step out of Bomb’s lot.
“Hey Guillermo, you know you’re welcome here and shit, but come earlier if you want bud. You already know it’s hot as fuck right now and it’s late to be serving.” Bombs was annoyed from his abuela but also knew of the interaction me and the homies had on Olympic just a few weeks ago. Bomb’s tío’s rival gang, South Side, were lurking and banged on us morros just a couple of weeks ago to where straps were pointed in our faces, although none of us were affiliated, yet. On top of all that, he looked stressed and him being faded on whatever he was on didn’t help.
“Spensa, Bombs, will do. I’ll come earlier next time.” I shook my head and headed out.
I walked a few houses down before skating back to my pad traversing the crooked and broken sidewalk that was my home. The breeze of the summer night that blew through my long hair felt fresh as I dashed on my wooden deck on wheels. As I got close to my apartment, I got off my board and walked to the front of my laundromat where I faced down Olympic.
I paused and stared at Olympic Boulevard for a few seconds to reminisce on how South Side pulled a chrome .45 that shined from the streetlight to my face… That spider-webbed tattooed motherfucker…Would he have pulled the trigger? If I get in the Barrio, I can look for that fuck…Fuck those levas. I was overthinking shit.
The mailbox that was on the left wall of the laundromat always had junk mail and coupons for nearby pizza places that promoted new toppings every week. I grabbed one of the coupon pages to use as a surface to break up the twigs and seeds from the sticky yet mediocre mota I just copped. It was a little more than a half an hour to midnight. I had Zags. I had weed to roll in. I was comfortably alone. I could hear a couple cursing each other on the next block over about a dispute on finances. The sounds of distant ambulance sirens echoed as well. These sounds of the barrio may be unsettling to others, yet, for me, I felt right at home.
About a week later, I got closer to what may have been a decision that I would not be able to undo. I was dry without weed and wanted to pick up some more bud from both the money I collected recycling from my place and from nearby neighbors’ recyclables that were left unguarded in their garage lots. I waited for my mom to fall asleep in her room as she usually did after saying goodnight. I wore the same clothes from last week, but this time, threw on one of my favorite black hoodies, and made my way to Bomber’s pad. I did my usual clucking sound to call Bombs, but instead of him, Bomber’s tío Funny, came out.
“Who the fuck is this? You know what time it is?” Funny whispered violently. Bomber’s tío was always straightforward and never shy to scold who came, in worry of burning the spot.
“It’s me, Guillermo, Funs.” I could only see the silhouette of Funny coming down from the same back metal screen door Bombs usually came down from.
Funs was one of Bomber’s tíos from the neighborhood. He was way older and was one of the main heads from the barrio. He was a frightening bald-headed chingón with a red lipstick tattoo on his neck and sharp nose. Every time he spoke, his eyes blinked as if he just put in eye drops. Every response you gave him was sharply returned by a swift “aha,” quickly confirming what he heard. His hands were always moving by his crotch and the pockets of his pants as if he was ready to pull out something, listo, of course, even from a 13-year-old like me.
“What’ssss up, little homie! What’s good?” His demeanor changed once he saw that it was me. His left arm wrapped around my shoulders as if an octopus found its prey, while his right hand was ready to pull something out of his pocket. I kicked up my skateboard to my waist as I usually did to act cool, but deep inside, I was scared of this fool. Too many rumors went around that he blasted and killed a couple of dudes from South Side.
“Chilling, Funs. How you been? Just want to get some bud and smoke out,” I told Funny as I kept my eyes on his hands from my peripheral.
Funny paused, almost knowing I was aware of his own paranoia as he blinked strongly at me. “What do you need, little homie? I know my nephew hooks it up with nickels and dimes, but I can’t be serving that small this late. Chales. If you and your little homies put your ins together, you can easily get a half ounce of this new green shit we got. Pretendo! Better than that fucking stress you little ass fools be smoking.”
Back at this time, there were only three types of weed: Stress, the lowest grade of weed with seeds and stems (which I didn’t mind picking up), Mids or Pretendo, which was the medium grade that had less seeds and stems, and the last tier of course, was Chronic – the highest grade of weed. This was long before Kush and medicinal mota came out.
“Here, smell this. Tell me that shit don’t smell bomb. Feel how sticky it is, too,” as he raised a baggie from his pants and opened it with his left thumb and index finger. I took a sniff, and the aroma confirmed what he previously stated.
“Fuck it, I’m down.” Funs blinked hard and looked down, at his pad, the street, and down beneath the stairs of the building where his nephew was already asleep.
“Alright. Go chill behind those stairs and I’ll come right back.” Funs instructed where to wait (where I usually went when I came). This time, I couldn’t snap a lemon like I usually did from their lemon tree. I waited longer than usual this time too, not knowing what the fuck Funs was doing or why he was taking so long. The grandparents must have not been there or were dead asleep since it was dead quiet this time around. Funs came out looking more serious and signaled me to come into the darkest spot of the lot… Fucking shit.
“Hey, so Guill, when you gonna get hopped in? The big homies are noticing you more. You come through to the barrio…We want little homies like you to come through for the barrio now.” Funs was rolling up a joint for himself as he was telling me this, while still observing my facial expression. “You would be perfect for the barrio, homes…Think about it…on your skateboard, no one would suspect you…” Funs was measuring me out as he was fixing his joint. A perfect expendable soldier for the hood. Long hair, no tattoos, baggy clothes, a “rocker fool,” as some would call.
“I don’t know, G… I don’t know if I am ready for all that shit,” I looked at Funs’ eyes, showing both fear and my seriousness that I wasn’t about that life. At least not now.
From the look I gave Funs, he knew I could be properly groomed to be the right soldier for the barrio, especially to retaliate what South Side did not long ago. He knew we were scared what South Side did, but he also knew we didn’t like it, either. He capitalized on that. I just wanted to get faded and knew I had to say something if I wanted to leave without friction or some bullshit happening.
“On the serio, Funs, I think I’ll be down soon. I see you and the hood. I know you got love for us, too. I just don’t feel ready, but I’m down…” I fronted. I gave him false hope that a youngster like me would be down and put in work as a soldier, because I knew I could. But, at the same time, I honestly felt like I was too young to be soldier; to get hopped in a gang. But in reality, there was no age limit. I knew this and so did he. Funs saw something in me though – the potential to ride and put in work. Maybe an expendable soldier to take someone out that was of a higher rank.
“Trip out, Guill. Listen, I see you putting in work for the barrio. You already know the hood and all the bigger heads. Chino, Happy, Fader and my nephew Bombs all said you’re firme. That we can trust you. Trust don’t come easy in this area, homes. You ain’t dumb and I know you know what’s up with that. Can’t you see yourself posted with a .22 riding your board? Come on now. You been coming here more than any of these other younger fools in the neighborhood. I like you, Guill. Plus, you want those bitch ass fools like South Side to keep running up on you like that? You need to protect yourself and the people around you. Your familia.” Funs had rhetoric to his advantage. I kept my eyes on Funs holding his pocket, not knowing whether a cuete or a fist was going to come out.
I heard stories of homies getting hopped in even without their consent. If the older heads wanted you in the hood, they’d jump you not giving a fuck whether you wanted to or not. Once you got jumped in, you were in. And if you denied you had affiliation, you’d get hopped again. It happened to one of my cousins while chilling with the White Fence Barrio in Boyle Heights. I didn’t feel ready but thought having a strap on me would be firme as fuck. If someone pressed me, I could pull out my strap and handle it. I felt powerful knowing I could be from my own barrio with a cuete on my hip. The thought of having that kind of power, I could take a life away… But something just didn’t feel right. Until then, I made excuses and was direct about not getting in just yet. Bombs and his tío Funs as well as the other members had respect for me for always coming through, especially alone. It showed them I wasn’t afraid, but maybe also showed them I was stupid enough, as well.
“Naw, G, I feel like that’s some shit I’ll be ready for next year. I got some shit going on at home that has my mind occupied.” I too had rhetoric that allowed me to come this late to get served, but now, my street reputation was being tested. I kept my distance from Funs with my board ready to use either as a weapon or shield from his next reaction.
Funs stared me down with his blinking eyes, sharp nose, and even sharper gaze, and I fearfully looked back. This is how it starts – before getting hopped. I was waiting for the putasos to start flying. He stuck his hand out, looking disappointed, but also knowing it was not the time and place. He shook and squeezed my hand hard, smiling, blinking at me, knowing I would come back. There is a reason why he’s called Funny in the barrio, but I didn’t care to find out. At this moment, I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. He knew I was scared, but he also knew I had heart for my age. Most of my homies on the street would bug me to roll with them to Bomb and Funs’ pad because I knew how to communicate and deliver transas without any pedo. But here I was, alone with Funs. He hadn’t let go of my hand yet. I couldn’t look away or flinch either. I stood my ground.
“A’ight, little homie. Get home safe and I’ll be seeing you on the block soon.” Funs finally let go and I said al rato. I got on my board still in his driveway knowing it was loud but took off anyway. I got home and didn’t blaze it; I just went to bed.
The very next day, the homeboy Turkey and I went to our local park. We were ditching school like we usually did and went to smoke out. The Montebello Park down Sapro Street had a firme program that would feed anyone who came during lunchtime regardless of age. It was to help homeless people, but they didn’t care if kids came to eat the free lunch, so we took advantage. A load of benches near the designated skatepark within Montebello Park was where all the marijuanos chilled at, and Turkey and I had our own special spot that nobody went to, by the second tallest tree of the park.
From the bomb ass bud I got the night before, I pulled it out and showed Turkey. “Eeeee, some gourmet shit ‘er what?” Turkey chuckled as he snagged the bag from my hand.
“You already know. Fucking Funny was acting weird last night, too. Bombs was knocked out or somewhere else, so Funs served me.” Turkey looked at me with his right eyebrow arched up.
“You keep going at nighttime alone, something funny is gonna happen to you.” Turkey was looking down, breaking up the stems and seeds.
“Fuck you, dick,” I let out a laugh. “But serio, that fool is either tweeking it, or not all there.” Turkey and I were tripping out how sticky and good the weed stunk.
Just as we were done breaking up our bud, Bomber and his homeboy Rome came to our spot unexpectedly. Rome was taller than Bomber and about the same age. Rome already had tattoos on his arm and looked like most of his tattoos covered up some scars on his right arm. Bomber’s homeboy was notorious for starting fights with random people and this fool could scrap. Whether he was drunk, faded, or straight sober, he would speak less by using his fists, and was known for having manos. Rome eventually got hopped in the rival gang South Side a couple of years later, which betrayed Bomber and his familia, but before all that shit went down, Bombs and Rome were best of homies and got into a lot of shit together, especially for their age.
“Orale! What’s crackin,’ Guillermo! What’s really hood, Turkey! What are you fools doing here?” Bomber always looked happy as fuck to see us.
“Quiubo, Bombs! ‘Sup, Rome! Just chilling about to burn it. Want to throw some ends? Gonna roll a leno.” I offered a firme rolled joint to Bombs.
“Fuck that! Put that pencil dick joint away. Rome and I got some shit that will have you stuck.” Rome pulled out a fat blunt with some Chronic. Because Chronic was so expensive and you got so little, it was always a treat when somebody came through.
We got into a circle and started the rotation as laughter, cannabis smoke, and coughing ensued. We spoke about how fucking boring and stupid school was, the latest drive-by shooting, and rival taggers that were plotted against. Finally, the four of us started talking about how South Side came through the other night. This was the conversation – the cherry on top – that further influenced the direction I was going regarding getting jumped in the hood or not. Smoked-out Turkey bounced; he said he had to go somewhere but probably felt uncomfortable talking about South Side since it happened at his house on the corner of Sapro Street. Bomber, Rome, and I continued our smoke session as we all took turns packing bowls from Rome’s pipa.
I was faded and just spoke my mind freely, “Who are the South Siders and why the fuck does Barrio 323 beef it with them?”
“Because they’re bitches,” Rome jolted back with lightning speed while letting out a cloud of smoke.
“They’re the enemigas, Guill. Fools that belong in the dirt,” Bomber added in.
For me, that wasn’t good enough. My dumbass continued talking. “Yeah, I get that shit, but why does our hood have beef with those fools? Like how did that shit even start?”
“It’s complicated, Guill. Years and years of beef from older heads and it gets passed down. It’s all politics,” Bomber got a little more serious.
“But what about Raza? Yeah, I’m faded and not trying to sound like a fucking tree hugger and shit, but aren’t there other groups or hoods we should be beefing it with besides Raza.” Although my young mind was “white vs black” at the time, I really wanted to know why there was beef amongst our peoples. Sure, the Aztecs had beef with neighboring tribes and the North Native Americans did, as well, but I just couldn’t understand and let go of why hundreds of years later, we still beefed it with people that looked like us – amongst ourselves.
Laughter erupted as Bombs and Rome looked at each other. Most likely thinking I was naïve and I was, but I could not wrap my mind around beefing with neighboring tribes because of some shit that happened years ago.
“Don’t even trip, Guill. It’s all politics that you’ll get soon enough. Your ticket will clock in soon,” Rome said as he was getting up from our circle.
We all said al ratos and took off from the park. I completely forgot to get lunch, but I wasn’t in the mood; I just walked home. On my way home, though, I came to the realization that I could not be a part of my barrio or any hood for that matter. I couldn’t fathom inheriting enemigas that I never met, let alone, never knew of. Not to mention having to represent your hood 24/7, while you could never reject, hide, or deny it, or you could face the consequences for ranking it amongst your comrades. I probably like the music and style of gangbanging, even would go so far as to say it looks cool. But when push comes to shove, when it’s time to do gangster shit, it’s straight up scary as fuck. Not too many people I knew at that point in my life ever had a gun pointed at them. Last week when South Side came mistaking us for their rivals, my life slowed down almost as if it was paused. But life does not go on pause. This shit is not a video game and there are no restarts. I was scared shitless when I saw the chrome .45 pointed at my face two feet away from me.
I wanted to be down, represent who or where I come from, but I just couldn’t do it the way so many of my homies were doing it. I wanted respect and to be respected, but I couldn’t fuck someone up, let alone shoot them, unless I know I am in danger; unless they did something to me or my family and they deserved it.
I looked at the blue sky above me as I walked down Olympic. I stared at the clouds trying to envision an image that might give me a sign, but they were just shapes and abstract figures as they hovered slowly. Maybe there is a point here. Maybe we are just clouds floating alongside our concrete world. I began to think I wanted to make an image or sign appear from these clouds in my mind; the same way I probably wanted to appear a certain way when others looked at me. I was just spewing a bunch of bullshit and must have been high out of my mind. I continued walking and took a deep breath and let it all out. I let it all out. I let all that shit out, while watching over my shoulder.
Jacob “Jake” Teran is a proud Chicano living in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. Jake is a 2nd generation Chicano who was born in Montebello, Los Angeles, east of Los Angeles. He has published his first two short stories on Somos en escrito, called “A Quiet Night on the Boulevard,” “Niños del Sol,” one short fictional story at his community college at Rio Hondo College, and a master’s thesis for his graduate program, where he obtained his M.A. degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He was recently published in an anthology by Querencia Press where his short story “Soy Chicano” and two poems, “Mi Color” and “Bare Tierra” can be found. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. In addition, Jake is an advocate for social justice, self-care, and embracing the identity of others. Jake currently lives in the San Gabriel Valley where he is working on a novel based on his experiences growing up in his barrio that deals with gang lifestyle, drugs, violence, and finding one’s identity in a chaotic concrete jungle that he calls home.