I grew up in the seventies and early eighties in Gardena,
Ca, a town in the South Bay sandwiched between the hoods of South L.A. on the north and east and the suburbs of Torrance on the west and south. The Mexican gang in my neighborhood growing up was GX13 (Gardena Trece). Most people in the city either feared or loathed GX13. They would graffiti the town overnight with names straight out of a Luis Rodriguez
novel. There was Killer, Joker, Puppet, Tiny, names taken out of a Cholo 101 handbook. The local paper would write about Gardena’s gang epidemic and everyone in our small town would get scared. The truth was a lot of these guys in GX13 were young guys who just liked to party and were about as dangerous as puppies. But there were a few snappers in the bunch that were very dangerous and would turn on you in a second. When you hung out with those guys, you always had to keep your guard up.
At the age of twelve, I started to hang out with some of the little brothers of some of the older gangsters. Then the gangsters started to hang out with us at the park. They always seemed to be having a good time and they were proud of who they were. They spoke neither full Spanish nor English, just a concoction of the two languages mixed together adding slang that they picked up from relatives and other vatos. They had Mexican iconic tattoos and drove primered lowriders
, ready for the next step into their car’s evolution into lowriderism. As tempting as it was to join that life, my friends and I were intercepted by a man named Louis Marchese. Lou, as we called him, was one of the original members of GX13 when it was a car club in the fifties. It was full of vato locos that smoked marijuana openly in a time before the hippies made it social. He got out of that life when he had a son, who was my age and also playing baseball on our team. Lou spent several years coaching us in little league and playing ball with us every day during the summer in order to deter us from getting into trouble. After long hours of catching and batting practice, the last thing I wanted to do was run around town with the gangsters. I was too beat.