When I was 11 or 12 years old, I learned all about the cholo firsthand. I had been born and raised in NY, when in grade school we suddenly uprooted and headed out West for a new start. After a brief stint in Anahiem we finally settled in Arizona– and we were flat broke. For a good many months we (mom, stepdad, sis, myself, and our Doberman pup) lived in a tent out in the alien desert north of Phoenix.

When the family finally scraped up enough money through my mom waiting tables at some greasy spoon and my stepdad running screw machines, we rented a rundown, roach-infested 2 bedroom trailer in Glendale, AZ.  I’ll never forget that place as long as I live.  The trailer park was directly across the street from the Glendale High School. It was anchored by an old, once-stately mansion that was cut-up into cheap apartments, and was surrounded by a sad assembly of rundown trailers and a couple white-washed shack homes.

It was the first time in my life that as a White, I was a minority– and boy did I stand out. I was a lanky stick with shoulder length, fiery red hair that I wore parted down the middle, and to top it off I also wore glasses. This was before the days of designer frames, people. I don’t think there was such a thing as cool glasses back then. I felt like I had a bull’s-eye painted on my forehead. I was fresh meat in a school of tough-ass kids who looked like nothing I’d ever seen before.  The guys all wore pressed Dickies khaki pants, white tees, and hi-top white Chuck Taylors. The uniform didn’t change, except come winter a large untucked flannel shirt, also pressed, and buttoned up to the neck was added to the ensemble. They looked as foreign to me as I must’ve to them. And the funky music, well I’d never heard anything like it– man, I still have Rick James’ “Give It To Me, Baby” ringin’ in my ears…

I quickly learned that if you start runnin’, you’ll be runnin’ the rest of your life. Better to stand and fight– even if you get your ass beat, you can still look yourself in the mirror, and maybe even gain a little respect. Soon enough I’d hear them say in the halls that I was ok– I put up a good fight. Damn if it wasn’t the roughest school year of my life– but I wouldn’t trade those days, even if I could. The cholo brothers taught me to stand up and not take any crap off of no one. I don’t by any means advocate breakin’ the law, but I do advocate findin’ your voice and letting the world feel the weight of who you are.






















Photographer Robert Yager

Source: Robert Yager Gang Photography

Robert Yager profile and interview HERE

[ January 2, 2003 ] For photographer Robert Yager, there is no formula. The soft-spoken Brit, now 38, was a teenager when he first thought about photography. Hitchhiking around Europe, he borrowed a friend’s camera and started making pictures. When he returned to his home city of London, he viewed a show of American photographers that caught his eye.
Especially the documentary photography. “It was interesting and relevant, and artistic at the same time,” Yager recalls. “I was 18 at the time. I’ve been doing photography ever since.”
To complete a degree in Latin American studies, Yager spent a year in Mexico. After growing up in “punk London,” the streets of Mexico’s capitol city seemed the next logical step for the budding shooter. “The people on the streets, the market — it’s all so visual down there. It’s beautiful and rugged and disheveled. I was drawn to the timelessness of it all,” Yager says. At that point, he had no intention of selling his pictures; he only wanted to hone his craft.
Now heralded for a decade of work documenting Los Angeles’ Latino gangs, Yager says the only way to become a successful street photographer is to head out to the street. He spoke to from his LA home.

Why gangs?
After Mexico, I decided I wanted to move to LA. But when I got here, it seemed there was nothing going on in the streets — not like London or Mexico. One of the few things that was going in the streets was gangs. At that time, gang life wasn’t something that was known widely. This was the end of 1991.

So you just started shooting them on your own?
I had been assisting for about five years. Then I showed some of my portfolio to an editor at Buzz magazine. He was interested in me proposing a story. I thought about it for a while and said, ‘I’ll do a gang story.’ I was interested in Latin culture and street culture, and a gang story seemed to be an interesting challenge.

How did you begin the reporting process?
Well, like policeman, there’s never one around when you want one … I spent a lot a time wandering around looking for them. A friend of mine told me about a really amazing mural down on Pico — a story-board of gang life. I checked it out, and pretty soon a couple of gang members came out and said (in Spanish) ‘Take my photograph.’ That’s how it all got started. I went back to the editor at Buzz, but we had just had the LA riots at this point, so he said he didn’t think he could publish my work, because there had been so much violence. But, I just carried on with the project anyway.

The gang photographs eventually were published by some big magazines. Did that lead to more work?
My first national publication was a Newsweek cover … It was the August 2nd, 1993 issue. It was a photo of an 18-year-old running in the street with a rifle, trying to catch a member of a rival gang. The title of the cover was ‘Teen Violence Wild In The Streets.’
Some adventurous editors at places like the Observer, the New York Times magazine, and the Independent started giving me some really interesting assignments. Any editor that gives you an assignment is supporting your work. It was really encouraging.

Did you ever feel like some of those shots of gang members throwing their gang signs, or posing like tough guys with their guns, only glorified their culture?
I didn’t try to glorify their culture, but document elements of it. I do know that I took a little step when I got very much inside and intimate with those guys.
Their culture is explained as their crimes and bravado and that needed to be examined. Their culture includes many things, like visual expression, tattoos, murals, handsigns, their appearance, ways etc. As well as, their crimes and bravado. I realized that I needed to go further and really get into the family and the life. So it’s not just about getting in further and further, but finding the things that are important and valuable. Like the photograph of the baby having his hair shaved by his father. That says a lot more than just a kid having his hair cut.

You revisited the gang story for Time magazine last year in a story titled “LA’s Gangs Are Back.” Is this one of those stories that will be with you forever?
The neighborhood is much quieter now, but I’m still sort of around. I hang around with the guys who I’ve photographed. I was just at a wedding the other day, just on Friday. BooBoo who is not hanging out in the gang anymore, but married one of the guys in the gang, which is still big part of her life. She’s now trying to concentrate on family and friends.

Did you ever feel like their life was more interesting than your own?
Well, my life at the time was a lot more by the book, so I definitely found it kept life stimulating. It was one of the main things that kept me in LA.

You do celebrity photos also. How different is that from your work as a photojournalist?
With journalism, I am there to document what is going on — to look for any poignant image that in particular has greater meaning. That is my approach anyway.
With portraits, I just have to work with whatever’s around me. I just show up at a location that they choose, and I have to decide what works best for me. I just try to chat with them — that’s the best thing.
Sometimes I’ll show them my portfolio beforehand. I did that with Peter Fonda — and I did it with Hunter S. Thompson, too. Hunter ended up inviting me to hang out for the entire evening. He was something else.

It sounds like developing a rapport with your subjects is really important to your work?
Well I suppose that with journalism it’s good to be a fly on a wall who doesn’t get noticed. And when you do get noticed, have a good vibe about you.

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  1. Fantastic post JP. The pictures are fascinating, but once again it’s your writing that brings me back day after day. I appreciate you putting yourself out there a little bit and giving us a snapshot of your various upbringings.

  2. How long ago did you live in Glendale AZ? There must have been some rapidly cycling demographics going on. Before I got into apparel, I was a field economist-demographer for Temple Univ specializing in hispanic mobility studies and only one zip code in Phoenix area has been longitudinally sampled; that being the Yaqui tribal area (well south of Glendale, btwn Broadway& Baseline). The Phoenix area has long been of interest to demographers for being the largest white city in the United States. Twenty five years ago, less than 7% of the population were minorities. Current demographic profile for Glendale, AZ lists racial breakdowns as follows:
    White: 83.8%.
    Hispanic/Latino: 8.7%.
    Black: 2%.
    Native American*: 0%.
    Asian*: 3.3%

    Iow, 25 years ago, the Phoenix area was even “whiter” than today so if you were a minority before then, there must have been some dramatic in and out flux of minorities in a very short period of time. Interesting.

    • You probably know as well as anyone that numbers don’t always tell the whole truth. You can drive 2 blocks and go from a predominately White neighborhood to a predominately ethnic neighborhood in a lot of cities. Trust me, those 10 square blocks that were my stompin’ grounds back in and around ’81-’83 were not 83.8% White, no matter what some piece of paper states. And what about the *0% Native American statistic? That definitely makes the stats highly dubious, wouldn’t you say? They are there, but according to your quoted stats…

      Happy New Year,


      • JP,
        I thought the same thing. Although impressed by the ‘study’ and stats. Growing up and living there…not quite sure how correct they are. It’s not called Gila River, Ft. McDowell, or Squaw Peak because only white folk live there.

  3. Fantastic post, but I do believe that Kathleen just tried to call you out. Seems to me Kathleen, that he could have lived in an area where the hispanic population lived and been the minority even though he would have been in the majority if you looked at Glendale overall.

  4. Kudos.
    This really brought me back. I was pretty much immersed
    (not involved fortunately) in the gang culture of Los Angeles county growing up. There was no escaping it. On a positive note, I’d say many of the kids who were born to the cholos and cholas of that time grew out of it. If you stroll downtown Pomona, you see more mexican punk and indy kids than bangers.
    I’ll never in my life look at a pair of Nike Cortez’s without thinking of that crazy era.

    On a side note, check out the movie Boulevard Nights (1979) it is,
    in my opinion, the most accurate potrtayal on film of gang life in LA.


  5. – “Hey, man, you’re not from around here. You don’t know how it is. I grew up in L.A.”

    – “Anaheim.”

    – “Whatever, man!”

    Best post yet… you know. I’ve used Yager as reference for many a project in the past. I’ve long since been obsessed with East LA culture (hence my Toons tattoo). Gangs are one aspect of East LA culture (one that remains, to me, like smoking in movies — dangerous and deadly, but damn if it doesn’t look cool), but it’s so rich and runs much deeper. Drive ELA on a Sunday afternoon and see if you don’t get nods, even being a white kid without the necessary street credentials. The culture is run by respect — show it, get it. Man o man, these photos are no joke though, right? I mean, I get it… driving through at 3pm on a Sunday is a WORLD away from where these photos live. RESPECT.

  6. ” I do advocate findin’ your voice and letting the world feel the weight of who you are.”

    amen brother, amen – thats why we have the Arts, violence does nothing positive for anyone..

    happy new yeah



  8. Grew up in Diamond Bar, CA, and went to school in San Dimas. Had close friends in Pamona. Brings back memories. Thanks.

  9. The people in these pictures are alien to our culture and simply don’t belong here.

    And the guy pointing a pistol at a boy? Sick.

    • “The people in these pictures are alien to our culture and simply don’t belong here.”

      At least in L.A. some of their ancestors were here before WWll.
      In L.A. and in the gangs of the day.
      You can get some sense of it from the movies “La Bamba” and “Zoot Suit.”
      Plenty of books and magazine articles as well.

      • NONE of their ancestors had anything to do with the founding of America. The permanent dysfunctionality of Mexican politics shows that they are fundamentally incapable of creating, or participating in, a constitutional republic such as ours.

        Doubt it? Here is a detailed account of how South Gate, an LA suburb, was (almost) turned into a Mexican village:

        Oh, and David? What does it say about a people that they are prominent for their membership in gangs?

    • When you say “our culture” and “alien” what planet are you from? That’s one of the gang members pointing a gun at me, the photographer. Why don’t you go put yourself in that situation?

      • >Why don’t you go put yourself in that situation?

        Because I’m smart enough not to put myself into life-and-death situations with violent thugs? Because I understand guns and gun safety well enough to know not to let anyone point a gun at me? Because I’m repelled, not fascinated, by criminals?

        When you put scare quotes around “culture” and “alien,” I have to wonder, as you put it, “what planet are you from.” There are many cultures around the world; the cholo culture is one of them, and it has nothing in common with our American culture. The people are alien to us as well (alien: “unlike one’s own; strange; not belonging to one”; definition from

        Incidentally, the photo I called “sick” is not the one with you; it’s 7th from the bottom. But now that you mention it, the last photo is sick, too. It is also symbolic of how liberal/leftist whites are positioning themselves in relation to dysfunctional minorities, so it is a revealing photo.

    • im responding to a topic that is over seven months old but it is new to me. mr realist, i totally agree with you that the mexican government is dysfunctional, but does that take away from the fact that the american colonization of the southwest was dysfunctional. did americans establish ranchos and missions and introduce agriculture, winemaking, and just about every other aspect of society. im not saying they didnt introduce some things, or that the modern day southwest and especially california are pretty well developed and great places to live, and if you look at modern day tijuana it doesnt look as good. but there was a beutiful society before this territory passed to be part of the united states, why do you think california only took two years from the time it was ceded from mexico to the time it became a state. the spanish and mexicans in this area where pretty far along in “founding” a part of present day america.unless you call america the 14 or 15 states on the eastern seaboard. enough of that though i agree i dont think its okay in anyones book to point a gun at your own kid, or leave a baby on a bed with guns, or showing your kid the improper use of a handgun. it is worse than sick, and the mom sitting there just laughing. they should have pointed it at themselves. thanks for listening

  10. I had to look up the Rick James song to get a time frame – early 80’s. I was Glendale High in the early 60’s and I thought the school only got more upscale after I left for the Navy. Glendale seemed to have grown more every time I went back so I’m surprised to read your account.

    I doubt you’d trade that experience for anything.

    • Remember the old trailer park directly across the street? That was me.

      It was a great High School, from what I could tell (I went to the old middle school in the opposite direction). I spent countless hours roaming the Glendale High gym in the summer. They’d open it up, and you could go and shoot hoops, whatever. I was one of the only kids there as I recall. I loved it, had the whole place to myself, and would hangout and shoot hoops with an older kid that was on staff. He’d tell me crazy stories about dates, bikes, fights– ya know, cool stuff. Aside from that I’d bum around tryin’ to scrounge enough change to buy an RC from the soda machine at the gas station across the street, and kick my soccer ball against the wall of the parts shop next door.

      No Ipod, X-box, internets back then, brother. You were lucky to have a decent bike.

  11. “Oh, and David? What does it say about a people that they are prominent for their membership in gangs?”

    Same thing was said about Irish-americans in the 19th century
    Same thing used to be said about Italian Americans until fairly recently
    Same thing is probably said about young black males in South-Central L.A. today

    There are some really complicated issues here that go beyond simple stereotypes.

    • Ah, yes, the old “Mexicans are the same as previous immigrants” canard!

      The Mexicans who are coming here en masse, illegally, are different from the Irish & Italians in many important ways.

      1. Irish & Italians came in the thousands; Mexicans are here in the millions.

      2. Irish & Italians were (in effect) invited and came legally; Mexicans come uninvited and illegally.

      3. Irish & Italian immigration was stopped; Mexican immigration continues unabated.

      4. People of Irish ancestry account for about 10% of the US population, and Italians about 5.5%, while Hispanics have, in just 40 years, jumped from less than 1% to a whopping 15%, surpassing blacks as the largest racial minority in the US.

      5. Irish & Italians either spoke English or learned it; Mexicans speak Spanish in the home, even into the fourth generation!

      6. Irish & Italians were expected to assimilate and largely did; Mexicans are not expected to assimilate and clearly aren’t.

      7. Irish & Italians are white, while most Mexicans are either indigenous or Mestizo (mixed Indian & white).

      8. Irish & Italians came from countries that have compatible political cultures to the US, while Mexicans come from a political culture of corruption, nepotism, intimidation, and cronyism. (Rule of Law vs. Rule of Man)

      9. Irish & Italians come from the same Western cultural background and identify not only with our European and Christian heritage, but also with our American heritage. Mexicans come from an alien cultural background and do not identify with our heritage (with the possible exception of the Christian part, which is often very different from Christianity as practiced here).

      10. The average IQ for whites is 100; Irish & Italians are white. On the other hand, the average IQ for Hispanics is 90. This has enormous implications for their ability–or lack thereof–to participate in our political and economic systems (conclusion: they can’t participate on an equal footing because they lack the cognitive ability to do so).

      As the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote,

      “The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves–from Los Angeles to Miami–and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.”
      see also

      So let’s drop that nonsense, shall we?

      “Same thing is probably said about young black males in South-Central L.A. today”

      Who says?

      Incidentally, before the arrival of Irish and Italian immigrants, crime in America was not organized. That was one of their “gifts.” Also, LA is notorious for the Bloods and the Crips–two black gangs. So we see that sometimes–usually, in fact–stereotypes are based on reality.

      • its about 8 months later so probably no one will read this but mr realist is making this kinda fun for me. the thing that trips me out is he did some pretty good research, but just came out with pretty bad conclusions. but ill try to attack his bullets in order
        1)irish and italians did come in millions, between like 1870 and 1920 25 million italians emigrated from italy, only 10 million came to the usa though, i believe called the largest migration in history, very close runners up where the irish with the potatoe famine and all
        2) im not an expert to say wether irish and italian where all 100% legal, doesnt wop mean without papers, either way if so many mexicans and latinos are coming illegaly, it must be because theres an inviting economic reason, a job a house and a future for your kids, how more inviting can you get. do you think the natives in old boston or new york invited the irish and italians, laughing just thinking about that one.
        3)irish and italian immigration never fully stopped but just slowed down as their economies balanced out, and i the case of italians in south america reversed so that millions of them are returning to italy. mexican immigration has slowed alot too, i think mostly because of increased security though
        4)irish and italians have to make more than that, i think with more than 100 years being here they just fully americanized and have even changed their last names, or just dont check that box anymore
        5)i would say the rate of learning english is slower for mexicans, and that is because of the civil rights enjoyed by americans, i agree they should learn english, but why shouldnt they speak spanish.
        7)irish you could say are white, italians fall under white too but alot of mexicans would too, but im guessing since thats a reason that blacks are also alien
        8)cant answer this one without insulting irish and italians, i would just say that italy and ireland have their fair share of corruption cronyism, nepotism, aota, and up until the 60s there was alot of this in the usa as well, and may still be some.
        i was going to go at all of them but realized how pointless that would be. im not even first generation in this country, im technically still an immigrant, i was born in the old country of guatemala, a funny thing happened in that country when white civilized protestant americans introduced politics and propaganda to the inferior indegenous or mestizo population there. thats right, before the cia introduced crack to south central LA, they introduced reeduction, information and counter information, prisoner interogation tactics, and ak-47s to the banana growing tribes of central america. and i cant imagine where they got their ideology(mr realist), and now theres millions of us living in the usa because we just love the scenary

  12. Pingback: ‘CHOLO STYLE’ « GWARIZM

  13. mr realist, your list does nothing to back up your racist standpoint, in fact it goes some way to undermine it. the U.S.A is a country whose population is largely of immigrant descent, you state in point 7 that ‘most Mexicans are either indigenous or Mestizo’ and if this is correct, how can they be illegal? and average i.q.? you are clutching at straws to justify your fears.

    this is a great post on a superb blog, it serves to document a small part of society and in no way either glorifies it or criticises it. you have completely missed the point and to use it as a launchpad for a tirade of thinly veiled hate makes you look pretty foolish.

    and mr yager, your photographs are absolutely fantastic!

    • D. Booth,

      First, please follow the conventions of English orthography and use proper capitalization. Failure to do so draws attention towards how you write and away from what you say. It suggests you care so little about your reader that you can’t even be bothered to hit the “shift” key.

      “Racist”: a convenient cover term that in modern parlance means, “you’re not being politically correct and I want to exclude you from ‘polite’ society.” Often, the ideas so denigrated are negative yet true, such as “blacks are eight times more likely to commit murder than whites” (from Department of Justice statistics).

      Factuality: please find actual facts that disprove my points, or factual errors in what I wrote. Assertion is not argumentation.

      “Nation of immigrants” myth: wrong. The United States was founded not by immigrants but by colonists. Immigrants go to another country and become part of it (which, by the way, Mexicans in America are not); colonists, on the other hand, go to another land to create a new outpost of their old one (which is what Mexicans are doing). Up until very recently, no more than a small percentage of American citizens were not born here; even now, the vast majority of Americans are native-born. While the percentage of immigrant-descended has increased, for the first 100+ years, America was almost entirely made up of the descendants of the colonists.

      Also, to describe America as a “nation of immigrants” is to make immigration a defining characteristic. Where does that leave all of us who were born here? Topsy-turvy, my friend.

      “most Mexicans are either indigenous or Mestizo (mixed Indian & white).” In this context, indigenous means “native American Indian”; in other words, the people whose ancestors come from the Americas. In contrast, America was founded, peopled, and formed by people of European ancestry, i.e., whites. (Yes, I’m aware of the presence of blacks, but they did not play any significant role in the founding.)

      “how can they be illegal?”: Where have you been for the past several decades? Illegal means “in violation of the law,” and alien means “foreigner.” America has a massive problem with illegal aliens, most of whom are from Mexico. Your question is so out-of-touch it makes you sound like you’re on another planet.

      “average i.q.”: Contrary to popular opinion, the consensus of psychometricians is that IQ tests measure something real, and that IQ has real-life consequences. Furthermore, IQ tests are the single most reliable predictor of future performance, at least as related to groups. We ignore IQ at our own peril.

      “a tirade of thinly veiled hate”: where is the anger? Where is the venom? Where are the baseless insults? Not present. It is typical of the unthinking liberal to describe any opposition to the liberal regime as “hate” or “anger.” This allows the self-righteous liberal to disregard such opposition as illogical and therefore unworthy of consideration or refutation. It is also self-serving, as it allows the liberal to think that only the liberals’ point of view has any validity. Finally, it is disparaging, as it wrongly treats what may be logical, fact-based arguments as emotional rants.

      I agree that this is a superb blog. I don’t think that this is one of its great posts. That’s fine; JP is free to post what he wishes, and we are free to react to them as we wish. I admire his willingness to allow dissenting opinions in the comments; some blogs do not–another point in favor of The Selvedge Yard.

  14. Great Pictures and Your Description of the Old School Days dates the era to about the late 70’s early 80’s. The Chuck Taylors is the marking point compared to the NIKE CORTEZ they wear now, beginning in the late 80’s. I’m Old School Chola from Tempe/Guadalupe/Phoenix border. True East Sider Por Vida. Keep writing and I’ll Keep reading. Thanks For The Memory Homes! Al Rato!

  15. I loved this post, brought back some of my own strong memories .

    I grew up in Roswell, New Mexico and went to elementary and middle school on the impoverished south side of the city. For a lot of those years, I had the only blue eyes in the class was targeted much in the same way you probably were. But, by in large I barked loud enough that I didn’t have too much trouble.

    Then in the 8th grade I snapped when it went a little too far. Some cholos threw a tennis ball and hit me in the face. I asked who did it, really knowing who it was (the smallest in the crowd), but the largest boy in the group stepped forward. So I knocked him down, jumped on top of him and let loose. I was pulled off of him with warnings of getting kicked out of school, but I didn’t regret it once.

    Never had a problem again and really grew to respect some of those boys, even when I got shot at in a drive-by.

    Now, not having lived there in a long, long time I’ll occasionally meet a cholo and get a little nostalgic, missing the danger was always around.

    Thanks for this post and thanks for this blog. I love it all.

  16. I grew up in the IxEx in the late 70’s. I can releate. Different time & era.

    Still love the Old Cholo look today. Still wear Wino’s. Old Hush Puppies are hard to find along with old Pendeltons.

    Keep up the good work.

  17. Mr. Realist< In all actuality chump…. America is made of all imigrants regardless of what changes over the years that each race has accomplish, sounds to me your afraid of the hispanic race just taking over….. and by the way Im from those streets and gang that Robert Yager published in the photos… It's nothing sick, rather blunt truth of what urban life is like out there, an ignorance of survival and belonging through the hardship of poverty but not only in L.A. even though this article is relating to Arizona, but all over America……

    And since you seem to be a factual person…. then wasnt all the southwesetern states MEXICO, yes yes im sure ur gonna say that America lost it in the Alamo.. etc…. and that Pancho Villa said "Manana, Manana" but all in all just like the indians in the eastern states this was already COLONIZED by Mexicans maybe not by American Politics of colonizing but it was the Mexican Land….


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