LA GANG LIFE | DICKIES, THUGS & GUNS THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF ROBERT YAGER

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.

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