Thug Life

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My childhood friend, my mom and his mom were best friends. He is currently married to my best friend almost 20 years.

I couldn’t live a normal life I was raised by the streets of Odessa, West Texas. But I always knew that education was the key to success. Quitting school was never an option for me. Never crossed my mind. I was just a little gansta wanna be, trying to survive in the hood as someone I wasn’t, let alone wanted to be. My dream always kept me going and also kept me out of bad situations and trouble most of the time. Thug life? What exactly is thug life? Some people might think oh my god its a criminal, the worsts of the worst etc. Actually it is the life one must lead in order to rise through the everyday struggle. Coming from nothing to something. Beating all odds and managing to overcome obstacles to become something. ~Tupac Shakur~

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January 11, 1999. I was barely coming out of my Chola days losing the look but I was still a little gansta. And in case you are wondering yes that was the name of my Junior High. In Texas middle school is referred to as Junior High. This school was named after a Confederate Army General by the name of John Bell Hood. The school had a bad rep or so people made it look that way but it was actually a good school with great teachers. We were referred to as the Hood Rats by the locals.

I grew up in an undeserved community, my mom bought a small duplex with the money she got when my brother died. Little by little my mom worked hard to fix it up and turn it into a house for us. Living in the hood was hard, I had to constantly watch my back to and from school because bad kids would beat me up for nothing or take away my things. Sometimes we didn’t have a car and we had to walk to school, which was about a mile away. Cold, snow, rain or shine we had to walk I still remember those days, I hated it. Especially when my mom had to walk back home by herself after she left us. Sometimes we would ask for rides but most of the time we didn’t like to bother people. We always had people breaking into our house and cops constantly roaming the streets arresting people. I was only 10 years old when we moved to that neighborhood and I already knew what a raid was and seen needles scattered throughout our neighborhood. Around my house at the local park and in the alleys. Every now and then there were drive by”s because just a few doors down from where we lived was the hot spot for the dealers. I remember seeing undercover cops make moves on bad guys and sometimes police chases on foot right in my very own back yard. It was definitely a hell hole. Overtime things changed and calmed down in the hood. Most of it had to do with the home raids and police cracking down on the drug dealers. As fast as those people were going new people were coming into the neighborhood. And that is where things got better for me and my siblings to run around loose in the neighborhood. It was a privilege and a curse at the same time. We had so many neighborhood friends sometimes we didn’t go inside the house until 10pm. There is a park within waking distance from my home and that was our hangout place or my house when my parents were not home which was a lot. My mom was always at work and she worked night shift and my dad….well if he wasn’t working he was out somewhere getting drunk. One of my favorite things to do was climb the tree that was at the back of our house. I would climb that tree whenever I wanted and just sit up there and wonder about life. Eventually after sometime I got tired of my moms yelling getting on to me about going up there. The house was old and the roof was not in good condition. And I knew that walking up on there was scary but I still loved it especially at night laying on the roof looking at the stars feeling the cool breeze.

 

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I was always smiling that was just part of my personality. Always happy ! I was not mean nor was I cruel but if you got on my bad side, I was a whole new person ready to lash out.

Who was Luz Elena?

Luz Elena was a dreamer, she was smart, creative, she loved school, she loved learning and engaging in deep conversations with her teachers. But it was a constant struggle, it was like a tug of war. I wanted to do this and that but my parents didn’t have money. I loved sports but never asked for anything because I knew we couldn’t afford it. In elementary I participated in all of the after school programs because they were free. I played volleyball, basketball, softball, I did it all. I also was in choir and music class. I wanted to play the violin so bad but because I had a small disability with my left index finger I had to have a custom made violin so that I could use my right hand. Again I knew my mom couldn’t afford it so I opted for the bass instead. It was so cool I loved playing that huge thing. The challenge was getting it to and from school, by now we had an old station wagon and if my mom could she picked me up if not I had to drag that thing home.

My teachers all loved me and saw potential in me they constantly kept me engaged in school. Even though I was trying to be all cool and try to act gansta they didn’t see that in me they saw someone else. I never disrespected any of my teachers, I had nothing but respect for them. But there was a time when I was out of control I think about sixth grade and I was giving my teacher hell. Her name was Mrs. Love, I liked her but I was going through a rough stage in my life and my attitude was bad. Mrs. Love didn’t give up on me she knew me well and I can recall that one time she made me cry. I think I got into a fight and she pulled me to the side in her room and she looked me straight in the eyes and told me that I better get myself straight because that was not who she saw in me. She had this look in her eyes like she genuinely cared about me. She really touched me that day. She was constantly on my butt making sure I was turning in assignments and doing my school work. That year the D.A.R.E program had a contest for an essay. Each school from the town participated and only 3 students were going to be chosen from each school. Each student was going for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for their school. and I ended up winning 3rd place for my school. The essay was on why drugs were bad for you and why you should stay away and we were suppose to write about how drugs had an impact in our lives or community. When they held the award ceremony, they had gathered all the schools at an auditorium and when they called out my name for 3rd place for my school I was like what, I really won? I put my heart into that essay paper and I was proud of myself. Unfortunately for me the proud moment only lasted shortly. It was towards the end of my 6th grade year and I was about to go through some challenging times.

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1999 This was the last of my Chola days.

Going into 7th grade I started hanging out more with the cool kids and most of them were in gangs. That essay might have helped convince others to stay away from drugs but it didn’t work with the own person who wrote it. That year was the first time that I ever tried weed and I knew absolutely everything about the drug and why I shouldn’t do it. I was so scared I really didn’t want to do it so many things were crossing my mind. So basically I was walking home one day with the cool kids and after only three of us were left. So two of the cool guys that were walking me home they were cute and all and popular. We were walking and one of them says, hey have you ever gotten high. I was like oh gosh please no this cant be happening…… I do not want to get high. I knew where the conversation was leading. I said to them no I haven’t and I was thinking to myself okay, they know that I don’t know how or ever have before, so maybe they wont offer. Wrong !!! They said what, no way, well today is your lucky day. So I was like shit ugh here we go and I was scared as fuck! I was trying so hard to keep cool in reality I just wanted to go home, my hands were shaking. So they said, follow us and we went behind a building and they were getting it ready and while they are doing this I am thinking about that essay I wrote and all of the things I wrote on what do to when someone offers you. I wrote about peer pressure and what not and here I was about to take my first hit for the first time. I wanted to speak up but at the same time I felt like I was going to look weak, So what I did was not inhale it, I acted like I did but I just held it in my mouth and blew it out. I didn’t like it, and saw no point to it. After that day I was like what the hell did I do. I think I came across four or 5 more times across moments like in my life around other people, but I never showed interest to my friends in smoking so they never really asked me and so I just watched them when we hung out. I didn’t like getting high let alone doing drugs which was never a problem because weed was pretty much the only thing I was ever exposed to. I didn’t like any kind of drug period especially after experimenting with weed. To me it was pointless and my mind was always off wondering about how I was going to become a doctor.

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With my sister (far left) and my friends from Hood Jr. High. Just hanging around the neighborhood.

 

That year was my roughest year I was going to parties, sneaking out the house, stealing my parents car and my sisters too. I was very disobedient came and went to the house whenever I wanted to. It was a constant tug of war because I loved school and knew where I wanted to go but at the same time I was struggling with living in the ghetto and trying to fit in. I was acting like someone who I wasn’t on the streets and  in class I was myself, observant, learning and engaging with my teachers challenging them with different topics and subjects. I would get these weird looks from some teachers who didn’t know me, because here was this gangster looking girl talking smart and actually doing her work.

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This was in 8th grade I believe it was a Valentines Dance. I was over dressing as a Chola, my circle of friends was changing and I was discovering things that were important to me and also who I really was.

That was Luz Elena…..there she was, walking home everyday dressed like a gansta with her dads Dickies that she stole from his closet, flannel shirt and Nike Cortes. In her hands up to 6 textbooks, sometimes more. I was always at the school library and when those were not enough I would ask my mom to take me to the public library. After awhile however, I couldn’t check out books because I always had late fees from turning them in late. My mom would get mad at me and after a while she stopped taking me. I also loved to read the newspaper. I learned to cook on my own since my mom was never home, my first attempt was with eggs and from there pancakes and so and and so on. I learned to bake my first cake around 10 years old. I was always trying out new things on my own, very independent, observant of my surroundings and always willing to take on new challenges. Fixing bikes was my past time, also because that was my form of transportation once I got older and started running around the streets with my friends. I learned to drive my first car by stealing my moms car and taking it for a joy ride. I had previously had some minor pointers from a friend however I never really drove. That’s how I learned to drive I think I was 13 years old. My moms station wagon was all banged up thanks to me and you would think she would notice but she didn’t catch on until after awhile. I think in part because my mom thought she did those bumps and scratches to her car. My mom was a paranoid driver she didn’t like driving especially at night. It wasn’t until I got caught driving my sisters Monte Carlo that she then realized that I had been taking her car when she wasn’t around. It never crossed my moms mind that I would do such a thing that’s why she never could put two and two together. I mean sure I would get in trouble here and there but my mom didn’t think that I would go to such extreme. Looking back when we talk about it we laugh about all the things I used to do, but deep down inside my mom always knew I was special.

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I skipped a grade because I went to a teen pregnancy school. which enabled me to get ahead one year. I was in the 11th grade here. But I was dealing with depression and ended up failing that grade. This was mid spring sometime before the end of the school year in 2001.

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Somehow I always managed to keep my sense of humor. On the outside you could not tell I was suffering I never let anyone see my pain and suffering. I could fool anyone but my mom. My mom helped me get through one of the hardest most challenging times in my life. Here hanging out with my favorite person who always made me feel safe and loved my grandma. I loved going to her house just to feel her love. I was doing homework and listening to music at the same time in this picture. Everyday during this time I would show up to her house and she would teach me how to knit. We started a blanket that year and I never finished it. She got mad at me one time when I told her laughing, grandma I haven’t finished the blanket. She was mad, she said you should be embarrassed of yourself. I thought it was funny but in reality I realized that I put all my sorrow into that blanket when I was dealing one of the most difficult times in my life. I never finished it because touching it brought me back memories of one of the most painful times in my life. . Before my grandma died I made a promise to her that I would finish it.

 

Life in the hood was a constant struggle there was not a day that went by that I wondered about my future. Who I wanted to be and if I would make it, I was constantly struggling one part of me wanted to run free and be wild and another part of me was eager for knowledge and wanting to reach success. Outside my bedroom doors I was this girl with the image of a Chola, judged by many because of how I dressed. I had this attitude like don’t fuck with me. I was just putting up a front because in the hood if you are weak people prey on you. I had to put on a front to survive in the hood and be able to walk around the neighborhood without anyone beating me up or disrespecting me. Most of the time I was cool I didn’t go around looking for trouble but sometimes trouble found me. I fought a couple times in my days. I didn’t like it I had a lot of anger problems at one point and in part it had to do because I used to get bullied in 4th grade. I started to follow on the same route and would take out my anger on other kids. I didn’t like that person who I was becoming and one day, I looked at myself in the mirror and cried because that was not who I was. My fights in junior high were dumb pretty much over stupid things but honestly I didn’t like to fight. I avoided fights at all costs, because I could go from 0 to 100 real quick and I didn’t like the person I became when I fought. I was scared of the dark person that came out. I took out my claws and fought like a tiger. If I was going to fight someone that person was going to have to hit me first. One day this girl that used to be my friend was threatening my little brother because, her little brother was friends with mine and they had an argument. Well she was like 14 years old and my brother was like 10 years old and she picked up my brother and threw him in the trash can. So someone came to my house to snitch what she did and me and my little sister looked at each other and she said I’m not going. In my head I was like I don’t want to go because I am going to beat her ass up. But my sister said someone has to defend him. My blood was boiling I still remember it like it was yesterday. I walked out of my house looking like the devil and all the neighborhood kids had already gathered. We exchanged a few words, I believe I gave her an opportunity before I kicked her ass to apologize to my brother and she refused, then we went at it. I was defending my blood because nobody throws my brother in the trash can. That was my last fight as a teen and I felt bad after and every time I drove by her house I wanted to go say sorry to her. Aside from everything I went through in the hood I was still a good person with a good heart. I had an enemy one time, well she was just mean all around to everyone, but she had a brother with a disability and me and her could just go at it all day long at school and just talk smack to each other. But if I ever saw anyone make fun of her brother I would defend him. I didn’t like people making fun of him and I defended him a lot.

I got jumped into my first gang when I was about 13 years old, it was an all female gang. We thought we were the shit, we never really got into big fights and that was cool with me because I was a lover not a fighter. I just wanted to hang out at parties with a click, and nobody really tried to mess with us because we were always in our neighborhood. But if we went into other neighborhoods with rivals we were asking for trouble. Every now and then we had little confrontations at the mall or elsewhere but nothing serious just throwing up gang signs to each other. It was dumb but that was life growing up in the hood. As if things weren’t hard enough on the street for me, things at home were worse. My parents were never home I didn’t have a relationship with my mom. I was constantly arguing with her slamming doors, sneaking out with friends and just pretty much doing whatever the hell I wanted. I hated coming home to a broken home a drunk father and having to constantly be reminded that we had nothing. My father was always breaking everything in our house, furniture, tables, tv’s you name it. Anything nice we ever had was all gone. He would go on a drunken rage and start throwing things out of the house. In the beginning it was scary with time I just got used to it. My mom would take me with her when I was little and we would go looking for him at the bars at 3 in the morning. Then the arguing would start and then the breaking and smashing. My poor mom worked so hard, sometimes holding down two jobs and my dad sometimes got laid off or was jumping from job to job. We could barely pay the bills and my mom was always going to local churches for food donations. Sometimes her best friends would bring us food boxes. When I was younger I would always accompany my mom to the local food pantries provided by local churches. We would shop at the salvation army and going there to me was like going to Walmart. I didn’t care if I got used skates or toys at least I had some. Growing up we never really had Thanksgiving let alone a Christmas. If we didn’t get invited to family holiday gatherings our Christmas consisted of donated food boxes and midnight mass with my mom. I took my mom for granted growing up, she tried so hard to provide for us she was a great mom but during those hard times I didn’t see it that way and instead of trying to be a good kid and make it easy for her I only made things worse. But trust me I paid for it.

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My depression took a toll on me my junior year I could not concentrate in classes and was falling behind. I lost a great opportunity playing soccer for one of the highly recognized high schools in Texas. I got kicked out of the soccer team and didn’t make the cut I passed the fitness portions but because of my grades they dropped me. Even though I failed the 11th grade I ended up going straight to 12th grade. Caught me by surprise but yeah I sure did and ended up graduating one year earlier than the class that I should have graduated with. You see I moved to another state and I was sad at the fact that I had failed 11th grade, however when I registered they said I had enough credits to go to the 12th grade. Boy was I overjoyed!!!! This picture was taken the fall of 2001 @ Tolleson High School.

I remember looking around one day and thinking what would my future be like, because every time I looked around my surroundings I didn’t like what I saw. I thought well is this is what I am destined to as well ? I started asking my mom and dad and family questions about any educated family members, and come to find out we didn’t have any!!! No lawyers, no doctors, no firefighters, no policemen, no nurses etc…..and hearing that broke my heart. I felt that maybe too I would end up doing nothing with my life. I knew since I was around 5, that I wanted to be a doctor. But as I got older and things got harder in my life that dream seemed impossible and not reachable. But I never stopped dreaming.