Finding Family in the Heart of East LA

Learning to put a new perspective on life


Imagine finding yourself in the heart of East Los Angeles surrounded by people who often hate people with your color skin. That’s what happened to me on my first trip to East LA at night. I met members of La Eme, Primera Flatts and White Fence. I had seen documentaries on National Geographic about those gangs in the past but never thought I would ever meet any of the members. I felt like I was in a TV show. I was terrified and excited all at once.
I remember thinking, “I might not see tomorrow” a few times that night.

Humans naturally crave interaction with others; that’s just science. So it makes it interesting how closed off some people are to those they don’t know. There is hate, anger, and a lack of kindness. It’s like the world is backwards.

No matter the animosity in the world, we can grow closer to each other and become one big family, rather than strangers looking to put each other down. We can find similarities between us all. I have been reminded of this a few times in my life when I have met certain people.

One of the most notable was my friend J. I was having a party at my house when he came over with a close friend of mine. We instantly started talking and joking around. While talking with him, I found out that he was in need of a place to stay. I had a couch in my room, so I told him that if he didn’t mind sleeping on a couch, it would be his for as long as he needed.

“You sure?” he asked. “You’re family to my family, and that makes us family,” I told him. At the time, I said it to make myself seem cool. Little did I know that from that night on, we became best friends. He helped me and I helped him. That’s just the way it was. We were like brothers.

I remember the first time he took me to East LA to see his grandmother’s house and to visit his brother. It was around 7 p.m. and the sun had just gone down. We were driving up a narrow street with cars parked on both sides and a group of men in the street a ways up. I was in the passenger seat looking around at the different houses and buildings. I never expected what would happen next. As we got closer to the group of men, they moved to the side just enough for the car to pass through. All except for one of them.

He walked up to the driver’s window with a very aggressive demeanor while looking in intently. As he got closer, his scour turned to a smile as he saw that the driver of the car was his little brother. He signaled for us to park just ahead on the side of the street.

“Damn, they really like that out here?” I asked J. “Ha! You haven’t even seen the start of it doggie, just wait,” he replied.

After parking the car we started walking over to J’s brother and his friends. I still remember vividly the first thing I heard and saw after that.

“Who the fuck is this white boy?” I looked up and saw three guys looking like they were about to square up with me. Knowing who J’s brother was, I just looked over to J with what must have been a hilarious look on my face since he started laughing right away.

“Él es familia,” J told them. Then the other guys started laughing. It was all a joke. They just had to try to scare the “white boy.” I never admitted it, but they succeeded.

After some quick introductions, we all started talking and joking around. It was fun to see a different side to these guys that most don’t see. They all looked like they would kill you and not even think twice about it, but several of them had the most comedic and sincere personalities. Don’t get me wrong, some of them did bad things, but they still seemed to let their guard down a bit. They treated me like they treated J. They treated me like family.

When we left, we talked the whole way home about the visit to East LA and what we were going to do the next day. I remember how happy I felt when he told me that his brother and his friends liked me.

“They don’t like white boys either,” he said. “Good thing I’m mixed,” I replied while grinning.

I remember staring off into the LA skyline with stars all around and thinking how beautiful the world is, even with all the chaos that goes on. All of this violence and anger, yet the city looked so peaceful at night. It made me happy to know I had people who would look out for me like family. J and I were like brothers, so his family was now my family.

In that time of gazing at the skyline. I started to think what I had often thought to myself. “I am one of millions. Am I even important?”

I think that perspective is gained by looking at the city skyline at night and seeing the flickering lights. Looking up to the sky and seeing the similarities in the flickering light of the stars. Seeing city buildings that seem so big up close are now are small figures in the skyline compared to the sky above.

We are tiny compared to buildings. Buildings are tiny compared to mountains. Mountains are tiny compared to the earth, and so on. I realize how insignificant I am.

It gives me an empowered feeling to know that I have connected with a larger group of individuals that share common interests. It makes me feel significant. It doesn’t matter if the people are the best in the world or the worst. If they treat you well and bring joy to your life, then it seems like a worthwhile adventure.

Don’t shut yourself off from the world. Take time to find a connection with new people. You may be surprised at who you meet and how close you become.

As the late First Lady Barbara Bush once said, “Cherish your human connections — your relationships with friends and family.”