cover image My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King

My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King

Reymundo Sanchez / Author Chicago Review Press $26.95 (320p) I

Chicago in the 1980s provides the setting for this extremely disturbing and raw account of a Puerto Rican teenager who lost himself to violent gang activity. Now repentant, Sanchez (a pseudonym) writes in a voluble voice, replete with operatic asides declaiming the immorality of his actions. But he offers a forceful and unusual perspective on Chicago--in Sanchez's telling, it's a place of territorial graffiti and racist cops, in which a slow-motion riot of drugs, sex and gunplay constantly unfolds. Sanchez recounts his family's arrival in Chicago's Northwest Side in the late 1970s, when he was a small boy; he describes the beatings his grifter stepfather regularly doled out; and he portrays the allure of the mysterious and ritual-bound lives of tough, teenaged gangsters. When his family returned to Puerto Rico, he stayed behind. Soon, he joined the fearsome Latin Kings, and his given street name ""Lil Loco"" attested to his youth and ferocity. While graphically describing what he witnessed as a gang member--senseless killings, inter-ethnic hatreds and sexual abuse of gang-affiliated women--Sanchez also pursues harder truths, arguing that it is a minority of promiscuous drug-users accompanied by community-wide silence that keeps the gangs in business. In the end, he condemns his former gang for masquerading as a Latino ""public service"" organization while high-ranking members become rich from their youthful recruits' drug dealing. And he scoffs at their reliance on conformist rituals and violence (violations of the rituals were punished with full body beatings). Offering very little hope, this book captures the dark, self-destructive lot of countless urban teens. Like other gangland memoirs (such as Monster and Always Running), it is significant because it takes the reader deep inside a secretive and brutal ethnic gang subculture. (Aug.)