Luis J. Rodriguez


Poet, memoirist, and activist Luis J. Rodriguez is a self-identified Xicanx writer. Born in the border city of El Paso, Texas, Rodriguez is the son of a principal and school secretary; his parents are both natives of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and his mother is descended from the Raramuri, an indigenous people of Chihuahua. When he was two years old, Rodriguez and his family moved from the El Paso–Ciudad Juárez border to the San Gabriel Valley of East Los Angeles, where Rodriguez would spend the remainder of his youth. As a teen in the 1960s and 70s, Rodriguez earned an extensive criminal record for drug use and gang activity. All the while, Rodriguez was an advocate and organizer within the Chicano Movement, participating in the 1968 East LA walkouts and the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. Rodriguez dropped out of high school at the age of 15, only to return and graduate from Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra as president of To Help Mexican American Students (TOHMAS). Profiled and arrested numerous times for attending peaceful protests and attempting to prevent police brutality, Rodriguez was convicted in a criminal case at the age of 18; his sentence was mitigated and Rodriguez was released, as community members sent letters of support detailing his leadership and potential. Indebted to his community, Rodriguez vowed to quit drugs and end his involvement with gangs, dedicating himself to organizing and writing. Rodriguez went on to become a distinguished and celebrated literary figure, as well as a renowned gang intervention specialist. The 2014 Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, Rodriguez has published 16 books spanning many genres, including two memoirs and several children’s books. In addition to his many literary achievements, Rodriguez has an impressive history in politics; he has twice run for governor of California, receiving endorsements from the Green Party, Peace & Freedom Party, and Justice Party. Rodriguez lives in Southern California with his family, where he runs the revolutionary press and culture center Tia Chucha. 


Photo Credit: Arlene Mejorado


The thing is I wanted to be a writer

even before I knew what writing was about.

I wanted to carve out the words

that swim in the bloodstream,

to press a stunted pencil onto paper

so lines break free like birds in flight—

to fashion words with hair,

lengths and lengths of it,

washed with dawn’s rusting drizzle.


I yearned for mortar-lined words,

speaking in their own boasting tongues,

not the diminished, frightened stammering of my childhood,

but to shape scorching syllables with midnight dust.

Words that stood up in bed,

danced merenques and cumbias,

that incinerated the belly like a shimmering habanera.

Words with a spoonful of tears, buckshot, traces of garlic,

cilantro, aerosol spray, and ocean froth.

Words that guffawed, tarnished smooth faces,

and wrung song out of silence.


Words as languid as a woman’s stride,

as severe as a convict’s gaze,

herniated like a bad plan,

soaked as in a summer downpour.


I aspired to walk inside these words,

to manipulate their internal organs,

surrounded by veins, gray matter, and caesuras;

to slam words down like the bones of a street domino game—

and to crack them in two like lovers’ hearts.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Ars Poetica



Intersectionality & Culture

Literary Devices:


the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words appearing in succession

Media Res

a literary work that begins in the middle of the action (from the Latin “into the middle of things)


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing

Sensory Detail

words used to invoke the five senses (vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell)


a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”