Victor Rios, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was not always as privileged as his current academic rank would suggest. The above PBS video news story and its accompanying print article recount his journey from gang life to the ivory tower, but the most impressive thing these reports reveal about Dr. Rios is his ongoing commitment to help young people struggling in situations similar to the ones he faced growing up.
Rios’ life in some ways mirrors those of Chicano writers Luis Rodriguez and raulrsalinas (que en paz descanse) who both endured poverty, violence, and incarceration and who never ceased helping people from their barrios and beyond. Rodriguez and salinas have each been able to do incredibly effective work to help end violence and encourage impoverished youth and gang members to see that they have the potential to live differently. These men not only survived the addictions, violence, and poverty that plagued their early lives; they also found ways to write and speak about their trials, and each in his own way went back to the neighborhoods where they had grown up and helped other people. Rodriguez founded Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, California, and salinas established Resistencia Bookstore (my favorite bookstore in the whole world) and the Red Salmon Arts Collective in Austin, Texas. Both Tia Chucha’s and Resistencia serve as gathering places, educational centers, and safe havens for activists, community members, and youth. They host more events each week than any one person could ever find time to attend, and their doors stand wide open to welcome those who need a supportive network of friends and a place to explore their beliefs about social justice issues. Rodriguez continues to write books and to help current and former gang members create peace treaties in their neighborhoods, and salinas wrote, performed, lived, taught, and served as an activist organizer in the barrio in Austin until his passing on February 13, 2008.
Rios’ work, like Rodriguez and salinas’s, is undoubtedly having a significant impact on the lives of the young people with whom he works, and he is reshaping the scholarly discourse surrounding gangs, policing, and juvenile detention. Watchale. This profe has much to teach all of us.