Archive: Raza Reports
Lowrider Magazine January 2000
How one man turned his misfortunes into a success story
By Jessica Y. Lopez
"I would like to apologize to anyone who was affected in a negative way or pained as a result of my actions during my youth," states Art Rodriguez. Life dealt a triple-punch during his teenage years. At the age of 14, he went to juvenile hall for stealing beer, and at 15, he ended up there again for stealing a car. At the age of 16, he found himself behind bars a third time for fighting at a party where two rival gang members were killed.
Because he didn't want to be known as a "snitch," Rodriguez was faced with a life sentence. Later, those charges were reduced and he served a total of three years for this crime, two of which he spent at the hard knock Preston School of Industries in Ione, California. Art's libro, East Side Dreams will take you on a memorable journey through those grueling years, while at the same time, Rodriguez vividly recalls the painful memories of his unpleasant childhood experiences, especially those of an abusive father.
"My father had his way of raising us," admits Art. "Even though he was abusive when we were growing up, we loved him very much. Once we asked him, as adults, why he was so hard on us and he answered, 'Mijo, you guys were little devils. I couldn't treat you normally. You guys were wild.' " But from all of his life's tragedies, Rodriguez emerged a changed man and as a result, you will find an inspiring, heartfelt story that has touched the lives of thousands of people.
After getting out of the "system" and facing many more difficult experiences, Rodriguez started his own business in 1985, Number "1" Disposal in San Jose, California, where he was born and raised and where he resides today with his wife, Flora. But it wasn't until just recently, at the age of 45, that Rodriguez, who is dyslexic, taught himself to read, write and type. Ultimately, these self-taught lessons led him to discover his true passion: writing. He has since opened up his own publishing company, Dream House Press and has just released his second novel, The Monkey Box. LRM was honored to interview Art Rodriguez.
LRM: So tell us a little bit about the younger years that you write about in your book.
AR: Well, I used to get in a lot of trouble. My brother Eddie and I were really wild kids. And after my mom and dad divorced when I was about 15 and my dad left to Mexico, times got really difficult for my family and especially my mom. I did a lot of partying, fighting and just hanging out with the wrong crowd as you read in the book.
LRM: A good part of your book takes place during the times you spent at Preston. What was that time like?
AR: Those few years were a long time for me. A lot of things happened while I was there. I almost died there. You just want to be home. You long for your family and friends and you just count the days 'til you get out.
LRM: Your family and friends, are they the people who you apologize to in the beginning of the book?
AR: Yes, all of this bad stuff that I did to my family, my mom and to people I didn't even know. All of this stuff didn't bother me until I got older. When you're young, you don't really realize the damage and pain that you cause people.
LRM: So when did you discover that you were a writer?
AR: That came about after I started my first business, Number "1" Disposal. I didn't know how to write or spell and I didn't know the first thing about grammar. So, of course, I would have the girls in the office write my letters for me, but one day I had to have them rewrite a letter for me four times and I just got so frustrated that I started to teach myself. I bought a laptop computer and I thought to myself, "Well, what do I write about?" My wife said that I was a good storyteller, so I started to write my life story, every day, 30 pages or whatever. I gave those pages to my wife. She didn't want to hurt my feelings, but she would tell me that my writing was just one big run-on sentence. I basically taught myself about periods and commas and spelling by going to night school and to the library and eventually, East Side Dreams came out of it.
LRM: What was the overall message that you are trying to get across with this book?
AR: While I was writing, I wanted it to be an inspirational book for kids who are having a difficult time; kids who other people may say are "losers," because I was one of those kids who people used to call a "loser" and look where I am now. Sometimes, kids who are in trouble say to themselves, "What's the use, I'll never get out of this," but you get out of life what you put into it. Kids see their life in the present, right now. It's hard for them to focus on the next 20 years, so I wrote this book so that they could read about my whole life. It's never, ever too late to change, if I did it they can do it too.
LRM: So what is it that you can say to kids today who may be walking down the wrong path?
AR: The main thing that they have to do is stop and think about the people that they are going to hurt: their mother, their brother, their families. The most important thing should be their family and what their actions are going to do to them. One time, my mom came to see me in jail and my brother told me that he hears her crying for me every night and I said, "Why is she crying? I'm the one locked up!" I didn't realize then how much I hurt her. So maybe if kids stop to think about the people that they are going to hurt, they're likely to think twice about what they are doing.
"East Side Dreams, Art Rodriguez's Story" 2/14/01
Have you ever wondered what the authors of your favorite stories were like?
Have you ever wondered what was going through their minds when they wrote those stories? Mrs. Whitaker's English 11 classes can now answer those questions because these students just met the creator of one of their Literature Circle Books. Local author, Art Rodriguez, quiet, unassuming, with his felt hat sitting firmly on his head, entertained periods two and seven with anecdotes from his recently published autobiography, East Side Dreams. In addition to presenting interesting excerpts from his book, this self made man who now owns his own company, challenged the students to think
about what they will be doing with their lives twenty years from now. He asked them to think about how their actions will positively or negatively affect others. He shared his fears and doubts he experienced as a teenage in San Jose back in the 1960's. For ninety minutes in each class, Art shared his memories, his accomplishments and his regrets with very appreciative sophomores.
In Art's story, his dreams and memories are what sustain him through the difficult experience of several years in prison where he is paying for the foolish mistakes of his teen years. Having nothing to do for hours on end behind bars, Art finds himself daydreaming more and more about the days of his childhood and early teens. Art's inward journey takes him back to his East Side, San Jose home near King and Story Roads. This journey also takes him back to a time when there were more fields than freeways in the Santa
Clara Valley. He recalls riding around town with his friends in a low rider, Chevy Impala, remembering how he and his friends used to spend their free time at the Jose Theater downtown. He drew some chuckles from the students when he explained how he actually "stole" his high school diploma while he was in jail. He recalls not only the good times, but also the bad times. In his memory, Art does not block out the pain he suffered at the hands of his abusive father nor does he bury his past failures in school, as he sat year after year with "the dumb kids."
He vividly describes his lifelong struggle with illiteracy, as dyslexia separated him from the ability to read and write. He describes how the lack of success in school led him to criminal activities on the street. In a straightforward way, Art gives an honest assessment of the mistakes he made with his East Side friends, becoming involved in crime and violence at a very young age.
Speaking in a soft voice, Art manages to communicate to the students that he remembers how he felt when he was young and still had his entire life ahead of him. He also impresses them with the message that all those young years should not be wasted making serious mistakes.
Art's book, East Side Dreams, was born out of he longing Art experienced in prison for by gone days and his lost freedom. After serving his time behind both penitentiary bars and the prison bars of illiteracy, Art freed himself through self-education and by putting his unforgettable memories down on paper. By sharing his story at Branham High, in room twenty-eight, he gave the students much more than an entertaining story-he gave them the message
that there is hope for the future when one learns from the mistakes of the past.
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