Fresno, California was the worst place you could be in the mid 90’s. Crime, drugs and gangs was rampant and part of your normal everyday occurrence. You can get robbed and stabbed by simply walking down the street with a new (or used) pair of Air-Jordan’s.
Living on Fresno St. in a ghetto fabulous neighborhood didn’t help either. Again we lived with my “cousins”. I’m not really sure how we’re related, just one of those Asian things where everyone is family I guess. This time we lived in our own converted garage in the back while they stayed in the front house.
My introduction to gang life, at eleven, was about to steam full speed ahead. My cousin’s were active members of a group called, Tiny Raskal Gang. Doesn’t sound threatening to you? Well it should, cause they’re one of the largest and most notorious Southeast Asian street gangs in the U.S.
My cousin Jasper (tag/street name) was a great teacher. He showed us where he kept his .22 pistol and how to properly load it. He allowed us to come with him on late night runs to tag up a wall or wooden fence. He encouraged us to garden. In the kitchen sat several pots of marijuana plants growing comfortably in the window light. His stash of weed was always available for us to use as special herbs to add to our top ramen noodles – which makes for an uncontrollably funny meal. When Jasper wasn’t out bangin he was teaching break dancing moves to his younger brothers, Goofy and Posse, along with my brother and I, in the front yard. There was nothing like spending the day spinning on cardboard to the sound of “Jam on it, Ja, Ja, Jam, Jam on it!” with people who cared about you. Like I said, Jasper…a real stand-up role model, somebody I wanted to be like.
One summer day while we were watching a Tupac video on M.T.V (Music Television), my cousin Kim, Jasper’s sister, showed up at the front door in a wheelchair. She had gotten shot in the left leg during a drive-by shooting two days earlier. Apparently she was at the park with a bunch of guys from Oriental Boys Society (O.B.S.) when rival gang members drove by in a car and starting blasting into the crowd. She was cool about it and totally nonchalant, “It’s all good. It happens all the time. I’m just glad nobody died.” She was right, it did happen all the time.
The truth is I was scared. I remember stopping by the local high school to drop off my cousin on my way to Jr. High. Out front was a bunch of students; big Mexican bald guys, some with Bulldog jackets (another Fresno gang), Asian guys with their hair slicked back, girls with too much makeup, a couple squad cars and police officers manning metal detectors. It was like a scene from a prison movie that forever etched the fear of a Fresno public high school in my mind. I wouldn’t have to worry though because I would never make it to a public high school in the end. Compound the social pressures of entering a new ghetto school and the intimidating stares from Fresno’s gangsta’s and you got yourself fear.
On the streets there’s a code: strike fear earn respect. Nothing else matters except respect. Respect is something you would die for and kill for. When people acknowledge what you’ve done and the work you’ve put in for the set, you earn rep, which leads to respect.
Of course we all know it’s a lie. It’s a broken, twisted and false sense of respect, one that leaves us empty and without hope. But how do you know that’s it’s a lie when you were never presented with the truth? Without the truth you are left to fear. Fear and the desire to belong drives one to do many crazy things…like get jumped into a gang.