By Yvette tenBerge
The murals of Chicano Park, located
on Logan Avenue under the I-5 and Coronado Bridge underpasses,
have provided Barrio Logan residents with crash courses in Mexican
culture since the 1970s. A proud Aztec warrior guards teenagers
skateboarding on and around the kiosco, a concrete stage in the
center of the park. A serene Virgin de Guadalupe keeps vigil over
parents shuffling their children to the bathrooms, and larger-than-life
faces of revolutionaries serve as reminders of past struggles
to families eating their lunches.
The work of educating young Latinos about their culture, though, is not being left solely in the hands of these painted images. This barrio also has another, more animated, guardian, and his name is Lucky "Two Tears" Morales. Every Sunday afternoon, Mr. Morales, the 37 year-old founder of the anti-gang violence group Los Indios del Barrio, communes with these murals before setting off on a 5-mile "Unity Walk" to National City's Highland Avenue. He has not missed a single Sunday since he began this march in 1996. Sometimes alone, but more often with gang members, area youth, parents and community activists at his side, Mr. Morales walks to help fulfill his life's mission: to educate young Latinos about the "difference between the reality and the illusion of Chicano pride" and to end Chicano-on-Chicano gang violence.
"I grew up around drugs and violence, so I know what these kids are facing. I know what they have to go through," says Mr. Morales, who grew up in a household ravaged by drug and alcohol abuse. His mother is currently living on the streets as a result of her addictions, and two of his sisters are currently enrolled in rehabilitation programs. "I was able to keep my head above water and grew up managing to stay positive, and I feel that it is my mission to help other kids do the same."
Lucky "Two Tears" Morales does not look like your average community leader. His left cheek is tattooed with two tear drops, signifying the loss of an older brother who died as a child and the loss of his father who walked out on the family when Mr. Morales was 10 years old. A large spider covers the left side of his neck, and tribal bands and feathers circle his calves. On the Unity Walk, he wears an all black uniform, including black combat boots and a black and white bandana. Often, "war paint" covers his face - stripes of red and white crossing the bridge of his nose and spilling onto his cheeks. He carries a walking stick decorated with feathers or banners and waves a large Mexican flag. He is a Chicano Park mural come to life.
"I have the gift of being able to connect with teenagers of all ages. I do not mean just Latino kids either, all kids seem to be drawn to me. They treat me with respect. It's very rare that you find adults trying to make a difference on a grassroots level, especially in an inner-city environment," says Mr. Morales, who is a Childcare Worker at New Alternative, Inc., a non-profit organization that places abused and neglected children in homes throughout the county. Dedicating every aspect of his life to our youth, he has counseled 13 to 17 year-old boys for the past two years.
Although Mr. Morales, a husband and father to three children of his own, spends up to seven hours each Sunday walking through Barrio Logan, handing out fliers to curious observers and taking time to talk with and to "lecture" those interested in hearing his message, he receives no monetary compensation for his work. Instead, he finds his rewards in each teenager who turns away from street violence. There are those who recognize the value of Mr. Morales' work, though. On Wednesday, April 4th, he was given Channel 10's Leadership Award which is bestowed upon San Diegans who are "dedicated to improving our community."
"I do not do this for the
awards, but getting this [Channel 10 award] made me realize that
it's about time that somebody who really tries to make a difference
in the barrio is acknowledged. Sometimes it feels like we are
the forgotten people out here," says Mr. Morales. His serious
expression cracks into a smile, losing focus for a moment as he
watches a few children playing in the Chicano Park playground.
His first exposure to gang violence came in 1981, when two of his close friends were ambushed and fatally shot. In 1988, as a direct result of these shootings, Mr. Morales began his mission to "stop the violence and increase the peace" by becoming a neighborhood youth worker for the Barrio Youth Center in Barrio Logan, an area of San Diego known for its high gang population.
Mr. Morales recites a long list of the gangs in and around the area as well as rough estimates of their sizes. After explaining that it would be hard to give an exact count, he estimates the OTNC (Old Town National City) gang to have as many as 600 or more members, the Logan Heights 30th Street gang to have close to 300 members, the Barrio Sherman and Barrio Shelltown gangs each with between 200 and 300 members, the Logan Heights Red Steps with 100 members, the Logan Heights 33rd Street gang with just under 100 members and the Logan Heights 13 which is, as he puts it, "very small."
"We are out here trying to make a difference because we know that, among all races of children, it is the children of Mexican descent who are the leading victims of violence by one another," says Mr. Morales, explaining that society's belief that African-American gangs suffer more from internal violence is a myth. He classifies African-American gangs as being "materialistic," fighting over things such as guns, money and drugs, and classifies Chicano gangs as being "territorial," fighting violent wars over neighborhoods, blocks and even corners.
"Many people in society think that all gang members join a gang. In Chicano families, many kids are born into gang families. It is the only life they know. In some cases, their grandparents were part of gangs. They grow up around dysfunction and drug addiction, and they look up to uncles and brothers who are in and out of prison," says Mr. Morales, getting to the root of why outreach to San Diego gangs can be so difficult. "These examples are all these kids know of what it means to become a man. They believe that being a Chicano means to become lawless and incarcerated."
Although there are days when waking up to headlines announcing yet another instance of Chicano-on-Chicano gang violence threatens to take the wind out of his Mexican flag, Mr. Morales says that the encouragement that he receives from the community helps to keep him inspired. He recalls an encounter that he recently had with a grateful couple who stopped him along one of his Unity Walks. They talked about their children and thanked him for providing their community with a positive example of what it means to be Chicano.
"Chicanoism is a way of life. It is acknowledging and having respect for our ancestors, our youth and our women. It is about respecting our elders and our Raza, no matter where they are from," says Mr. Morales. He runs his eyes over the murals above and around him before stopping to focus on a few young men. "If I can teach these things, I have really done something."
For more information about the Unity Walk, contact Gaby Barajas at 619-489-8959. Mr. Morales can be reached at 619-998-5857. To book Mr. Morales for poetry readings and presentations or for information on his upcoming book entitled, "Short Stories of Graphic Reality" contact Stevens Media Productions at 858-270-3882.
by Lucky Two Tears Morales