Blood In Blood Out
You’ve undoubtedly seen the movie Blood In Blood Out if you’re a member of the Latino community and were born before the year 2000. Two Mexican American brothers and their half-White cousin are the subjects of the movie. Despite the fact that the movie is fictional, many people were able to relate to one or more of the characters. The problem with this is that many teenagers who have seen this movie have either seen it as just a movie or have been encouraged to act like what they have seen, which has occasionally been to their detriment. This is the first time I ever took a deep dive of what the film meant to me, my friends that I went to high school with and the effect it had on my community and culture.
One of the first things you’ll notice, if you grew up in the USA or Canada as a Latin kid, is the use of Spanglish. Spanglish is a distinctive and interesting way that North American kids grew up speaking. Because of our unique experiences of having grown up speaking both English and Spanish, we sometimes scramble words and may not remember it in one language, but remember it in the other, so we end up making mash-up sentences. This was displayed a lot throughout the film. Nowadays, it’s sort of frowned upon and you run the risk of being referred to as a “yo no sabo” kid.
The LA Times wrote about one of the two writers of Blood In Blood Out: “National Hispanic Media Coalition received complaints that the script of “Blood In Blood Out,” written by Jimmy Santiago Baca and Jeremy Iacone, portrayed Latinos in a bad light.” “They’re not Latino films, but films about gangs and prisons.” “screenwriter Jimmy Santiago Baca wrote a copyrighted letter defending his “Blood” script. He claims it was inspired by his own prison experiences in his native New Mexico.”
“Gregory Nava, who directed the 1984 sleeper hit “El Norte” says he’s not surprised by the fact that two gang theme films are being made.“Gangsterism is one way immigrant cultures enter the mainstream. It’s traditional in American life and film. People move into outlawism by being rejected.”
That was a crazy line to read. “People move into outlawism by being rejected.”
This was the case of Miklo Velka in Blood In Blood Out. I read a study that said that they believe Miklo’s character is based on “Joe “Pegleg” Morgan” (1929-1993) who was born Slavic but seems to have grown up with Chicanos and thus adopting the culture, respect and high rank in the Mexican Mafia gang. The film is loosely based on the lives of Joe, writer Jimmy Santiago Baca and half white/ half Mexican Damion Chapa who plays Miklo.
The film is based in the 70s and 80s. I find it amazing that you can watch this film, today, in 2023 and it’s still brutally relevant in today’s Latin Urban culture.
Miklo’s cousins are Cruz and Paco “El Gallo Negro” Aguilar. Although Cruz and Paco were half brothers, they shared a younger brother but his role in the film wasn’t a major one. His death in the film did, however, bring a change in the characters’ lives.
A friend of mine had lent me the movie on VHS… this was back in 2002-2003, people. I had no idea what I was in for. I would watch it in bits before school, every morning until I finished watching the movie. I would have been allowed to watch it at home when everyone was there, but the amount of f-bombs and Spanish curse words would have been enough for my mom to tell me to turn it off. I had never seen a movie about gang culture before.
I knew about gang culture due to the fact that I loved listening to Hip Hop music, but I didn’t know that it was something that would be glorified by young people, until I went to high school. When I watched the film, I began to understand why the new friends I chose to hang out with at school dressed and behaved the way they did. They were heavily influenced by the movie and Latin Urban music of that time.
Everyone was wearing Chuck Taylor shoes, Nike Cortez, Clark’s, flannel shirts with only the first two or three buttons at the top done up, khaki pants, slicked-back hair, homie shades and bandanas. This was the Latino urban “look” of those days or you’d simply wear Hip Hop clothing like Phat Farm, Rocawear, Sean John, Pele Pele, Karl Kani, Timberland boots, LUGZ, and others of that time as well. It’s safe to say we were all heavily influenced by pop culture.
The influence that the films like Blood In Blood Out, American Me, Colors, Boyz N Tha Hood, Training Day and other similar films had on the youth was mostly detrimental, in my honest opinion. Most of the youth were emulating what we were seeing on tv and it was also what we saw on the street and on the news. The problem was we all had access to this content mainly due to the fact that most of our parents were immigrants and worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. That left us, their kids, to fend for ourselves and, sometimes, take on the role of babysitter for the younger siblings, which would leave us vulnerable to being influenced by outside entities who did not have our best interest at heart. We would start spending more time outside after school hours.
We’d go to friends’ homes who sometimes did not have a healthy family structure which at times led to supervised self-destruction like underage drinking and smoking. Some parents felt that as long as their kids were at home doing what they did, they’d at least be able to keep them in a safe environment. Yup, this mindset is probably all too familiar with a lot of our upbringings if we grew up in the mentioned circumstances.
What happened after watching this film is that it was the only thing my friends and I would talk about. We pretended like we were characters in the film and would pretend we were the “Vatos Locos” like the gang in the film. The other concern was that it stopped being make-believe and started becoming real life for some of the people in my friends’ group. Some went on to join real gangs here in Toronto. The issue with watching movies like Blood In Blood Out as a teen was that we weren’t mature enough to understand the message in the film. We only saw what looked cool.
We saw that the gang members of the film were willing to die for each other, that being in a gang got you the girls, smoking and underage drinking was cool and simply being in a gang was an honourable thing and showed that you were tough and about “la raza” or “your race.” It wasn’t all negative, though. There were some good lessons in the movie as well. Things such as family, forgiveness, what happens when you don’t forgive, and also what happens when kids don’t grow up in good environments.
The strange thing about the movie is that Miklo’s cousins Paco and Cruz seemed to have come from a good family. They had two loving parents, a good home, their father, Paco’s step father, had his own business which appeared to have been some kind of auto shop. Cruz was a gifted painter. He had so much going for him. Thanks to the image that Cruz was painting on the hood of a car in the film, I became curious about the Aztec king “Quetzalcoatl.” Paco on the other hand, seemed like his issue was not the lack of a loving home. It was a lack of purpose. A lack of feeling like he was good for something. His stepfather tried to encourage him to join the army. He refused to meet with the recruiter. He just didn’t seem to know what direction to go in, so the gang was the most fulfilling, possibly thrilling and meaningful thing he had going on for him.
Miklo had already gotten himself into some trouble when the movie started. He moved to L.A. after leaving his father in Las Vegas. His father mistreated him because he was half-Mexican. Strange thing to hate about your own kid. Miklo was about to turn 18, which meant he’d be off probation. Little did he know that he would only become of age to end up going to the men’s penitentiary. San Quentin, to be exact. His cousins certainly did not contribute to his rehabilitation. Miklo ended up adopting their beef on the street when he moved in with them.
A few things that I noticed in this movie that I had usually seen in movies with African Americans. Police harassment and racial profiling. Also, gang content. The three relatives were out for a drive when they were pulled over by a couple of white cops. Surprisingly, the cops were somewhat nice to them and let them go without any trouble due to Paco’s boxing reputation in the local gyms. Cruz used the reputation to get them out of that rut. But Paco was upset. I always wondered why Paco was so angry about the use of his boxing rep to get them out of a jam with the police. Maybe it was him feeling ashamed that he broke his hand in a fight. That’s what I assumed it was. He probably felt like that was the only thing he was good at.
In the movie, it shows that the cousins had a rivalry with a local gang called “Tres Puntos.” No explanation was given for the beef. But they really didn’t like a guy called Spider. Spider seemed to be the boss or something, as Paco seemed to be the leader or at least a high-ranking member of the Vatos Locos.
In an alleyway scene, it shows some Tres Puntos members doing graffiti in an area controlled by the Vatos Locos. Miklo, to earn his stripes, approached the car that was occupied by Spider and affiliates who were doing the graffiti. Miklo broke their car’s back window and that’s what showed Paco and Cruz that he was “down for the clika.” The next scene was interesting and also dangerous if you were or are susceptible to the influence of those around you.
Miklo earned his “VL” placaso or aka his gang tattoo which usually goes in between the left thumb and index finger. He became a part of the “familia.” Especially after he says the words “Ahora somos carnales, hasta la muerte!” which loosely means “Now we’re homies for life!” That meant that he had taken an oath to always be down for his crew. Paco, Cruz and the gang made Miklo feel accepted.
Taking that oath seemed honourable…until it wasn’t. On the day that Cruz was awarded a scholarship to go to the Los Angeles College Of Design, they had a celebratory party in honour of Cruz’s scholarship. During the cookout scene, you see some teenage homies smoking a joint in the backyard of Cruz and Paco’s house. It was just casually added in there. Then, it goes to one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie.
Cruz went to a secluded area with a girl he hooked up with at the party. I’m not sure how old these characters were supposed to be, but it seemed like they were both in high school. Members of the Tres Puntos gang showed up, dragged Cruz out of the car he was in and smashed his leg with the car door before they picked him up and slammed him onto a fire hydrant which then led to him almost being paralyzed. That was hard to watch. All I wondered was, “Why were they doing this to fellow Latinos?”
Obviously, Paco, Miklo and the gang wanted revenge. But Cruz’s mom caught a whiff of what was being organised at the hospital with Paco and the gang members. She said something that always gives me chills when I watch the movie. She says “Who are you fighting?” A member of the gang, Chuey replies “Tres Puntos!” Paco’s mom says “Just fighting yourselves”“Paco says, what are you ding, they are my family, son mis carnales!” Proceeds to get slapped by mom and she says:
“I am your family!” “You should be taking care of each other, not fighting over street corners!”
Paco says some deep words with “ If we do nothing, then we are nothing!”
Great words, but the wrong scenario. There was no need to continue the violence. But the streets don’t teach us about forgiveness. They teach us that “anything goes.” Nowadays, we say “Get it back in blood.” Paco, Miklo and their crew go to a hangout spot they knew the Tres Puntos crew frequented. They ambushed them and Paco ended up catching Spider and carved the “VL” initials into Spider’s chest.
Spider was let loose by the VL’s thinking that he was playing by the rules when they said “the dog is belly up.” Spider went for a gun, shot at the guys, ends up hitting Miklo and Miklo shot back, fatally wounding Spider.
After an exciting high-speed police chase, Paco and Miklo got arrested. Miklo, having turned 18, was sent to San Quentin’s penitentiary. I feel like this is when the movie really started. Through the film, you get to see the real life prison and a lot of the people you see on camera were not actors, but actual prisoners. Why not? Cheap labour, I guess.
“We were in there with real prisoners. About three others and I were the only ones that weren’t prisoners. Everyone else around us was real. We practically lived there for months.” -Damion Chapa for Daily Democrat
Miklo ends up realising a few things in that prison. Street gangs don’t matter. The only thing that matters is race. He met some of Spider’s friends from Tres Puntos in prison, but they didn’t care about that, because they knew that the beef inside the pen is not the same as the beef on the streets. Three main crews were represented in the movie. African Americans-BGA (Black Guerilla Army), Caucasians- AVers(Aryan Vanguard) and Latinos- La Onda which translates to “the wave.” Life inside the prison became intense real quick for Miklo. He almost got raped by a guy (Popeye) he thought was one of his homies because he had a VL tattoo just like his.
To sum up the movie, Miklo kills people in prison, to earn his way into La Onda. He gets out of jail after a few years, heads back home and reunites with his cousins. Paco went to the military as an ultimatum when the murder of Spider occurred. Cruz has permanent damage to his back after his attack and was never the same. Cruz ended up blowing away his painting career due to his addiction to heroin. His pain from his injury was so bad, he felt that the prescription drugs weren’t strong enough. His younger brother ended up getting into Cruz’s stash and accidentally overdosed on heroin.
Cruz got disowned by his family, including Paco due to the overdose of his younger brother. Only Miklo reached out to him. And they weren’t necessarily the best influence on each other. Miklo ends up planning a money heist with some bad people he met through Cruz and the plan goes wrong after Miklo’s cousin Paco who was now a cop at this point, shot Miklo in the leg. Miklo got his leg amputated and told Paco to his face “You’re not my blood.” That’s for having shot him.
Miklo Returns to prison. With the help of fellow members of La Onda, they take out their current leader “Montana” due to their concern that he was becoming “soft.” Montana wanted to make peace among the different groups. But Miklo, La Onda and the BGA thought that was bad for business. Montana was somewhat of a pacifist due to his changed stance on violence and the current state of prison politics. He coined the famous words “Chicanos killing Chicanos is what they want. Blacks and Chicanos killing each other is what they want. That’s how they run this place. Once we get together, they don’t run sh*t.”
Miklo remained in prison, Cruz and Paco reconcile, and the movie ends with the two brothers looking at a mural of the three (Miklo) of them on a wall. The movie was so long, it almost felt like the most memorable parts were the negative parts. By negative, I mean the things that looked cool, but were not good for you. It almost seemed like a glorification of gang culture instead of a lesson to learn. Obviously, it was rated “R” for a reason, as it was definitely not good for kids to watch.
After watching the movie, I started noticing everyday things a bit differently. I started noticing that a lot of the people around me, dressed in the clothing of the movies I was gravitating to. I then learned about a Hip Hop subgenre called “Chicano rap.” I haven’t really listened to the genre of music since my early 20’s, but the rappers I remember were dope were Mr. Sancho, Lil Cuete, Lil Rob, Mr. Knightowl, Conejo, Mr. Capone, Akwid and more. Their music was basically Chicano drill music. Music about getting your opps and reppin their clika aka their crew. I embraced Chicano culture, including my brief obsession of collecting the “Homies” gumball machine collectible toys.
I also started hanging out with various gang members from different crews simply because that’s where I felt like I belonged. I never joined a gang myself although I briefly tried starting my own crew, but for completely different reasons and beef was not one of them. That didn’t work out. Thankfully. It was a strange time in my life because that’s also when racism became all too real. I don’t know why, but historically, Black and Latino communities have had conflict amongst each other. People that I knew from middle school days had also joined gangs. Unfortunately, people who I knew had all of a sudden chosen sides.
There were Black gangs beefing with Latino gangs and the root of it was honestly unknown to me. We just knew that this was the norm at my high school and surrounding schools. Seeing how members of the Black gangs were robbing and beating up people I knew infuriated me and thus began my brief hate towards Black guys especially the ones who I thought I was cool with because of my middle school days. High school changed everything. As far as I knew, movies that influenced the Black community at that time were ‘Shottas,’ ‘Paid In full,’ ‘Belly,’ and others. There was so much violence and even the girls were fighting each other.
I remember my Spanish class teacher used up most of the time during one class to explain to us, with tears in her eyes, what it was like in the 90s when the Black and Latino beef was pretty bad at the school. A lot of students had to go to their next period classes in separate groups because of the violence that would occur in the hallways between the two groups. What a time to have been alive. It almost felt like I was in the movies ‘Lean On Me’ or ‘Dangerous Minds.’ This level of hate and violence was a learned behaviour and I’m almost certain that the majority of us did not learn this at home.
After watching Blood In Blood Out, all hell broke loose. Since I didn’t have a father present in my life, I turned to the streets. I had no business being out and about in my teenage years. I thankfully never got into real trouble with the police other than a few random stops and frisks where all they did was toss out my weed. I was one of the lucky ones. I noticed something about my friends and I. Most of us came from loving homes. Maybe not the best dynamics, but a lot of us didn’t come from broken or abusive homes. What could have led us down the path that made us embrace gang culture?
There were some festivals in Toronto when I was growing up. The most notable ones were ‘TLN Latin Fest’ at Canada’s Wonderland which to those who don’t know what that is, think ‘Six Flags.’ We also had the ‘Pupusa Festival,’ ‘Toni Reyes festival’ and a few others. Sadly, a lot of them, especially Latin Fest, was a gathering for all of the Latino gangs to show how tough they were. There was a lot of violence at these events. Sadly, most of these events no longer exist in Toronto and it’s probably due to the amount of negative press they were getting.
I believe that a lot of parents were oblivious to what their kids were into. We really had no one to guide us because life in Canada was so fresh for a lot of Latino families, especially in Toronto. It wasn’t until I started to live on my own that I realised how pointless and stupid gang life was. Some people who are in gangs feel like those are the most loyal friends they’ll ever have. Movies like ‘Blood In Blood Out’ show us just how easily our friends can and will turn on us. There is no real loyalty when you’re into criminal things. Tekashi 6ix 9ine, Gunna from YSL and other YSL affiliates have shown us this in recent times.
Gang culture preys on those who are seeking validation or a sense of belonging. It preys on the young because it’s easier to mould the mind of a young person versus an older person who you’d expect to have more common sense. There’s also the criminality aspect of recruiting young men and women into gangs. Under 18 year olds get charged as juveniles if they get caught commiting crimes for their gang. Some friends huh? In gangs, it’d be your own that are sent to unalive their own brothers due to factors such as fear of disloyalty, “snitching “and other circumstances. Gang life doesn’t usually end well.
If we look at what’s happened in my birth country of El Salvador, in 2015 it was deemed the “murder capital of the world” with 105 homicides per 100,000 people. That’s a lot, considering El Salvador is a country of approximately 6 million people. Since the recent president “Nayib Bukele” came into power, over 40,000 gang members have been incarcerated in a state of the art prison facility which in turn has helped make the country safer and in turn, desirable for foreign investments in the country. People have never felt safer. Unfortunately, there are rumours that there may be innocent people who’ve been caught up in the country wide operation to arrest and jail anyone who has gang tattoos and other signs of gang affiliation.
Gang culture seems like it’s all fun and games thanks to its glorification in movies and music. We have artists like Snoop Dogg who at his age is still reppin’ his affiliation with the Crips. YG reps his Blood gang affiliation, Chicago rappers rep their GD affiliation, and so on. Thankfully, we also have artists who came from that life like T-Bone (Fighting Temptations), rapper Kid Frost, and chose to dedicate their lives to educate the youth on the dangers of joining gangs and offer programs to keep them safe, productive and feel like what they’re involved in has a purpose. Sometimes, people turn to religion as a way out. That was the route that I took. I’m glad YHWH found me when I was going down a very dark path.
I highly recommend that if you’ve watched Blood In Blood Out and have young people in your lives who seem to be going down a dark path, watch it with them. But, explain to them what’s happening. Focus on how their lives would change if they choose to be out and about, aimlessly on the streets. Be the big brother, sister you wish you had, growing up. There are many programs in Toronto that you could get involved with and volunteer your time. There’s one in particular that I worked with called “Culture Link.” If you’ve been able to overcome the streets, then your story is much needed in the lives around you. Help others avoid going down the same path of heartache and heartbreak when they find out that the streets don’t love them back.
Blood In Blood out is a film that will forever be a staple in Latin urban culture. Gang culture is never ok, regardless of your reasons for joining. There’s no way out with some gangs, except a grave. There are better ways to make money. Better ways to find “family.” If you’re looking for a sense of belonging, get into a sport. Get a part time job if you’re in school. Learn to play an instrument, learn to produce music or something in creative arts. There are a lot more resources to keep youth busy than what I had growing up. Make good use of them. Thanks for reading.
An Analysis of “Blood In Blood Out”. Personal Identity Construction in Gangs – GRIN
Actor Damian Chapa reflects on filming ‘Blood In Blood Out’ | 5 Questions – Daily Democrat
Written By: Mario Funes
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