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Anything that crosses through in front of me I always take it as a learning experience

Christian Sanchez (names have been changed to maintain anonymity) has lived in the Inland Empire for twenty-two years. He moved to Riverside County from Los Angeles when he was twenty-three years old after being part of one of the largest gangs in California since he was nine. Since moving he has gotten married and he now has six children. After many years of working up the ranks, he organizes and runs a sector of a union in Riverside County. A son of Mexican immigrants, he has a very strong work ethic and has been working from the age of fourteen and hasn’t stopped. He was a key part in raising his younger three siblings and because of witnessing his parents struggle to make ends meet and their absence, he learned how to be responsible at a very young age. He believes that the Inland Empire has the potential to become some of the greatest, self-sustaining regions in the state.


It’s 1995. A young man sits on the porch of his home in Los Angeles. It’s a typical Southern California evening, the breeze gently flowing through the trees, the sounds of the busy city echoing through the neighborhood, and there’s a party beginning to take life a few houses down the street as the sun has already begun to set. Christian Sanchez sits, drinking the homemade champurrado his mother just made for him, and relaxes after a very long day. Sitting alone in the quiet he has some time to think about everything that had been going on in the neighborhood, he thinks about his life and where it’s going. He’d been running around in the streets since he was nine years old and, at the age of twenty-three, he decided that it was time for a change.

I was born in Los Angeles, California, in the West side, which is the best side, in 1973. The section that I grew up in is on the border of Los Angeles and Culver city. You know, I’m first generation here [first generation born in America] my parents came to this country to try to give their children and themselves a better life. So my parents always worked hard to get what they have and some of the struggles there was that they constantly worked a lot. So us growing up, you know, majority of the time we were there while my parents were working. We would get ourselves to school, we would do things at a really early age on our own. I have three siblings. Two brothers, one sister. I am the oldest. So I would take care of them. 


Going through elementary school it was good. Where everything changed was going into middle school and definitely high school. What changed was ahhh... You know as I say… kids growing up trying to find themselves… dealing with a lot of attitudes, dealing with the racial tensions in Los Angeles, you know, that’s what made it real interesting in middle school and high school. Well there were a lot of racial tensions growing up, and we had to kind of like come together, band together to help each other out. Growing up, especially in a poor neighborhood, we didn’t have the supervision or even the understanding of a parent. So coming together due to the fact that other groups are trying to get over other groups, you know, so I joined a gang. We did that mainly to protect each other. To belong to something. I joined one of the biggest gangs in Los Angeles. And, look I’ll put it this way, everything in life always gives you a lesson and you learn things from it as in life you are bound to make mistakes. So anything that crosses through in front of me I always take it as a learning experience. From that experience, I learned organizing. Now I run one of the largest unions in the Inland Empire.


It was a big change to begin with, going from a large city with a lot of traffic a lot of movement and many moving parts, and then moving into the area of Mira Loma where your neighbors are like an acre away. Just stepping out of the house and hearing farm animals... In the beginning it wasn’t a positive change, you know finding a job out here was difficult, and not even that, finding a good job. I would like to see the Inland Empire change from being a sleeper town where people go out to work in Orange County and LA. Instead of that this area needs to change and actually have the jobs that can sustain people here, that way they can actually stay closer to their homes, closer to their families. It would not just help them and their families but it can help our local economy grow. This place can really become something. But the problem here is that the focus is not on creating good jobs out here it’s been more about creating substandard jobs. Majority of the jobs out here in the Inland Empire, as we know, are either warehousing or retail and it’s hard to get a good job that will help you sustain. The other thing here is that people need to be more involved in their communities to help fix the areas, and to help them be good communities. That’s what we’re really lacking out here. People are more into themselves and not wanting to know their neighbors or anything that’s going on around them. I think that creates a bad environment.


My first home is Los Angeles, and this is my second home. There’s differences, big differences, I mean what I’ve seen out here. It’s way different I mean here you don’t have the LAPD harassing you all of the time. I mean out here you don’t have cops taking you in a car and stealing your money, you know, even though you tell them that you work they don’t care. You know, you don’t have them harassing you when you are nine years old while you’re playing baseball in a field, lining you all up and hitting you with a damn mag-light in the back of your head and throwing your shoes over your head to the field. You don’t have that type of harassment, or I just don’t see it.


You know you see some tensions between neighborhoods but it’s not the same as it was in Los Angeles. I did see some racial tensions out here also, but it doesn’t compare.


Well, here’s the thing, anyone can go anywhere and find trouble; you just have to be looking for it. You want to go somewhere and look for trouble, you’re going to find it. You know and if there’s still folks moving out here, still with the mentality of messing around then trouble is going to happen and it’s gonna create issues for wherever they live. So it’s always up to the person to do what they want to do. If I hadn’t left LA I probably wouldn’t be here right now, cause it was a different lifestyle out there. I’ve seen people… pass away. And I’ve seen people that will be spending the majority of their life in jail, which is what happened to my brother.  

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