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*This portion of the interview can be seen as a video clip.
KENT MILES: Today is the 2nd of April 2011. We’re gathered together at Horizonte, and the La Raza group is here with Daniel Argueta. Do you mind telling us your full name and spelling it for us?
DANIEL: My full name is Daniel Ernesto Argueta Salazar, but I go by Daniel Argueta.
KENT: And going around would you each give us your name.
BRENNAN: I’m Brennan Davis.
VICTOR: I’m Victor Peña; I go to West High.
PATRICIA: I’m Patricia Pachecho.
BLANCA: I’m Blanca Peña.
EDUARDO: Eduardo Peña.
LUIS: I’m Luis Carrillo. Can you tell us when you were born?
DANIEL: I was born January 24, 1980, in Hayward, California. Do any of you all know Hayward? It’s in the Bay area. If you don’t know where the Bay area is, do you know where Oakland is? I’m sure you’ve all heard of Oakland, so it’s in that same area.
EDUARDO: Can you tell us about your childhood?
DANIEL: Childhood? Yeah, this sounds familiar [laughs]. Like I said, I was born in Hayward, California. My parents are from Guatemala of Central America, and when I was little we moved around a lot. We lived in Guatemala, we’ve lived in Miami, Florida, we’ve lived in Oakland, and then when I was seven years old we finally moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and been here ever since. Grew up in Kearns. I don’t know if any of you all are familiar with Kearns, but that’s where I grew up. I loved my neighborhood. I never wanted to move out of there, but there’s circumstances that made me have to move out. But that’s where I grew up—that’s where I went to junior high and high school, elementary, and part of college. Now I live in West Jordan. How detailed do you all want me to go into? [Laughs]
KENT: Well, one thing, what are some of your most vivid memories of growing up in Kearns?
DANIEL: You know, growing up in Kearns, to me, it was cool. When we first moved into that neighborhood, we were the only Latino family in the neighborhood—this was back in ’87—and so it was weird walking up to a neighborhood where everybody was white. It was weird going to the supermarket and seeing nothing but blond hair, blue eyes, and everybody would stare at you because my brown skin or whatever. You look different. So it was an interesting experience. But as the time went on there was, got to meet up with other people like me and like Polynesians, Latinos, whatever, blacks, and it was cool, because I felt that Kearns had a lot of that at the time that other cities didn’t. I felt that there was more people [of color] in Kearns I could relate to. I loved Kearns. I’ll tell you right now I love it. The people, we all grew up poor, and so we all had something in common. Whether you were white, black, brown, yellow, whatever, we all had something in common, and we could build off of that and so we all got along. Kearns always got a bad rep for gang violence and all this other stuff, but the funny thing is, in Kearns you just loved each other. You stood together no matter what and there was a sense of pride that nobody could take that away from you. Everybody would dis on Kearns and because they dissed on it you wanted to represent it even stronger. So that’s what it was.
BLANCA: How did you guys get involved [in a gang]?
DANIEL: How did I get out of it?
KENT: Well first, how did you get into it?
DANIEL: So how did I get into it? You know, again, I think growing up poor; you just grow up not having anything and seeing other people have all these things. You kinda want to have them and you don’t know how. I feel like being in a gang kinda provided some of that, in a bad way [chuckles]. You know, being in a gang provided attention, too, that I felt like maybe at the time I needed recognition. When everybody else would put me down for stuff that I hadn’t even done, I started believing in that, that’s how I should be. I mean, when everybody would call me a gangbanger and everything else when I wasn’t, but I was getting good grades and everything, eventually I started thinking, well, shit, maybe it’s not… Sorry [all laugh]. I started thinking: maybe this is how I should be. Maybe I am supposed to be doing graffiti and dressing in baggy clothes and not giving a damn about what my teachers or anybody thinks. Maybe I should go tag up the Relocateables in the whole school. So I started falling into that trap—but I think a lot of us as Latinos or as minorities fall into [it]. We start seeing ourselves through the eyes of people that hate us, through the eyes of those that don’t believe in us. Pretty soon we start believing that we don’t belong in college. Pretty soon we start believing that money is more important than an education—when in fact it’s an education that is gonna get you the money. We start believing that we weren’t meant for school, we weren’t meant to succeed, that we were just meant to be there and to bechingonas. Like I say, we were meant to do whatever we wanted to do, except succeed because that wasn’t meant for us. Only white people succeed, only rich people succeed, only rich people and all them go to college. College wasn’t meant for us. That’s what I started thinking back in the day. And I think that’s a trap that a lot of us [have] fallen into. I don’t know if you all have ever experienced that, even in school, like in high school, talking to counselors and asking them, you know, I want to be a doctor and them telling me that I probably belonged in the military, or that I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. You know, stuff like that, that brought me down that made me want to join the gang life, because in a gang you feel accepted, no matter what. You got your homeboys around you. They’re not gonna put you down, and if they do it’s all in fun, but you know they’re gonna have your back. They’re gonna protect you. They’re gonna defend who you are and stick up for you no matter what. You’re accepted for who you are. You don’t have to put up a front. You just do what you want to do and they’re gonna be there doing it with you. And so that’s why I think I started getting involved in that.
How did I get out of it? I don’t—part of me says that I’m still not done with it, that I still love, I embrace that lifestyle. I embrace the people I grew up with. I can never turn my back on them, or that lifestyle, because it’s what made me now. I feel like I’m successful in life because of what I had to go through, and my gang life included. I should rephrase that. I’ve left it, but I haven’t left it behind, meaning I still embrace it. It’s still part of me. I’m not proud of a lot of the things I did, but I feel like I learned from them. A lot of mistakes that I made I learned from, and they taught me how to be a better person in life. One of the things I think helped me leave it was just having people along the way that would help me understand who I was and my own culture. I felt that back in the day I knew very little about Chicanismo, or about Chicanos, or what Latinos were supposed to be. I used to shave my head. I used to love the low riders, and I didn’t even own my own low rider back in the day. I used to listen to Chicano rap and just do whatever I wanted to. But I had people along the way teaching me that part of being proud of being Chicano isn’t just embracing the low riders and the music and that culture. It’s also being proud of your roots, your heritage, your parents, where you came from, the struggle, everything that your people have gone through, and everything that you need to do to get forward in life. So I was lucky in that sense that I had mentors along the way. There was this lady, Chris Mockli, she was a counselor in junior high that I felt that she kept me out of a lot of trouble. And I got into a lot of trouble to begin with, but I felt that she kept me out of a lot more, that I could have been in juvie and all that if it wasn’t for her. I did a lot of stuff, man; she was just there. And she wasn’t the type that would judge you for what you were. She would just accept you and listen to you, and then just kinda talk to you. She wasn’t out to change nobody; she was there to listen and be there. And I felt that was really important at the time. So we started getting involved in after-school programs, cultural dances, getting involved in the community helped, too, because being involved in the community I felt, I still got that attention that I got in the gang. But I was actually doing something positive. I was actually starting to understand that my enemy wasn’t the other dude that looked like me wearing the different color. My enemy was the person that was keeping us in the condition which made us fight each other, and that’s what I needed to combat against. [Clears throat] And so I stayed out of, I kinda got out of that gang life by understanding my culture and our struggle, what we’ve been through as a people, as a colonized people, and learning from those mistakes. [Chuckles] Long-winded answer, huh? Sorry.
BLANCA: How do you view education now?
DANIEL: Education? Education is—and I know you all probably hear this a lot like growing up, like go to school and it’s important—back in the day, I didn’t feel the need to. Like high school to me was a joke. Junior high was a joke. Like I hated going to school. I hated it because I didn’t feel there was any value in it. Like I’d rather be out working and making money, you know. Like if I wanted to have something, I wasn’t gonna get it by going to school. I felt I was gonna get it by working and making that money and working my butt off. But what I didn’t understand then was that while you’re gonna make money working no matter what, why settle for like the minimum wage, you know. Like I don’t know what it is now, like $7.25 I think, or $7.50—why settle for $7.50 your whole life, and work those bottom positions and work your way up to manager when you can be the damn owner of that business? Not just the owner of that business, but every frickin’ business that exists out there! If you’re gonna go for it, go for the gold. Go for what you really want. Don’t settle for somebody telling you what to do your whole life. Me, personally, I always had a problem with people telling me what to do, with rules. I hated people telling me what to do. I wanted to join the military, and that’s part of the reason why I didn’t—because I couldn’t handle the drill sergeant telling me what to do. And in the same sense, like with education, I couldn’t handle my teachers telling me what to do. But yet I would put up with my manager telling me what to do, to clean the toilet, or do whatever I needed to do to get that money. But there comes a point where [clears throat] you don’t have to listen to what they tell you to do. You just do it. You know, like why can’t it be you giving the orders? Why can’t it be you telling people what to do? And if you all know anything businesses and managers, to me every time I always work anywhere, I always look at the managers or the supervisors and they were the lazy ones. They’re the ones that always like got away with not doing anything because they have that power. And it was like, you know what, this is bullshit. I work my ass off and then these guys are the ones making money! You know? So that’s where education comes in more, the power of education is if you can get that degree, and it’s not just for money either, but if you can get that degree, if you can get educated, you can be your own boss, you know. You can make that money. You no longer have to take crap from nobody. And if you handle it right, you can open up your own business and do it that way, too. And I think education is important in that sense [clears throat]. I think it’s also important in recognizing our own strength. Like, I don’t know, to me I hated history in high school. Are you guys in high school? What grade are you guys in? High school? High school, too? Everybody? 12th grade? Right on. Going to college? Good. [Chuckles] So, you know, like to me I hated history class in high school…. Like high school to me I hated every class in there, and I didn’t see the importance of it. You know, like history, everybody told me how important history was, right—we all learn from history so it doesn’t repeat itself. And I never saw the importance—I hated history. It was the worst topic I could learn. But it wasn’t until later that I learned that the only reason I hated it was ’cause it wasn’t my history that was being taught. It was always history of the Utah, the pioneers, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, all this stuff that had nothing to do with my people coming here to the United States and making a living and surviving.
It had nothing to do with the Chicano movement. It had nothing to do with the Black Power movement, the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s. And even when it did, it wasn’t the history that I wanted to hear. For example, like I said, I never wanted to put up with anybody’s stuff, but in school they teach you about Martin Luther King, Jr., right? Martin Luther King, Jr. was taught to turn the other cheek. He was a pacifist; he was taught to be peaceful, always be peaceful. But then on the other hand you have Malcolm X. Malcolm X was the dude that didn’t put up with anything. He was the dude that said, “We gotta defend our people by any means necessary.” He wasn’t the dude that would turn the other cheek. He was like, “No, I’m not gonna put up with your shit,” that type of dude. And to me, I could relate to that more because I felt like growing up there was all sorts of discrimination that we had to put up with and if the only thing we were taught to do was to turn the other cheek, then we weren’t addressing the problem in my eyes, right. As Malcolm X put it, we were being taught to suffer in peace. Like when you go to a dentist and you get a tooth pulled out and they stick you with a needle, you don’t stop suffering because they stuck you with novocaine. You still suffer, but you suffer in peace. And that’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those movements taught. That’s what they teach you in school. But Malcolm X on the other hand taught you that you don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to suffer. You can stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe, right. But this is stuff I didn’t learn in high school, unfortunately, so I didn’t see the value of education then. But the value in education now, it’s immeasurable. Like once you learn your history and you learn where you came from and the struggle of your people, then you’re more determined to do whatever it takes to be successful in life, not just for yourself, but for your families, for any future kids you have, and for your community, and for whoever else that ever, was ever like you.
JONATHAN: Why do you think that’s not taught in the schools?
DANIEL: Like Malcolm X?
JONATHAN: You know, like the history of the Latino and Chicano…
DANIEL: You know, it’s not taught because—you listen to Glenn Beck, you listen to Sean Hannity and all them, and they’ll tell you that it teaches people to be, it teaches hate, right. I don’t think it teaches hate. It teaches people the true history. You know, they tell you that if we’re supposed to learn from history, then let’s learn history. Let’s learn the real history, because if you learn the fun and dandy history, the, oh, everything’s okay history, you’re never gonna know that Native Americans were put on the Trail of Tears, that they were driven from this land, that their land was stolen. You’re never gonna learn that Latinos weren’t even able to speak Spanish in schools. That’s stuff that we can’t repeat, but now you have stuff like the English initiatives—English only initiatives—where they want to make English the official language and everything like that. It’s because we’re not taught this history of oppression against minorities, we’re not taught that in high schools. We’re not taught that because they’re afraid of resentment, I guess, they’re afraid of us speaking out. That’s my opinion, I don’t know. I mean, you have people in Arizona [clears throat] banning ethnic studies classes. You know, what’s wrong about us learning about our culture? We grow up in the Anglo culture. We know the Anglo culture; we know about Thomas Jefferson. I mean we have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school, in elementary. Why is it not okay to just add a little bit about our history in there, you know? But, apparently, it creates resentment. It doesn’t. To me it creates fear on the opposite side. They’re afraid of what empowered minorities can do for themselves in the community. And that’s what I think is really the problem. Am I making sense? [Chuckles]
VICTOR: About your family, you said that you had two older brothers, both [police] officers. One died of cancer?
VICTOR: How did you get into the gang life even though your brothers were [policemen]?
DANIEL: Yeah, so that was a trip, right. Like before my brothers were ever cops, they’re the ones that actually I looked up to, and they were the ones that were out gangbanging. We used to kick it with SOS, Sons of Samoa. We used to fight against the Tongans all the time. They were dumb reasons, now that I think about it. But I was about 10, 11, 12 years old at the time, and this is what I looked up to. I wanted to be like my older brothers. And all I would see about my older brothers was the guns, the beating up people, the stolen stereos—all that stupid stuff that at the time you think is cool. [Clears throat] And I wanted to be like them. The problem was that my brothers, I don’t know if they weren’t serious about it or what happened, but they grew out of it. They ended up going off to the military, to the Army, and they kinda took a different path than I took, you know. They took the straight path to the military and then the police academy and then eventually became police officers. Whereas me, I didn’t go into the military. I still embraced that [gang] life. Like that wasn’t, I don’t feel like there was a drill sergeant telling me, “This is the way to do things.” I didn’t have that, and so I embraced that gang life, to me that’s all I knew, like what my brothers had taught me. To me they were, I considered them sellouts, to be honest with you, at that time. I considered them sellouts, because they were turning their backs on the same people that made them get to where they were. When they became undercover officers, it was like how the hell are you gonna bust the same thugs that you used to hang out with? These are your homeboys—because of them it’s because where you’re at. You don’t bust them. I know that’s not the right mentality, like [clears throat], but that’s just how I am.
KENT: Can you give us a sense of age, how old were you when you started to be with gangs?
DANIEL: Yeah, I was 11 years old when I sold my first bag of weed. I was 12 years old when I shot my first gun out the window. [I was] 13-14 when I was out stealing, whatever, stealing and robbing. [I was] 14-1/2, 15, years old is when I started meeting some of these other people that were more of my mentors and started to see a different way. You know, my best friend Araueni, I realized, hey, this dude’s just as cool, and he’s not doing the same shit I’m doing. Like why do I have to do all this stuff? And I felt like I learned a different way to be, a different way to be from this, from my best friend. I felt like I didn’t have to do all these things to get what I wanted. I could still get them, and even better I wouldn’t get in trouble with this other way, you know. [Clears throat] I mean, that’s about what age I was, I mean I just, 10 years old, 11, 12, 13, even 14, that’s the age I was involved in all that. I mean 16, 17, I wasn’t involved as heavily. I was toned down a little bit more. I was into a lot of other things by then. We used to go break dancing at schools. We used to do all these cultural dances, and I thought it was cool, you know, just getting the attention at other places in different ways other than beating people up and taking their money. Like I didn’t need that attention no more. I found it in a different way, in a positive way.
KENT: And then how old were you when your brothers went into the military?
DANIEL: You know, when they went in the military they were, I was probably about, oh, crap, I was about 14 is when my first brother went in the military. And I was probably about 15 or 16 when my other brother went into the military, and it was tough for me. It was tough for me because I felt like they were taught the right way to handle things, and I had to keep going in that lifestyle. Nobody taught me that any more. I didn’t feel like my brothers taught me any better at that point. I felt like we just lived completely different lifestyles at that point. And so I couldn’t relate to them. But, yeah, both of my brothers became police officers. They ended up working for the gang unit, for Murray and Midvale Police Department, and eventually the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], too. And that’s how they think my one brother got cancer is because he used to bust all these meth labs, and he didn’t have protection back in the day. And so they feel like that did some damage to him and that’s how he got the cancer. He ended up passing away in 2006. [Clears throat] Does that answer that? [Laughs] I’m sorry.
BRENNAN: You said you went to college, but it wasn’t right for you?
DANIEL: Yeah, like it wasn’t right for me. Like right after high school all I just wanted to do was make money; all I wanted to do was [make] money. And I felt that I’ve gone to school long enough, why do I need to do anything else? I just want to make money. And it wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t the right timing. I went to school, and I only went because everybody else was going. You know, that I felt like, okay, everybody else is going, I must need to go, but I don’t care for school. And so I went and I didn’t do very well. I flunked most of my classes, no different than high school, right. But at least I could say that I’m going to college now, which was the wrong reason to go. So, yeah, I did horrible [chuckles].
BRENNAN: Did you ever go back, or….? ed
DANIEL: Yeah, so I went back. So what happened was at the age of 19, I had my first kid, my first child. And I’ll tell you what: I think that changed my life for the best, because I wanted to be an example to this kid. I felt like I needed to do everything I could to raise my child, because no longer was it about me. Now I had this little kid that I had to look up after. So, yeah, I started going back to school. It was a lot harder then, I’ll tell you that, because now I had to pay for my rent. I had to pay for my wife. I had to pay for my kid, and I had to pay for everything else. So that’s when I realized, hey, this job thing isn’t enough. I gotta get an education and get more money, because I’m never gonna be able to get out of this situation if I just keep working. And, yeah, I went back to school then. Unfortunately, it took me 12 years—I just barely got my Associate’s degree at the college. But to me it’s a huge accomplishment because I never gave up on it, you know. And I’m still going to the university right now to try to get a bachelor’s. I’m still not giving up, because that’s my only way out, and that’s my only way to be able to be a positive influence on my kids, too. You know, I used to think that it would be cool for my kids to grow up the way I did, so that they would appreciate stuff like I do. I wished they would have grown up in poverty and this and that. But [clears throat] as I matured, I realized that when you have kids, you don’t want them to be the same as you. You want them to have more opportunities. You want them to be better than you. You want them to have everything you didn’t have. And that’s, to me, having a kid was life changing. Having children was life changing. I hope that, and it’s hard for me to sit here and talk to you all about all this, because I was where you guys were at one point, just with somebody telling me this, this and that. I was like—whatever. But if I can tell you guys one thing, what mattered to me back in the day—I don’t know what matters to you all, if it’s the same thing or what—but what mattered to me was money. And if it’s the same thing that matters to you, then I hope you guys take this game that I’m telling you and do what you gotta do to get your money, but realize that going to school is gonna get you the real money. That’s where your pockets are gonna get fat. So take it as you want it, but remember me, 10 years from now, 12 years from now, that I told you this game, that I wasn’t lying to you! [Chuckles]
EDUARDO: So who were your mentors?
DANIEL: Who were my mentors? You know, I want to say my parents first and foremost, because they did try to do the best they could and they always taught me to do my best. Even though I never really listened to them in my early years, they were always there. But like growing up, like in junior high/high school, I had counselors that were always there. Like I said, Chris Mockli and she works at Cottonwood High, I think, but she would always be there, man, just be there watching out after us. And then there was this other guy named Ryan Misler who looked out after us, who taught us a little bit more about politics and taught us a little bit more about how to transform what we were experiencing in the gang life, I guess, into a more political [perspective]—instead of fighting each other let’s fight for something that’s worth [it], and that is really gonna change our conditions.
JONATHAN: How did he come into your life?
DANIEL: Ryan? I have no idea. I don’t remember. I remember like early in high school getting invited to this program called the Neighborhood Action Coalition. And the Neighborhood Action Coalition was adults, but for some reason they had a couple of youth, me and my best friend always got invited to everything by that point, and we were invited to that. And out of there, they ended up losing funding for that program, but they started another one called the Youth Advisory Board, and that was like a group that lobbied up at the Capitol. Basically we went up to the Capitol and talked to senators and everything to try to get laws passed, and I was about your guys’ age when that happened. And that’s where Ryan Misler came in. He was the one in charge of that. And what was cool about the Youth Advisory Board is that we didn’t just go to the Capitol and do that, but they had other activities that we would do. Like I remember once they took us up to Alta somewhere, and we stayed in a cabin, and we went to “Improv Camp” and that was cool. Are you guys familiar with “Improv”? Improv—basically, you act, you act stuff out on the spot. We were supposed to come up with a play, right, like something that we could act out after four days of being there. And the funny thing was is that we showed up on a Monday, and our group was like the most diverse group, we had Polynesians, blacks, we had some whites and we had some Latinos, and when we showed up, we were the only group that had that. Everybody else was white. They were from Wyoming, Idaho, Evanston, Wyoming, whatever. They were from all these places, and when we showed up they looked at our group and they started blaming us. There was a broken window and all of a sudden we got the blame. There was people sneaking into girls’ rooms at night, and we were being blamed for it. There was stuff that happened all over the place, and our group was being blamed for it. So it was pretty cool because we decided that our improv skit was gonna be about racism and prejudices and stereotypes. That Friday when we did our skit, like everybody was crying, like not in our group, but every other, like all the other kids from all the other groups they were literally crying in tears. And like right after, they had an evaluation how did these guys do, and all of a sudden you had all these kids start confessing that their dad was in the KKK in Wyoming and like all this weird stuff. And it was like, oh, my God, and they started apologizing for everything. Before we left, like everybody wanted to hang out with us. And it was just a trip. It was a trip. But Ryan was one of the mentors involved with that, and to be able to touch somebody to that degree it was crazy, you know. You didn’t even have to beat them up to get them to see your view, for me it was life changing. It was a trip. You could show them how they affected you, and you could literally destroy their heart [laughs], and so it was a trip. It was crazy. But, yeah, Ryan Misler and there was Steve Bauman from Upward Bound, which was a college prep program I ended up attending, too. And there was all these people along the way that I felt I was lucky to have. I don’t know that a lot of us recognize these people exist, but they’re there. And if you’re willing to put yourself at risk and see for yourselves, you’ll find people that are always gonna be there for you, helping you.
EDUARDO: So who do you mostly look up to?
DANIEL: My parents, my parents, because of everything they’ve accomplished, regardless of how bad they were treated or all the obstacles they had to face. I remember one time when we lived in Oakland back in ’85 we were gonna move to Salt Lake, like we had all our stuff, everything we owned in a U-Haul. My grandparents said, “Just stay one more night. It doesn’t make sense to start driving at night.” So we stayed the night, and when we woke up in the morning, everything was gone, the whole U-Haul with everything, even the clothes. I mean the only thing we were left with were the clothes on our backs. All my toys got taken. I was pretty pissed about that. But, you know, to see how my parents were able to make it through that without ever turning to a life of crime or anything like that, I mean, they’re my heroes. That’s who I look up to. And then, of course, you know, if you’re talking about historically, I’ve got all sorts of heroes, all sorts of people along the way that stood up for the underdog, for the ones that weren’t supposed to make it but they did. And it’s because they had all these people to look up to. Even Tupac, man; I look up to Tupac. You all know who Tupac is? I think that guy is amazing, man, for all the stuff that he went through when he was younger. And I don’t know if you guys knew, but his mom was a Black Panther. Do you guys know what Black Panthers are?
So Black Panthers back in the 1960s, sorry, so back in the 1960s when there was a lot of that race thing going on, there was a group that came out. They called themselves the Black Panthers for Self Defense. And what it was, was that back in Oakland there was a lot of police officers that were just beating blacks, like arresting them for no reason, would hold them up at gunpoint, would put the gun up to their heads and just humiliate them. And the Black Panthers said: You know what? This is enough. What we’re gonna do is under the law. The law states that we can own guns. The law states that we can patrol the police and keep an eye on them. The law states that we are able to carry a gun and load it if we need to for our self-defense. So they started patrolling the streets and whenever there was police officers harassing black people, the Black Panthers would be there with their shotguns and everything. The cops started getting scared of that stuff, right, they were like, “Oh, shit, we better not do anything bad.” All of a sudden the cops had to watch what they were doing. So that’s where the Black Panthers started. They started in Oakland. It was a party for self-defense. But, yeah, Tupac’s mom was part of the Black Panthers, and so if you ever listen to Tupac and some of his lyrics, you could tell there’s some political inclinations in there. But, like, it’s more on his earlier albums.
MELISSA: I’m an intern at the CDEA. In your pre-interview, you talked about your participation in the marches in 2006. The marches disrupted the status quo in Utah. Why do you think it’s important to have these marches? And why is it import for youth to participate?
DANIEL: You know, and this is something I’ve thought about and contemplated for a while, too, because at the end of the day, what do marches accomplish? That’s my belief. I think they help to bring people together and they help empower people. But if nothing is planned to do afterwards, to me there’s no point in having the marches. They do disrupt the status quo in letting people know that there’s an issue. But I believe that, and this is just a recent thought, I believe more needs to be done than just marches. For example, the marches of 2006 they were great, do you guys remember those? The big march we had in 2006, I don’t know how old you all would have been? It was five years ago, but where the whole downtown area was full, right. Like to me it was cool to bring that many people together and finally fight for an issue. And it did bring change. Don’t take me wrong. It did bring change, but it was temporary change. And I think that’s a problem with the marches. I think people become complacent, that they believe, hey, I did my part, I marched. I went out there and spoke out; I’ve done my part. But it’s not enough. Year after year, we’ve seen all these bills coming up that are anti-immigrant, right? And so if we’re really to attack this issue or these issues, we can’t just be marching.
Malcolm X used to say about Martin Luther King: We’ve gotta stop singing and start swinging. We gotta stop marching and start doing whatever we can. I mean, in the 1960s the Chicano people brought up the La Raza Unida party, which was the third-party system that they used to elect their own officials that represented their own issues. I believe that if we truly want to make change, something similar has to happen. I’m not saying a third party just for Latinos, but maybe a third party that represents the interests of all underrepresented communities whether it’s the women, the LGBT community, blacks, Latinos, whatever, we all need to unite, and see that while our issues are a little bit different that those that are crafting the bills against us are the same people that we need to take out of power. I believe that the marches are great. But I think we need to become more politically mature in that there’s more that we need to do and we need to take the power back. With the representatives and senators that are out there at the Capitol, they don’t represent us. I hate to say, you know, they don’t represent us. [But] when we have to fight these bills over and over, they don’t represent us. So when you hire somebody for a job and they don’t do the job, you fire them. That’s what we need to do with our representatives. And not just fire them—but we need to hire the right people. I believe that the right people are gonna come from our communities, because they will understand the issues that we face today. But it all starts, it’s gotta start somewhere—it starts with these guys, too. You all got a big responsibility and hopefully with our generation, with my generation and everybody else we’re able to make it easier for you all to make that change. Hopefully we can make the change for you all. I’m pissed off at our elders. I love Archie and all them to death, but I feel like none of them did enough because look at where we are now. But at the same time, I understand that they fought the political battles of their time, and they didn’t foresee the issues that would come up here. But that’s why we need to formulate permanent solutions, not temporary solutions to temporary problems, which again leads back to the marches and all that. I believe they solved the problem temporarily, but we’re not setting up the infrastructure that needs to be in place for future generations never have to do these kind of things.
KENT: Are there a couple of final follow-up questions you want to ask…
DANIEL: Don’t be shy, I’ll be honest with you. If there’s one thing you’re gonna get out of me is honesty.
KENT: I’d say one thing we should know a little bit more about is the Brown Berets…
DANIEL: So the Brown Berets—when I was growing up, I heard a little bit about them. I knew that the Brown Berets were Chicanos, that they were badasses. They used to march in military formation, and they used to wear the brown berets, and they used to be in the defense of the people. They used to stand up for our people like they were the ones you didn’t mess with. Out of all the people that you mess with, if you got the Brown Berets involved, you were in trouble. They were like a gang. When I viewed them, I viewed them as a gang, as a gang that actually stood up for our people—not just for any color or any specific person, they stuck up for all people. And so I knew that of the Brown Berets growing up, that was about it.
JONATHAN: Was it in Watsonville that you were introduced to them?
DANIEL: No, I was introduced with them here. I don’t even remember where. I think my brother that passed away he’s the one that first mentioned them to me. I know that for a fact. But also in high school I had a friend whose dad was a Brown Beret. He gave me all this documentation, newspaper clippings, poems, everything they used to write, and I don’t know, but like I said I was into Chicano stuff back then. I used to read Low Rider Magazine, and in the back of Low Rider Magazine there was always the love lines, which were the poems that everybody would write, dedicated to their girlfriends or whatever. So what interested me was that his dad had all these poems and everything in them that I thought were really cool back then, and I was like, whoa, but they weren’t just love poems. They had a little political twist to them. They taught me a little bit about the issues, so I knew about the Brown Berets. Unfortunately, like the Black Panthers, they kinda disappeared because of different reasons, COINTELPROi, the FBI coming in and breaking those groups up, etc., division within them, infighting. But those were the L.A. Brown Berets.
The original Brown Berets, the national, the B.B.N.O., Brown Beret National Organization as they call themselves now, they’re coming back together.
But in the marches of 2006 like in 2005, me and my best friend Araueni, we used to organize with Archie and them under the Utah Hispanic Latino Legislative Task Force. And we used to learn about all the issues that were happening at the Capitol, the laws that were coming and everything. And we always felt like we were the youngest ones in the group, and we were like: Why are no other youth involved? We know this affects everybody. We know the youth get just as pissed off about these issues because it affects them and it affects their families. We know that youth understand what discrimination and racism is. Why isn’t there enough youth being involved? And we realized that there wasn’t any organizations that really looked for youth, that worked for the youth, right. So we started talking about what we could do. Being in all these youth organizations when we were younger, we felt like we could come up with something here. And, originally, it wasn’t the Brown Berets, but as we looked more and more into it and as we got in contact with some of the Watsonville Brown Berets, which is an autonomous chapter, we felt like bringing the Brown Berets here was the right thing to do. Like, hey, we’re aware enough about our culture, we’re proud enough about our culture, we’re determined and willing to do whatever it takes for our people to get ahead and defend our people, why not the Brown Berets? You know, it carries a lot of history and responsibility with it, but we’re willing to do this. Let’s do it. So we started the Brown Berets here in 2006, right before the marches. And we actually did security for the marches in 2006, which was cool, which was our first event ever. We had a bunch of Brown Berets—youngsters and Brown Berets—providing security and nothing ever happened, right, which was the cool part. And that’s how it started. But the Brown Berets to me, I believe it fills in a gap that is necessary. Like with us, I feel we appeal to the element of “have nots.” And when I say “have nots,” the people that feel like they have been left out, I feel like we can represent [them]. We’re the group that will say, “We welcome you how you are. You don’t need to change to be in us. You don’t need to be a good kid, you don’t need to get good grades, you just need to be willing to listen, and we’re not gonna be here to judge you or anything. We’re gonna be here to support you, we can build off that.” Once you’re in, we do want you to do the right thing. We do want you to get good grades, etc. But we’re not gonna push that for you to be in here. We’ll welcome you in as you are. We’ll take you as you are. And I think that’s one of the thing that appeals to the youth. I don’t know, I think the other thing that appeals to the youth is the uniforms. When we dress up in uniforms, to some of the youth we look like that gang, I guess. We look like that gang that won’t put up with shit, and we look like the defenders of the people that we are. And I think it appeals to them to know that, hey, we like to have fun, we like to do everything you like to do, but when it comes time to our community, we’re gonna put in whatever work needs to be done, and come join us. We guarantee you’re gonna have fun. We guarantee you’re gonna have a blast, and everything that you would get out of a gang you’re gonna get out of this. But we’re gonna make it positive and we’re gonna make it worthwhile. We’re gonna make sure that you get hooked up to college, we’re gonna make sure you’re successful, etc. If you want money, we’ll make sure of that, you know, but let’s do it right, let’s unite, let’s fight for what’s right. That’s why the Brown Berets.
What I tell people is this is a grassroots street organization, street, because we organize from the bottom up. We organize from the very bottom up. We’ll take whoever it is and we won’t judge you. We’ll work with you; we’ll work together. And we organize around having fun; first and foremost we have fun. We’re like a big family [laughs]. If you meet any of the other Berets, to the community we’re serious organizers; to us, we’re just a big family of goof-offs who will do whatever it takes to have fun. But when it comes time to organizing we are there. The community doesn’t see the side of us having fun. They don’t see that we go to concerts. Like there’s an artist, you guys probably haven’t heard of him, but his name’s Immortal Technique. And you all should go look him up ’cause he’s pretty badass. Every time he comes—he’s a brown beret, too—every time he comes he’ll hook us up with backstage passes. We’ve gotten to meet Wu-Tang Clan and Oz, Cypress Hill, and you name it, because of him. He always hooks it up. So we have that element of fun where other organizations will never have that. I’m sorry, they won’t. But we also get serious about our work. We know what we need to do.
JONATHAN: If some of the students did want to get more involved with you, what would they need to do?
DANIEL: You know, just look us up on Facebook and let us know. We’re gonna be doing a huge barbecue. We do a barbecue every year. It’s just a community barbecue, we’ve got burgers, hot dogs, and then we’ve got some Aztec dancers, and we just try to bring the community together to come hang out and eat and then we’ll have a couple of people speak. So we’re in the middle of planning that right now. And after that we want to do some fundraisers. We’re gonna do a couple of concerts with local artists, and then, well, there are some of them there. I don’t know if you know Elizabeth Medina, she’s a Brown Beret. She works with MAA [Mestizo Arts and Activism]. We have Brown Berets all over the place, and in all these different organizations and groups, there’s at least one Beret. So we do work with them, but it’s more like our Berets will work with that organization or they’ll work with us. So, yeah, one of the things we’re doing is that fundraiser. We’re gonna do a concert with local artists and then we’re gonna work on a second mix tape. We put out a mix tape four years ago with Immortal Technique and Dead Pres doing some special shoutouts, right, and we want to do that again like a mix tape volume 2, have a concert for that, and then bring either Immortal Technique or Dead Pres back out here and have something bigger. And then just give that money back to the community somehow, put it back into a scholarship for an undocumented or a student or something like that, we want to give it back. So there’s things we do [chuckles]. Then we also want to start doing more of the street organizing, which we did back in the day, where we’d go around and hand information out to just regular people in the community and talk to them about what the issues were. But we want to also start registering more people to vote, seeing that the elections are coming up.
KENT: Any other follow up questions?
EDUARDO: What do you think about our group?
DANIEL: I think you all are shy as hell! What the hell! You all aren’t this shy with each other, are you? Like, do you all hang out and just like be quiet with each other? You all don’t have to be shy with me. [Laughs] I’m teasing. No, I think it’s cool. I mean, I don’t know everything you all are doing, but you know what, like, this is where it starts, really being involved and doing these little things will take you a long way in the future. Don’t give up on it. Believe in what you’re doing and do it. This is good stuff. I’m glad you all are here, every single one of you. I don’t know, what do you think about the group? I hope you keep going, man. And what I tell people, join the Brown Berets and everything, I said, “If the group isn’t right for you, it’s not right, you know. As long as you’re doing something for yourself, your people in the community, it doesn’t matter what organization you join under, or what you’re doing. Just get involved. Learn about yourself and what’s in here. And learn to be able to tell people that they can’t judge you. Learn who you are and show them that you’re not the person that they want to put you down as.” I mean, stuff like this I think helps with that, helps build that empowerment and that self-esteem I think as youth you all need.
JONATHAN: I think you’re taking a different route, though, than your brothers…
DANIEL: Yeah, you know, I don’t think I could ever be a police officer. I wouldn’t feel right, because police officers don’t look at the “why” they’re arresting somebody. I feel there’s always a reason why, and if we can get to those root issues and solve it there, that’s the true solution. So I could never be a police officer. While I have respect for them, it’s just two different worlds.
KENT: Thank you very much for your time.
i COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. The FBI has used covert operations against domestic groups since its inception; however, operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO tactics have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. The FBI’s stated motivation was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” FBI records show that 85% of COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals the FBI deemed “subversive”, including organizations and individuals associated with the civil rights movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality and others. They also included black nationalist organizations like the Black Panthers; the American Indian Movement; a broad range of organizations labeled “New Left”, including Students for a Democratic Society, and almost all groups protesting the Vietnam War. (Note: the above is a condensation from WIKIPEDIA.)