The College Years


It was a rare thing for Kenny to come and see me.  When he did, I knew that he must be battling something truly difficult.  I remember one particular visit where we spoke at length about his life.  His parents were getting older and soon the baton would be passed to him.  This was a special talk for me.  Only three days before, I had been over at the Aragón home.  It was smaller than I remembered it.  Waiting in the living room for Kenneth’s parents, I observed that the old house hadn’t changed in almost thirty-nine years.  The first thing I thought about was how lonely the big house had been before Benjamin came to live with Michael and Kenneth those many years before.  It had only been he and Michael.  Anna and Christina came later.  As I looked at the staircase, I could recall Kenny and Christina chasing Benjamin up and down the stairs.  I remembered Old Valdez teaching Kenneth and the other children to play the piano those many years ago.  The children spent many hours practicing on that beautiful baby grand.  

While waiting, I went into the spotless kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee.  It was strange how this old house made me feel so good inside.  I felt safe here.  I’d spent many happy times over the years in this house.  As I looked in the cupboard for a coffee cup, I found Aragón’s favorite white, rounded U.S. Navy coffee mug.  After pouring myself a cup of strong Spanish coffee, I sat down at the kitchen table.  The room brought back memories of those mornings when I joined the family for breakfast.  In my mind’s eye, I could see the children racing off to school on those cold rainy mornings.  As I sat there, I thought back to Kenneth’s difficult first days of elementary school.  Anna had come to me at the rectory to talk about the beatings he received from the other boys.  Many times, he would return home bruised and bloody.  Anna was always there to comfort him, holding Kenneth on her lap and wiping the tears from his face.  Usually, she would apply an ice pack and try to make him feel better about his bruises.  For Kenneth it was a difficult time.  

In the beginning, Kenneth didn't belong.  The older boys at school hated him because he looked different.  Even then, he could sense that he was different from the other kids.  His skin was pale, unlike their darker, olive skin.  His hair was blonde, almost white.  Deeply wounded by the name calling, he cried when they called him a Honky.  Because of the unconditional love his father gave him, Kenny didn't understand the hatred.  That first year of school was the most difficult for him.  He had no friends; he was alone.  Every day, Kenneth had to face the fear.  The older boys never let up on him.  It was one beating after another.  The boy only cried in front of them once and was devastated that he looked like such a baby.  He did his best to hide the shame.  

I remember his mother coming to me at the rectory one night.  Not knowing what to do, Anna was beside herself with fear and anger.  The older boys were coming after Kenneth every day.  On a particular day, the beating was bad.  His nose had been broken and they had done some damage to his right eye.  Anna cried when she went to pick him up from school and saw his eye swollen shut.  Taking him to the doctor, Anna demanded that Kenneth stop the fighting.  But how could he?  They hated him because he was different; he had no choice.  How could he change the way he looked.  Making his blues eyes brown was impossible.  Kenneth couldn't make his white skin become olive.  That fine blonde hair would never be black or brown.  

That evening, when Michael arrived home from work, he was shocked by what he saw.  Seeing his precious Kenny bloody and bruised, Aragón held him in his arms and told him that everything would be all right.  This was the first time Kenneth could recall his father kissing him.  Michael freely hugged the boy, but a kiss was something special.  Feeling safe with his father’s arms around him, at that moment, Kenneth knew the world outside could never hurt him.  Later, Kenneth told me that this was the moment of his greatest love for his father.  A very angry Aragón listened silently as Kenny told him of the fight with the other boys.  Taught by his father that men didn’t cry, Michael cautioned him to make fear his friend and weakness his enemy.  Aragón had told him that a man never gave in to pain or fear; Kenneth was to endure it in silence.  Ashamed for allowing the fear and pain to get the best of him, Kenneth cried.  

Aragón taught him the meaning of honor early on.  A man was to stand his ground no matter what the odds.  Recounting to me what his father had said to him, Kenneth believed the words.  He had only to hang on long enough and all this would be behind him.  Aragón was right.  A week later, several of the other boys at school helped Kenneth.  During a fight with the older boys, his classmates joined him against them.  Telling me how it felt when they won, Kenneth said it was the first time he felt good about himself, he had finally won.  Wanting to hear more about the incident, I called a parishioner I knew.  Her son, Rolando, was a classmate of Kenneth’s.  She brought the boy over to the rectory that evening, he told me his story.  At first, Rolando was afraid to talk because everyone knew that Aragón was the head of the Family, La Eme.  Later on, he told me the entire story.  

The first time Rolando and the other children saw Kenneth was when Aragón had pulled up to the school in his low rider car.  Rolando said the vato Aragón was a legend in the barrio.  All had heard that Michael was the head of the Family.  When people spoke about him it was with great fear and respect.  Meeting Kenneth for the first time in his first grade class, everyone could see that he was different from the rest of the children.  His hair was blonde and his eyes blue like the sky.  He never spoke, just quietly watched the other children.  Telling the students that he was new and they should be his friends, the boy was called Kenny by the teacher.  Very quiet, he spoke only to the teacher.  He never smiled, he just watched.  In school, there were many stories about him.  It was said that Kenny’s parents didn't want him anymore, so they sent him to live with the vato, Aragón.  The children didn’t see him as being like the priests or the Anglo teachers.  He wasn't like an outsider.  Rolando said that Kenneth was like the barrio children, but different.  He showed respect by not asking questions.  

The children played kickball in the school yard.  Playing hard meant fighting.  You stood your ground or you got beaten up.  Learning early that they had to fight to survive, in the barrio there was only your reputation.  If you couldn't or wouldn't fight for it, you lost it.  And if you lost it, you soon became a target.  And so it was.  They couldn't run to the teachers for protection from the bigger boys, especially if there was a fight.  At game time, the teachers turned their heads the other way.  They saw nothing and heard nothing.  The children were on their own after all, these were only barrio kids.  There was always violence in their world.  The school boys all knew one day it would be Kenny's turn to prove himself.  But for him it was worse, he was White.  This was an easy way for some to get back at the world outside.  Hate for Whites was always spoken of at home.  They were the reason for all problems.  If a father couldn't get a job, it was due to White prejudice.  If a policeman beat up a vato, it was always a White cop.  It was into this world of hate for Whites that Kenny came.  Even Aragón couldn't help him.  The day came when the older boys decided to beat up Kenny.  All the children knew what was to happen.  The entire school was talking about it.  The recess bell rang and they all ran to the playground.  The older boys stood together talking and giving Kenny tough stares.  Then they walked across the field toward him.  He stood watching, saying nothing.  They called him a Honky.  Standing tall, he still said nothing.  Then it happened.  All at once, they were on him like a pack of hungry wolves.  The other kids stood by waiting for Kenny to run, he didn't.  Trading blow for blow, he stood and fought.  Soon, they were behind him.  Knocking him backwards onto his back, the kicking began.  Without crying out for help, he continued to fight back.  Soon it was over.  The teachers ran to stop the one-sided fight.  Without a word, he stood up, his face red with blood.  Brushing himself off, he simply walked away.  The boys had found their target.  The beatings continued for many weeks.  Their hate got the best of them.  It would be more of the same.  But Kenny never gave in.  

It was a new day.  Once again, the older boys waited until the time was right and then struck again.  Fighting silently and alone, there were too many and they were just too strong.  Even though he was in great pain, without saying a word, he walked away.  As the weeks went by, Kenny remained their target.  Whenever the time was right, the older boys attacked.  But finally, Kenny earned the respect of his classmates.  This lonely boy earned the respect of many in those weeks.  This macho White boy was in many ways more a vato than the vato locos.  The next time the older boys began their walk toward Kenny, his classmates stood beside him.  None knew why they did it, perhaps because it felt like the right thing to do.  All were afraid.  No one said a word; they just waited for the attack.  Looking at each of them, Kenny’s eyes gave them a strange comfort.  Without saying so, the boys all knew they would win.  Coming fast and hard, the older boys were bigger and quicker than Kenneth and his new friends.  The fists and kicks were fast and furious.  Kenny’s crew fought back with everything they had.  Soon, one of the older boys fell and then another.  Kenny and his friends were winning and the fear left them.  

Fighting the biggest boy, Jose, Kenny had him on his back.  Punching Jose on the head and face, Kenny’s blows came furiously.  Within seconds, Jose's face was red with blood.  He cried out for help from his friends, but none would interfere.  He was alone and helpless to face this Anglo that he had tormented for so long.  Soon his cries for help stopped, he was unconscious.  Standing up, Kenny looked thankfully at his new friends.  For good or bad, they had shared a terrifying moment and won.  Without saying a word, the boys knew that they were bound together forever.  It was a silent bonding that only young men can know.  

As Rolando told me, as he walked home from school that day, his head was full of thoughts of the fight.  He had never felt success like that.  It was as if he had done something heroic.  As he walked along the street, he heard a voice calling to him.  “Hey you!” the voice shouted.  Rolando turned to find the man his father had warned me about, Mr. Aragón, calling to him from his low rider.  Remembering what his father had said, he stopped dead in his tracks, his heart pounding hard in his chest.  As the car pulled up beside him, Aragón held his hand out toward Rolando.  “Here.” he said.   In it was a twenty dollar bill.  “I owe you.” Aragón said, thanking him for helping out Kenny.  Taking the bill, Rolando shoved it in his jacket pocket.  As he turned to walk away, Aragón said in a soft voice, “Kenny needs friends like you.  Stay close to him.  Do it for me and I won't forget.”  With those last words he drove away.  Continuing to walk down the street, Rolando passed some of the older vatos.  Nodding their heads, they shouted, “Orale!”  As they smiled, Rolando knew he was respected for what he had done.  Rolando also knew that they would not forget.  From that moment on, if he ever needed help or friends, these vato locos or crazy guys, would always be there.  

That night, Rolando’s family gathered at the table for dinner.  Not wanting to tell about the fight, Rolando couldn't bring himself to raise his eyes to his father.  No matter, the decision to discuss the fight was out of his hands.  Earlier in the day, the school had called Rolando’s mother, telling her about the fight.  Rolando’s father was first to raise the issue.  “Son, what happened at school today?”  He asked in a low, deep voice.  Rolando told him about Kenny and the older boys.  Listening, his father said nothing.  Later, Rolando’s father explained that he had been wrong to get involved.  “Remember son, fighting will get you nowhere in life.  Smart people win with money, not their fists.”  Although his father had said the words, Rolando knew deep down inside, he was proud of him.  Rolando’s father said what all fathers say.  

After dinner, as Rolando’s family sat watching television, there was a knock.  His father stood and walked to the door.  Opening it, he shouted, “There’s a boy here for you, Rolando.”  Looking past his father, Rolando saw Kenny.  Inviting him in, Kenny greeted Rolando’s family in perfect Chicano Spanish.  It wasn't an Anglo, Spanish.  The accent was clear and familiar, causing Rolando’s father and mother to smile.  They were flattered that this young White boy spoke Spanish correctly and without an American accent.  But it was more.  He didn't sound like most Anglos who tried to speak Spanish.  It was the way he stood and spoke, Kenny sounded like a Chicano from the barrio.  

Walking out on the back porch, the two boys sat on the steps.  They said nothing for a long time.  Kenny sat silently looking at the trees in the backyard.  Finally, he turned and looked at Rolando with those sky blue eyes.  They made Rolando feel like Kenny could look right through him.  “You helped me.  And I wanted to say thanks for helping me when you didn't have to.  My father says I owe you.”  Kenny had spoken the words softly.  Feeling the words wouldn't come out right, Rolando didn't want to say what he felt.  “It was a matter of honor.”  Rolando finally explained, having heard his father use the expression before.  It sounded like the right thing to say.  Kenny reached out his hand and they shook.  There were no more words, only a nod.  Kenney left as quickly as he’d come.  

My mind returned from the past and what Rolando had told me those many years ago.  Leaving the kitchen, I went back into the living room.  Sitting on the sofa, my eye caught sight of pictures of Rolf and César Romero on the walls.  There were pictures of Tia Maria, little Maria and myself with the family.  The room was filled with wonderful photos of Kenny, Christina, and Benjamin at the beach and at concerts in the park.  Anna had always loved her pictures.  The walls of the entire room were covered with family pictures of holidays and vacations, bringing back a thousand different memories.  As I sat there, I could remember it all.  Looking up, I saw the photos of Kenneth’s four friends Rolando, Vincente, Robert, and Sammy.  Always with him, the four bad boys from the barrio made him laugh.  Rolando went back the furthest.  Those boys were inseparable.  When the boys were young, Kenny and his friends spent time with me at the rectory talking about life and history.  I missed that most of all.  The photos brought tears to my eyes.  His time with his boys had always been special to him.  

It was in elementary school when Kenny began being called Wedo by his closest friends.  It means light haired or light skinned.  It was their way of giving the Anglo boy a Spanish name.  They felt that he didn't want to be anything but a Chicano.  Kenneth chose four to be close to him.  For some reason, Rolando was always the closest to him.  Then came Vincente, Sammy, and Robert.  Each had his place.  Soon, others began joining the boys.  Over the years, the group began to grow, until there were twenty or more.  Most of their time was spent just doing what young boys do.  Later, Kenneth and his friends didn't hang out together, he held court.  Where he led, they followed.  

Kenneth was always smarter, larger, and as time went on, one of the handsomest.  Handsome and intelligent, there was something special about Kenneth.  You could see it even then.  Having grown more confident, he stood out in a crowd.  Carrying himself tall and straight, he reminded me of an English lord that you read about in children’s books.  A natural leader, he commanded respect.  As a teenager, he grew tall.  Eventually, Aragón and Kenneth were about the same size, both well over six-foot.  With a strong build and golden tan, Kenneth was one of the best looking of the bunch.  Barrio girls loved him and he could have his pick.  Everywhere he went, girls followed.  Blue as the sky and as deep as a lake, it was his eyes that set him apart.  Rolando once told me that Kenneth knew just how to use them.  He claimed that Kenneth could always tell if he was lying, just by staring into his eyes.  

Although he had many friends, Kenneth was a loner deep down inside.  The one exception was his father.  Michael and he were as close as a father and a son could be.  Doing everything to please him, Kenny loved his father.  Knowing Aragón was an expert at self-defense, Kenneth took Karate lessons when he was a child.  To this day, Kenny still works out daily at a local dojo.  Aragón liked guns, so as a teenager, Kenneth became a crack shot to please his father.  In the end, they were a lot alike.  

As the years went by, things changed.  They were no longer boys.  They were young men and they needed money.  At first, it was only shoplifting cokes and cigarettes.  Soon, it was tires and rims.  In the beginning, the stealing was on a dare, one boy trying to out do the other.  It was for fun, for the adrenaline rush.  But as time went on, the thefts were bigger and worth more money.  Then money began to roll in.  No one set out to become a criminal.  Like most things in life, it just happened.  Never keeping the money for themselves, it always went into the party fund.  Later, the boys kept some, but it was usually entrusted to Kenneth.  His boys knew not to ask for things unless they really needed them.  If one of the boys needed something, he went to Kenneth.  If someone’s parent was out of work, Kenneth would give money for rent or food.  He always had a large bankroll.  During those teenage summers when Kenny was away, Rolando kept the bank.  Trusting Rolando to take care of things while he was gone, several thousand dollars in cash was left with him.  The only pressure Rolando felt was the planning of jobs while Kenneth was away.  Over time, the bad boys became very efficient at stealing.  

Reasoning that tires were easy to sell, the summer of Kenneth’s seventeenth birthday, he planned his first big theft.  Planning to sell them for two to three hundred dollars, it was to be simple.  With a plant making thousands of tires each year, who would notice a few missing tires?  Or so he thought.  The night of the break in, they waited until after midnight to climb the fence.  The security guard was old and usually snoring loudly by midnight.  But this night would be different, they found out later.  Only the day before, the old man had retired.  Going to college during the day, a new young guard now worked nights.  Paying well, this job was the answer to his prayers.  And he could study while waiting to walk his rounds.  This job was one break in a million.  He needed this job and he would see to it that nothing happened that would cause him to lose it.  

Having slept well that day, the young guard was especially alert.  It was a dark night, the cloudy skies blocking the moonlight.  The boys placed a piece of carpeting over the barbed wire to protect their climb over the top.  Working their way over the barbed wire fence, the boys dropped quietly to the ground.  They ran to the rows of tires, each stacked one on the other.  Once safely behind them, they hid.  Making their way toward the building, they looked into the windows and saw exactly what they expected, nothing.  

Thinking the old guard must be sleeping, they made their way toward the shipping dock, creeping along the wall’s edge.  But they were wrong.  Around the corner came the young guard.  He was just as surprised as they were.  Scrambling, hearts pounding in their chests, they ran hard for the fence.  Hearing the young guard gaining ground on them, Kenny’s chest began burning as he fought for air.  He hit the fence hard with the full force of his body and quickly made it over first.  The others were also lucky.  The guard stumbled and fell as they all made it back over the fence.  

As always, Aragón had one of his vatos watching over them.  When he got wind of what had happened, Michael wasn't too happy.  I was later told that Aragón found his son within an hour.  In front of his friends, Michael backhanded Kenny several times, making him promise there would be no more stupid mistakes.  According to Kenny, the two spoke that night.  Michael didn't want his son to have a record.  A record gave the police somewhere to start if they were investigating a crime.  After Kenneth’s mistake, Michael saw to it that his days as a teenager were good ones.  Kenny spent time at Uncle Rolf’s gun shop learning about weapons.  Doing teardowns and rebuilding the guns, Kenneth and Benjamin came to know a great deal about how these weapons were made.  Teaching the two boys to respect handguns and rifles, Rolf spent hours at his shooting range with them.  

Through the years, Benjamin and Kenneth grew very close.  Benjamin worshiped his slightly older, tougher brother.  Kenneth always protected his little brother, Ben.  Their tastes in clothes and cars ran close.  But their personalities are very different.  Aragón had the greatest impact on Kenneth’s personality, leaving him with a harder edge.  Perhaps, it was because he expected this son to take over the Family business.  Although not brothers by blood, they were brothers in almost every other sense of the word.  Having a strong physical resemblance, the two passed for brothers.  Benjamin’s eyes were blue like Kenny's.  Tall and thin, he wasn't physically large like his brother, but he was solid.  By the time the boys were in high school, his hair was a reddish blonde.  As he got older, his freckles went away.  With his cleft chin, Benjamin looked a great deal like the actor, Kirk Douglas.  Always the quieter of the two, Benjamin was classy, even as a young man.  He reminded me of a banker.  They differed strongly in one way.  Ben chose not to run with the bad boys.  That was Kenneth’s domain.  As time went on, he spent more time with his sister and mother.  But whenever they could, the boys took in the sights together.  Both liked art and museums.  

A recent photograph of Michael sat on the mantel.  He’d always been a handsome man.  With a large square jaw and high cheekbones, his pale skin showed few signs of aging.  Aragón’s green eyes always had the power to mesmerize.  It was curious that his light brown hair had never grayed.  Looking more Mediterranean than Mexican, his family had emigrated from Spain and settled in New Mexico, in the late sixteen hundreds.  His bloodlines were Spanish, but he looked Italian.  Now in his late sixties, Michael still looked fifty.  Staying fit, he and Kenny always ran together at night in Griffith Park.  

Aragón watched over his little girl like a hawk, never allowing her to date any of the local barrio boys.  Michael had dreams of a great future for Christina.  When younger, Christina was always the scrawny one.  During meals, she ate everything in site, but never gained a pound.  Kenneth nicknamed her skinny.  That's what she was called all of her life.  Even now, when I see Christina, I still call her skinny.  When the children were young, she spent most of her time reading.  Doña Anna made sure that Christina was always doing something to improve her mind.  Always a bookworm, maybe that's why she did so well in law school, graduating with honors from Harvard Law.  In her late teens, Christina began to look more like her mother, her face long and thin with high cheekbones.  She had light blonde hair like her mother’s and beautiful, deep-set, blue-green eyes.  She was tall, and her well-proportioned body was strong and fit from years of sports and exercise.  Christina and Benjamin ran daily after school.  Kenneth made sure that his friends understood that his beautiful sister was off-limits.  Kenneth’s bad boys were especially hard on any barrio boys who tried to get to know her.  Soon after elementary school, Christina was left alone by neighborhood boys.  

A few years before Christina and Benjamin went away to college; Anna bought a second place up in Montecito, an exclusive area of Santa Barbara.  Santa Barbara was by then, the place to live.  The large estate had a long winding road leading to the main house and was protected by high walls.  The beautiful, two story Spanish Moorish style villa with lush gardens surrounding it, was fronted by a long reflecting pool.  Their new neighbors were movie stars and the wealthy.  Michael and Anna rarely visited the estate.  But when they did, Michael invited Rolf and me up with them.  Several times a year, César would come into town and spend special times at the villa with us.  The wives spent their time browsing through the shops in town.  We men smoked cigars, drank wine and whiskey, and played cards through the night and into the early morning hours, always sleeping in late.  Older now, Kenny and Benjamin were allowed to play cards and drink while in Michael’s presence.  Later in the day, we spent time near their villa taking in the polo matches.  

The barrio boys weren’t supposed to know about the villa.  But following his normal style, Kenny showed them the way the other half lived.  Taking his friends up there when his parents were in LA, the boys swam in the pool and did the things teenagers do.  The bad boys loved the place.  That’s where they learned to ride horses and sail.  

With his brother and sister away at Harvard, Kenneth spent time alone in Santa Barbara, with his Uncle César.  When César was in town on business, they sailed off the coast together.  It was also at this time that César introduced Kenneth to polo.  A natural at it, Kenneth was strong and agile, dominating his opponents.  While at Harvard, his brother, Ben, had also become strong.  By the end of the first year, he stood six foot, two inches tall.  Weighing two hundred and thirteen pounds, Ben was now almost as big as Kenny.  While Kenneth spent time with his father and Uncle César, Benjamin kept a close eye on his sister, Christina, at Harvard.  We saw them only on school breaks and during summer vacations.  

I recall during one spring break, Kenneth told me about Christina’s time at college.  While at school, a football jock got out of line with her.  Bless his heart.  Benjamin beat the jock pretty badly.  I believe that Benjamin put the offending young man in the hospital.  Aragón was proud of Ben for this.  Anna was not as pleased.  

By 1970, Vietnam was raging.  All four of the bad boys went away to war.  Only Kenneth stayed home and went to college.  With his sister and brother away, Kenneth spent most of his time over those four years with Aragón.  The two became closer.  They had always been close, but now it was just the two of them.  Running together in the evenings at hilly Griffith Park, Kenny and Aragón talked and laughed as they ran.  The talk was about life and people.  Michael always taught the boy something.  That was why the boy loved his father so much.  In these years, his father pushed him to understand business and finance.  Aragón wanted Kenneth to learn about his legitimate businesses.  Over the years, Kenneth’s father would bring him into the office to help review bank statements and accounting ledgers, making sure his boy understood profit and loss.  Learning how money was made and more importantly, how it was lost, he was taught never to throw money away.  Kenneth had a mind for numbers and learned quickly.  

Aragón soon began teaching him about the Family business, showing Kenneth how monies were transferred from Mexico to Spain.  Michael gave him insight into currency exchange, explaining how monies were transferred to legitimate business holdings.  Kenneth then learned how the Family laundered its drug money.  In the beginning, the monies being transferred were in the thousands, then hundreds of thousands.  By his twentieth birthday, the amounts were staggering.  The late sixties and early seventies brought with them a boom in drug sales.  Revenues were now in the tens of millions.  These vast sums of money never seemed to affect Aragón.  It was as if the money had no hold on him.  It was merely a utility, a means to an end.  It was nothing more, nothing less.  It gave him the power to help the barrios.  Holding the strings of power, Aragón could increase or decrease the use of drugs in the barrio.  But he chose to limit its flow.  

Michael now allowed Kenneth to sit in at meetings with the Brotherhood.  The rooms were normally filled to capacity.  Sometimes thirty or more men sat listening to the reports.  Coming from as far away as New Mexico, they represented all of the barrios of the major cities in the Southwest.  These vatos were hard men who took the Family business very seriously.  Recognizing that the Family was their only chance for success in a world that excluded them, these vatos cared about little else.  This was their lifeline.  Without it, these men wouldn’t be able to provide for their wives and children.  They would let nothing interfere with the Family’s success.  Each barrio family had its place in the Brotherhood.  Some were powerful and had been a part of the Family for many years; others were newer and growing in strength.  The men dressed conservatively.  There was no flashy clothing as found in the Italian Mafia families.  

Aragón reported on the financials and cuts of certain shared ventures.  Discussing legitimate ventures at length, they always wanted to know what the potential for growth was.  Fascinated by the fact that they owned resorts, hotels, and exclusive restaurants, they all wanted more.  It was as if these things legitimized them as Americans.  These vatos had finally gotten their part of the pie.  They held this new found legitimacy in awe; it was as if they couldn't believe they had achieved so much.  The bigger and more extravagant the legitimate project, the better.  Never saying no to Aragón, the Brotherhood wanted to buy more projects in Spain.  For some reason it held a fascination for them.  Perhaps they felt safe there.  When they visited their holdings, either Uncle César or his wife would cater to their every whim.  These men and their wives were treated like royalty by the Spaniards.  

Sitting silently as his father and the other men spoke of taking someone out, Kenneth learned these decisions were never made easily.  Each time the pros and cons were discussed, and all possible impacts were weighed.  Always an attempt was made to resolve the problem by peaceful means.  Only when all else had failed was the word given.  Having heard the word given many times in his life, the shock had gone away a long time ago.  To kill someone became just another item on the meeting agenda.  It had never been someone he had known personally.  The person was always a name without a face.  Usually, it was a man without honor, a thief, a liar, or worse a traitor.  

When the meetings were over, there was always the abrasso.  Each man would pay his respects to Aragón and leave.  Afterwards, Kenneth and Aragón would sit and discuss the meetings, talking about why certain actions were necessary.  Aragón would explain in detail the men's attitudes about a certain point or issue.  Kenneth was being taught about the hard lessons of life and the harder lessons of death.  The boy was soon to learn the Family came first, last, and always.  There was no room for softness or pity in this world of crime.  His father had always told him that all involved were corrupted by it, including himself.  Kenneth was told never to mistake this business for anything else, but survival of the fittest.  “Only the strong and certain survived.” Aragón counseled his son.  This meant planning and precision execution of the business by its members.  Over the years, Kenneth learned and learned well.  Intimately knowledgeable of every detail of the Family business and its holdings, he knew the ten-year plan.  While his father dreamed of becoming a national syndicate called the Brotherhood, Kenneth dreamed of an international organization.  Planning one that stretched from Mexico to Central and South America, then to Spain, he would one day make it a reality.  In its last stage, it would spread to all of Europe.  His father had put all of the parts on the table.  It would be left for Kenny to assemble the puzzle and make it one.  

There was very little difference between how Aragón ran his legitimate businesses and the Family business.  Only the products differed.  Both were well-planned and concerned with sales and profit margins.  Each had a board of directors.  But only the Family business dealt in death.  It was here that I drew the line in the sand with Aragón.  I didn’t want Kenneth in the Family business.  Aragón and I fought often and openly about the issue.  There were several public shouting matches.  At parties, he and I disagreed vehemently.  Once, we almost went to blows.  In the end, it was Kenneth’s decision.  A great deal like his father, his cold logic prevailed.  His decision was based upon a need to honor his father.  To have decided against Michael would have meant dishonoring him.  Michael had finally won.  There was little I could do, but pray for Kenneth’s soul.  

When at school, Christina and Benjamin were there to learn.  Neither bought into the Harvard mystique, although they spoke a little differently each time they returned home, but not enough to establish a pattern.  Deep down they were Aragón's children.  Each had the barrio as a part of them.  In their souls, they were as Chicano as their father, although they each had a part of Anna in them.  Their appreciation for knowledge, art, and music was her doing.  But it could be said that they never forgot their roots.  Benjamin changed more than Christina.  Although Anna arranged for his learning Hebrew and being Bar mitzvahed, it changed him little.  But his time as a young boy at temple had left its mark.  Caught up in the importance of wealth and high society, Benjamin was drawn to it.  He spoke often of his rich classmates whose families were the pillars of American society, it was clear he revered them.  Young and foolish at times about these things, even Benjamin knew where to draw the line.  Ultimately, Benjamin saw himself as an Aragón.  Staying close to Anna, Benjamin grew up as a cultured Latino.  When the family attended church, he always partook of the sacraments.  But we all knew he wasn’t a Catholic.  A Jew at heart, he met his Jewish soul mates at Harvard and bonded with them.  But in the end, his bonding to the Aragón’s was stronger.  It was family first, family last and family always.  Both he and Kenneth were truly Aragón and Anna’s sons.  

Reserved, Christina spoke little.  The most mature of the three, she had a critical eye.  When speaking of her college classmates, Christina often commented on their phoniness and lack of caring for the common people.  Seeing them as spoiled and greedy, she believed them to be without a conscience.  Each wanted to get school over with and return to Aragón and Anna.  Both missed their family and friends.  Being an Aragón meant something.  It wasn’t the family’s power in the barrio or the wealth.  It was the belonging, the feeling of privilege.  

When they came home for school breaks and during summer vacations, I saw a great deal of them.  They knew little or nothing about the Family business, only that Michael was rich and powerful.  As the years went by, the family usually spent the weekends at the Beverly Hills house to keep Anna happy.  When home, the kids ate every meal together and watched the football games on television.  Full of questions about their children's friends at Harvard, Aragón and Anna wanted to know every detail.  Both cared a great deal about how the kids were getting along.  As parents, the Aragón’s were everything a child could ask for.  Their love for the three was deep and abiding.  

By the mid-seventies, Michael Aragón had one concern, the madness of the Colombianos.  Aragón had once told me, “With these men you can’t do business.  They are animals.  For them, killing is part of doing business.  The Colombians destroy everything they touch.  They never build for the future.  They live only for the moment.”  The Italians had left the streets to those who wanted them.  They had long since become Americans, forgetting their Sicilian roots.  As quickly as they left, the Colombians moved in.  Within two or three years, they had destroyed the Puerto Ricans in New York and New Jersey.  They killed many Cubans in Miami's drug trade while taking it over.  When the Colombians moved into the Southwest to challenge the Family, Aragón stopped them.  Left with no options, Michael drew a line in the sand, challenging the Colombians.  

His first meeting with the Colombians was a disaster.  Aragón and the other Family heads met them in a suite at the Biltmore Hotel.  This was the only time that Kenneth could remember that his two Uncles were present at a Family gathering.  Uncle César sat next to Aragón.  Uncle Rolf was only in the suite for a moment.  Positioned in the hallway with two of the bad boys, Uncle Rolf remained outside armed to the teeth.  The other two bad boys were inside armed and ready for anything that might happen.  Vietnam had prepared them well.  

Later, Kenny told me that Rolf had handled the security operation for the meeting.  The bad boys told Kenny that Rolf had thirty men covering the meeting that day.  He had men in the basement pretending to be maintenance personnel.  On the roof they were outfitted as air conditioning experts and armed with high-powered rifles.  They stood ready to take out Colombian soldiers.  And on both adjoining floors, dressed as bellhops, Uncle’s men were ready at a second’s notice.  Wearing bulletproof vests, his men carried automatic weapons.  Nothing was left to chance.  

The Colombians swaggered as they entered the suite.  During the meeting, Kenneth watched as his father sat silently listening as the Colombian representatives threatened to destroy him.  They bragged at how easy it had been to kill the Puerto Ricans punks and the weak Cuban businessmen.  Turning their attention to the other members of the Brotherhood, the Colombians shouted that no one could resist their entry into new markets.  Later, they laughed about the stupidity of the Mexicans for selling dirty drugs in the U.S., leading to the deaths of many users.  

After listening to the Colombians for an hour, Kenneth’s father made a speech about friendship and honor.  Kenneth watched as the Perez family representatives laughed at Michael.  Then came his father's warnings.  “A man without friends has many enemies.  Without friends, he must then watch his back and his sides, only to find that he is hit from the front where he could not watch.” Those were the last words that his father spoke to the Colombianos.  

Before leaving, the leader of the Pérez family offered his advice.  He walked over to where Michael was sitting.  Standing directly in front of him, he rested his hands on the arms of Aragón’s high winged-back chair.  Then the Colombian leaned in closely over Aragón until their faces were inches apart.  “War is no place for women, cowards, or old men.”  The words were said with undisguised disdain.  He sat rigidly in the large gray wingback chair.  Michael’s face remained without emotion.  Sitting erect as the man hovered threateningly above his head, Aragón's face was expressionless.  Michael’s green eyes betrayed nothing, as the man brought his scowling face closer.  He then fixed his gaze on the loud mouthed Colombian, and their eyes met and locked.  The brave Colombian was first to blink.  Laughing hysterically as he pulled away from Aragón, Don Pérez turned suddenly and motioned to his men.  As they began leaving the suite the Colombians spat on the floor in front of Aragón's chair.  Aragón's eyes followed their every move until the left the suite.  

After the door closed behind them, Aragón called for Kenny to join him.  Walking into the adjoining suite, Kenny sat in a chair as his father stood at the large bay window.  As he looked out over the City of Angels, Michael sighed heavily.  “Son,” he said softly, “always remember; never do business with a bad man.  Never do a dirty deal.  And never do business with men who don't respect you.  All of these circumstances will always end in betrayal.  These Colombians are examples of this.”  Kenneth told me how Michael then looked at him.  Finally showing his age, Aragón’s eyes had a troubled, sad expression.  Furrowing his brow, it was as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  A moment later, for Kenneth the world suddenly stopped.  “This can only end one way.  They’ve marked me.  Before coming to meet with me, these animales signed my death warrant.  The Colombians must all die or I must die.  They take joy in the kill, any kill.  These men are animals.  They only came to deliver that message personally.”  Without saying another word Michael turned back to the window and looked out onto Los Angeles where the war was to be fought.  Aragón could see clearly what lay ahead.  The Colombians had sealed his fate.  He then turned and walked over to Kenneth.  Michael kissed him tenderly on the forehead.  It was as if Kenneth was a little boy again.  Stepping away from him, Aragón looked away from his son.  His eyes looking down at the floor, Michael turned and walked toward the door.  Slowly turning the knob, he glanced sideways at Kenny.  Smiling, Michael left the room.  The moment he left the room, the war began.  

Kenneth followed his father in to the adjoining suite.  When he entered, he noticed that his uncles had left and only the Brotherhood remained.  Speaking firmly, Aragón began issuing orders to the Family.  “As of this moment, the Family is at war.  The Colombians must be stopped now.  No more messages will be sent, only death.  When Colombians are found in Family territory, they will be killed.  Anyone found befriending them must disappear.”  These were the only orders he gave before leaving the suite.  

Family soldiers everywhere carried them out to the letter.  By the late seventies, the Family had a firm hold on the Southwest.  The Colombians had fled back across the Mississippi.  Forced to consolidate power on the East Coast, Miami was to be their capitol.  Once having consolidated power, by 1979, the Miami Cubans had been their first victims.  As if to soothe their wounded Colombian pride, the streets ran red with Cuban blood.  Striking out insanely at everything and everyone, the Colombians butchered without cause or reason taking Saint Louis, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey as their other strongholds.  Satisfied that they had shed enough blood, the animals licked their wounds and rested.  Like the jackals that they are, the cowards waited for the old lion, Aragón, to grow weak and complacent.  

That same year, 1979, the Mexicans from the south came to call on Aragón.  In the beginning, the Mexicans had entertained the idea of a hostile takeover.  Though the Colombians were strong and cunning they had failed to destroy the Chicano Brotherhood, the Family, La Eme.  The obstacle was Aragón.  Powerful and courageous, he was still a very dangerous man.  The Cubanos couldn’t stop the Colombianos.  Crazy Puertorriqueño gunman didn’t overcome them, but he had.  These points made the Mexicanos choose the course of partnership rather than takeover.  Wanting back in the game, the Gallardo family of Guadalajara sent its emissaries.  Having lost the Americano markets to the aggressive Colombians, the Mexicans were in need of friends.  They understood business.  There would be no killing, only a partnership.  Watching how effective the Chicanos had been, they wouldn’t repeat the mistakes the Colombians made.  

Having many family ties, the Mexicans understood their Chicano cousins.  Many of the Aragón Family members were related by blood to the Guadalajara Mafia.  But still, there was a difference and both knew it.  Lacking American know-how, the Mexicans felt inferior to their Chicano cousins.  Good at smuggling and paying off the Mexican Federal Police, the Mexican cartels were ignorant of how to do business in America.  So a marriage was arranged.  The Mexicans would produce and ship the product.  The Chicanos would market it.  It was agreed that both parties would do enforcement in their own countries.  Never would either try to police their neighbor’s backyard.  In this way, one person picked the fruit and grew the grain, while the other cooked the pie.  And both came to the table for the meal.  It was a match made in heaven or hell, only time would tell.  

In a short time, the Chicanos became stronger through exclusive marketing rights of Mexican product.  Gallardo and his friends in Mexico were also becoming a power to be reckoned with.  With help from their Chicano relatives, they moved back into the American drug trade with a vengeance.  Having an ever increasing market, the Mexicans from the south were becoming rich.  Without the cost of American enforcement, they had only to ship product.  This was a considerable cost savings to the Mexicans.  Shipping staggering amounts of heroin, marijuana, and cocaine to the United States, storage and sales were no longer a problem.  Their Chicano brothers did all of this for them.  

Aragón had formed alliances with the Mexicans to stop the Colombians.  Understanding that it was only a marriage of convenience, he said to Kenneth, “It’s like slow dancing with a drunken man; each of you holding a loaded and cocked pistol to the temple of the other man's head.  The worry is how the dance ends.”  Preferring alliances over war, Michael had seen the benefits of cooperation when working with the Italianos.  In fact, even after his new arrangements with the Mexicans, Aragón remained close to the Italian families.  It was a matter of honor, a matter of respect.  

By the early eighties, Kenneth spent a lot of time up at Santa Barbara.  Needing to get away from my parish, I asked him if I could spend a few days with him at the villa in Santa Barbara.  Agreeing, he drove me up that afternoon.  He had grown up in a life of privilege, but he never took things to extremes.  Much like his father, he wasn’t spoiled by wealth, they were simply utilities.  Later, taking me for a ride in his car into the small town of Montecito, we stopped off and had lunch.  While eating, the help continually referred him as, Mr. Aragón.  As his priest and friend of the family, I had known Kenneth all of his life.  And yet, he was now somebody else.  Maybe he was several people, I don't know.  Rolando once told me, that when Kenneth was in the barrio, he was a Chicano.  Like his father, he carried himself like a vato.  Now there, away from East LA, he was still the same, but somehow different, more sophisticated with greater depth.  

After leaving the restaurant, Kenneth took me to see the stables at the Santa Barbara Polo Grounds.  When we arrived, he talked to a beautiful young woman about the grooming of his polo ponies.  They spoke about his ponies and how they were doing.  I didn't say much, I just listened.  Later, I asked him what he was doing with six horses.  Immediately correcting me, he told me they were polo ponies.  He said, during polo matches, several were needed as each pony tired.  Later, I teased him about playing polo.  Defending the sport, he claimed it took strength and stamina to play the game well.  After some thought, he laughed, agreeing that it was a silly sport.  I believe Kenneth played because it helped him to forget his troubles.  

Kenneth had matured.  He was as comfortable in a Spanish villa as he was in the barrio of East LA.  Wherever we went that weekend, people showed him respect.  He had charisma.  People liked him, sensing his strength of character.  But there was something else about Kenneth.  He had a natural toughness about him.  Kenneth had become more like his father in that way.  There was also now a darker side to him.  Like Michael Aragón, he had chosen the dark path, having been trained for it from his youngest years.  Just as Aragón, he was always a part of it all, but apart from it.  Reserved and strong, he was being prepared to take over the Family business.  

Rolando, Kenneth’s closest friend since childhood, was a regular visitor to my parish.  Making his confession regularly, afterwards, he would spend time with me at the rectory.  As his priest, I could divulge nothing to the authorities.  His confessions were a sacred act.  Later, after confession he drank wine with me, we played chess together.  We had remained close over the years.  It was always a joy to see him.  Spending much time together, Kenneth and he still remained close.  When it was his time to join Aragón's Family, he became a pistolero, a shooter, a button man.  Particularly well-trained, Grover had taught Rolando all he knew about weapons.  Able to build them up and tear them down with his eyes closed, he was taught to respect weapons.  From head shots to full body hits, Rolando learned to shoot properly.  At first, it was hard for him.  But later, it became easier.  

After the first two or three times, killing became second nature to him.  Close hits were his specialty.  Rolando was an excellent mechanic.  He would receive a call and later, a package was delivered.  It was simple and straightforward.  The package had the target’s name and a place where Rolando could find him.  It was up to him as to where and when the button got pushed.  He felt guilty, but he saw the hit as defending the honor of the Family.  As Rolando confessed, it didn't matter what the orders were, he just followed them.  In some ways, they had changed over the years.  He and his fellow assassins were now ordered to fly to other cities and as he said, “take people out”.  When he was very young, it was always other Chicanos they pushed the button on, later came the other Latinos.  These were the Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and especially the Colombians.  Now it was the Blacks, Italians, and Anglos.  For some reason Rolando said, Jews never got hit.  

The Brotherhood was now everywhere and into everything.  The Family business had become big business.  Now an international enterprise, the Family was into drugs, prostitution, gambling, and everything else.  Payoffs went to bankers, politicians, even judges.  Everybody was in on it.  His life had become strange.  There he was in the middle of America, as he said, “to push the button on a banker in Iowa”.  Surrounded by Whites, Rolando was to take the guy out in broad day light.  The next day, he found himself hitting a banker and the next, at a dinner party in downtown Madrid protecting Kenneth.  A soldier’s soldier, the Family thought him the best.  A specialist, he was always in demand.  If it had to be done, he was their man.  I couldn’t help feeling that hell had a special place for him and me.  

As we drank and played chess, Rolando shared with me what happened at a recent dinner party in Spain, where he was to protect Kenneth.  He had to remain close by.  Now in his mid-twenties, Kenneth reminded Rolando of James Bond in his black tuxedo.  Six foot two and solid as a rock, Kenny’s tanned face made his ice blue eyes that much more piercing.  His smile lit up the room.  It was summer time, and his sun bleached blonde hair had become almost white.  Women really found him irresistible.  Never speaking at those highbrow affairs, Rolando was just there as Kenny's shadow.  They talked afterwards, but never while they were at one of those parties.  The two laughed about the guests, particularly the older men with something to prove.  Drunk and chasing young women, many made fools of themselves.  The women were just as bad.  Gold diggers, they chased down these poor old fools until they owned them.  They had no honor.  As his shadow, Rolando always found out something new about Kenny.  Well versed in art and music, Kenneth could discuss opera or Beethoven's Fifth, just as easily as he could finance.  Then one night, during a dinner party, Rolando overheard Kenneth speaking fluent French with a diplomat.  Kenneth Aragón was now powerful, rich, handsome, brilliant, and polished.  

On another evening, after one of the swank parties, Rolando asked Kenneth where he had learned it all.  Kenneth gave Anna the credit for taking him to various operas and forcing him to learn French.  There were also many visits to museums where he learned about art.  Kenny explained that his mother had told them never to speak about these things to anyone, especially his friends, feeling they might think him weak.  Then over drinks, Rolando asked Kenneth, why he hadn't gone to Harvard like Christina and Ben.  He told Rolando that his father didn't like the idea of him forgetting his roots.  In order for him to someday run the Family business, he would have to feel and think the way a veterano did.  So he stayed in Los Angeles, attending Cal State Los Angeles at night and receiving a degree in finance.  

Always a reader, Kenneth loved history.  Once, while at his home, I found him making notes on a book jacket.  When I asked him, why he was making notes, he told me that Attila was one of the greatest leaders the world had ever seen.  He believed Attila’s style to be simple and pure. Largely self-educated, no matter what the subject, he always had something to say.  But one thing, Kenneth never discussed was himself.  If asked a direct question about himself, he would change the subject.  How could he talk about himself?  Kenneth was many people a scholar, a warrior, and the future leader of the Eme.  

I wasn’t pleased when I was told that Robert, Sammy, and Vincent had also been asked to work for Aragón.  Deciding to make them his personal bodyguards, from then on, Michael had the bad boys spend all their spare time training with Rolf.  Studying karate, they worked out at a dojo constantly.  Learning to throw knives and use a wire for strangling, they were also taught to use shotguns, handguns, automatic weapons, and sniper rifles.  Their earlier Marine Corps training and Vietnam had taught them well.  Rolf Grover spent a great deal of time toughening them up.  He was older then, but still hard and strong.  Teaching them to fight at night, Rolf took the boys into the desert for weeks at a time.  By the end of it all, they were changed men.  Rolf made them deadly assassins.  Within two years they replaced Aragón's older bodyguards.  As Aragón’s new bodyguards, they were more serious.  Now grown up men, they still laughed and joked together, but things were different.  They were on edge, always looking around, watching, and waiting for that moment when they would be called upon to protect the leader of the Family.  

With an intimate knowledge of every detail of the Family business and its holdings, Kenny had learned and learned well.  It would be left for him to assemble the puzzle his father had brought together and make it one world-wide power.

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