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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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