By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photos by Anne Fishbein|
This is the story of the new world, revealed . . .
It can be broken into the smallest chips of bone and tears.
It can be put back together with sunrise and flint.
—Joy Harjo, “The Everlasting”
State of the Family: This yearlong series focuses on the Aguilar family — Luis, Frances, and their children — of East Los Angeles. In Chapter 1, Luis got out of prison, excelled at his construction job and talked of his gang past and fresh hopes. Then, with the birth of his seventh child only weeks away, Luis faced a new batch of problems the night police stormed his home.
On the night of January 23, 2004, Frances Aguilar doesn’t yet know whether her life has really broken apart. She knows this much: The police raided her house a few minutes after 5 p.m. Luis, her husband, never came home after work. The police have his car. She can’t get him to pick up his phone despite calling him maybe 20 times.
For the first few hours after the raid, Frances stays holed up with her children at her cousin’s place in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, venturing out just long enough to get food for everyone at the nearest McDonald’s, on Soto Street. By 8 p.m., Frances decides she can no longer hide from whatever has happened. She leaves the kids stashed with Eva, the cousin, and makes the three-minute drive home.
Frances is hesitant as she walks up her back stairs, through her door with its lock smashed by the police, and into her house. Once inside, she jerks to a stop. The living room and the bedrooms are in a state of remarkable chaos. Nearly every item the family owns has been yanked out of drawers, cupboards, shelves and closets, then tossed, mostly on the floor. Mattresses are upended. Even the kids’ rooms have been completely ransacked.
Chaos is to be expected in a police search, of course. Yet, whether it’s expected or not, Frances has difficulty combating feelings of careless violation and wanders wordlessly from room to room, picking up things, setting them down again, swiping occasionally at her eyes. Some of the mess making seems whimsical at best. All the snapshots and mementos that Estephanie, the 13-year-old, had carefully arranged on her bulletin board have been pulled down and dropped willy-nilly. In Frances and Luis’ bedroom, a framed art print of two angels is on the ground, its glass smashed, the print badly torn. The print is inscribed on the back: TO DAUGHTER FRANCES, FROM PAPI AND MOM, 12-24-03.
Pain and Joy: Luis, in jail,
missed the birth of his
Frances stares down at the wrecked angels. “It was a Christmas present from my niña,” she says — niña being Spanish for godmother. “When I was little, she’s the one who was always there for me when my mother got too crazy.”
Next to the kitchen table, the police have left behind a copy of the search warrant, plus a handwritten record of everything confiscated from this house. It lists the following items: two photos “depicting gang members”; one badge, Homeboy Industries, Luis Aguilar; one Kodak 35mm Funsaver camera; one Homeboy Industries DVD; three letters addressed to Luis Aguilar; nine bullets of an unidentified caliber.
Frances reads the list. The first five items are harmless. The badge is Luis’ Homeboy work ID. The DVD is a copy of the video honoring Father Greg Boyle that was shown at last year’s Homeboy Industries fund-raiser. The letters are from Luis’ brother, Carlos, who is still locked up. The photos are old party snapshots from back in the day that were stuffed in one of Frances’ drawers. The undeveloped film in the Funsaver was taken on the family’s New Year’s vacation. “Maybe they think this stuff proves that Luis is a gang member or something,” she says. “It’s stupid.”
The bullets are another matter. “I don’t know where those could be from,” she says uneasily. “Luis is so paranoid he wouldn’t let any of the boys even have a toy gun. When Bola bought some toy handcuffs at the 99-cent store, Luis made him throw them away. He told him, ‘Look, I’m on parole. I could get in trouble for some of that stuff.’”
By now, Frances assumes Luis has been arrested. But the only way to know for sure is to drive to Hollenbeck police station and ask. As she is leaving, she stops in to talk to Sandra, the downstairs neighbor, who tells her that one of the cops said they found the bullets in the yard, out back near an old car that Luis is storing for his brother. This, at least, makes sense, Frances says. “So many people come through our yard,” she says. “But here’s the thing. If his P.O. [parole officer] thinks the bullets belong to Luis, that’s a year parole violation right there.”
On her way to Hollenbeck, Frances chatters aimlessly, skittering from subject to subject in a jittery stream. “We were doing so good,” she says. “I don’t want to tell you that we’re saints and we didn’t do anything in the past, we did. We were gang members. We sold drugs. But that’s not who we are now . . .” She describes how Luis is excited about their baby, due to be born in under a month. “We’re going to call her Genesis, because that’s the first book in the Bible, and Luis thought she could represent, you know, a new beginning . . .”