Poverty In The United States

My longest friendship was with Edgar, a friend I met in the 6th grade. He was, like me, a child of immigrant parents and he spoke primarily Spanish. He loved to joke, tell stories, and that favorite of past times, sit around with your closest friends and make fun of each other.

Unfortunately, he was also one who tended toward the criminal side of life. Since we first met, he was always getting into trouble for something, be it ditching class, smoking weed, fighting, stealing stereos, stealing cars and other things – but nothing that would make him a bad friend. He wouldn’t steal from his friends, I have never in my life seen him lose his temper, he was a friend who would watch your back and who you could trust.

I remember riding my bike from Compton to his parents apartment in Gardena and later to their new spot in South Los Angeles. He introduced me to a lot of new people. Everywhere he moved, within months, he would know many people in the neighborhood. Like me, he was someone who couldn’t stay in the house and met new people easily. We both would ride our bikes anywhere, on a whim. To swapmeets, malls, hang outs, anywhere our bikes would take us. Also, as crazy luck would have it, he had two cousins that were from the Mexican gang that claimed my neighborhood in Compton. Eventually, he too would join that gang and become one of its lifetime members.

Like my mom, he had a family that would give him almost free reign to do as he pleased. There were no restrictions, even at an early age, we had no curfew, no limits on where or what city we can ride our bikes to, and little supervision outside of the home. His step dad, who had spent some time in prison and I knew only casually, would sometimes pick us up if we needed it. One time, I think I was about 13 years old at the time, his step dad picked us up and instead of taking us immediately home, drove deeper into LA to a place I had never been before. He left us in the car reassuring us he would be back shortly. Hours passed, well into the night, and we were still parked. He had an old Monte Carlo with really wide back seats, so Edgar and I fell asleep in the car, waiting for him to get back. Then out of nowhere, he comes back to the car, asks Edgar to get in the back seat with me, and brings with him a, what looked like, neighborhood cluck head. A cluck head is someone who is so addicted to drugs, primarily crack cocaine and has done so much of it, that they are visually drug addicts. The people you meet in high crime neighborhoods late at night with really red eyes, dry lips, missing teeth and always begging you for change, those are cluck heads. As soon as they got into the car, he drives a few blocks more and she gets out only to return a few minutes later. Edgar and I are both still in the back seat but I don’t say a word and Edgar looks like he went right back to sleep. A few minutes go by and I hear them smoking something, I hear the burning of foil paper, the sight of a lighter, and eventually realize that they are smoking crack cocaine together. After doing this for some time, he eventually leaves the area and takes us home. Years later, the same step dad would be hospitalized after jumping out of his second story window while high on PCP, he believed he could fly and nobody could convince him otherwise.

The longest friendship from Compton I had was with (lil) Sid, he lived a few houses from my house. Though he was a few years younger than me, we hung out alot. He would come to my house and we would play nintendo, baseball, and craps in the front of my house. Thinking back to those early years, I remember most his temper, whenever he would lose big he would have to go back home because he would get so frustrated with himself, sometimes in tears of anger. As the years passed Sid got older (and bigger, grew up to be one big guy) and, sadly, ended up joining the neighborhood crip gang. Though he was black, a member of a crip gang, and had a circle of friends different than mine, we continued to stay really close friends.

Sid didn’t know his father and his mother was a neighborhood walker, at all hours of the day and night she would be walking all around the neighborhood, to peoples houses, to the liquor store, to the adjacent streets, all over. Sids mom was also, though not at the level of a crack head, a crack cocaine user. Though I knew before, I remember hanging out with a local drug dealer when she showed up to buy crack. She looked at me straight in the eyes and told me never to mention this to her son. I promised her that I would not, and never did – though I am sure he already knew.

My neighbors in Compton were local crips. The mom was as addicted to crack cocaine as you can get. She had missing teeth, a temper like no other, a clumsy walk, always had a cigaratte or beer in her hand and if you met her elsewhere you could easily confuse her for homeless (nonetheless, I grew up with her as a friend and neighbor, and to this day when I see her we hug and respect each other). She has three sons, the older one of which was getting into trouble since I first moved into Compton (he is now serving life in prison).

These friends and family upbringings I write about are not that rare in Compton. Almost all of my friends families I had while living in Compton have something in common with these families. Very few of them, especially my black friends, have married parents, the ones that did had a dad that beats their mom, others one that is a drug and/or alcoholic, others a dad that is currently in prison or an ex-con former gangmember (like Edgars step dad) – some have prostitute moms, some have parents that sell drugs and push them to sell drugs. I remember walking into a friends house and seeing his mom sniffing cocaine right off the living room table. It didn’t bother her either, we just walked right passed her into my friends room. She was a neighborhood drug dealer and her son would later follow in her footsteps, all with his moms approval and backing. In fact, all drug dealers I knew in Compton had atleast tacit approval from their parents – several had outright encouragement.

Poverty in the United States is not primarily material, it is not primarily nutritional, it is not even primarily a lack of opportunity, though some of that still remains – poverty in the United States is primarily with the family. As the must read political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote, “There are many families with competent single moms, but they are outnumbered by the families that are harmed by the absence of a husband. From the ranks of the latter come high rates of crime and imprisonment, heavy rates of drug use, poor school performance, and a willingness to loot unguarded stores….In my opinion, the condition of the black family is the key to the persistence of a large and criminal lower class.

It is not money, or nutrition, or greater opportunity that the poor in the United States primarily need, it is a family structure that is conducive to learning, to upward mobility, and to a crime free life. When you have a large amount of friends and family – dads, brothers, uncles, and neighbors either in gangs or intimately tied to the gang culture, and a world filled with drugs, and crime, it is hard to see a way out and it is hard to learn the virtues necessary to get out. Virtues like hard work, discipline, self control, and responsibility are hard if not impossible to learn in these environments and much of government assistant is wasted or counterproductive in these situations.

As far as Edgar and Sid go, Edgar was in jail the last couple of years I lived in Compton, and the last time I saw him was when I was in my last year of college, I picked him up from jail and took him to his parents house. At this point his parents had had enough with him and refused to let him in. He promised he is a changed man and begged them to give him one last chance but they wouldn’t budge. I dropped him off with some of his homies, and that is the last I saw of him. Shortly after, he would land in prison again, this time his last and he is not set to come out for a very long time. Sid, on the other hand, started to do good. After I moved out of Compton I would occasionally come back to visit and last I heard he said he was finally leaving Compton in search of a better life in Long Beach. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of him. In another Compton visit I spotted his mom and eagerly asked her about Sid, with the impression that he is doing well in Long Beach. She informed me that he had been shot and killed in LA, and with tears already in her eyes, I asked no further questions and expressed my condolences. May he Rest In Peace.

27 Responses to “Poverty In The United States”


  • Incredible story. You can write a screenplay about that. You obviousely made it out and are excelling. Unfortunately for your 2 friends the same cannot be said. I hope your friend who was killed found some sort of peace with himself before his last day.

  • This was a little unexpected, but all I can say is WOW! You have come a long way, HP.

  • That is quite a story. One thing that’s different about American poverty is it long ago ceased to be “biblical” poverty that is due to simple economic scarcity and has transitioned into largely “pathological” poverty that is due mostly to bad luck and/or bad choices.

    As someone said recently, if you graduate high school, don’t have kids until you get married, and stay married, you’ll almost never end up in poverty (unless you elect to do so in some fashion, ie by being a grad student). I was lucky; we were poor when I was a kid, but my mom remarried and my stepdad was a good guy. My “salvation” in the old neighborhood was to hang out with the Vietnamese immigrants: they all were going to college, so I went too :)

    I added you to my blogroll; hope you don’t mind.

  • With all due respect Foobarista, I don’t think bad luck scans the landscape of America looking for the ghetto’s and barrios just as good luck does not choose to hang out in Beverly Hills or West Palm Beach Florida. Luck is defined as soething that is beyond your control. Few people have become uncontrollably wealthy. Are there some? sure, Paris Hilton is a good example. Left to her own, that idiot wouldn’t be able to rub 2 nickels together. On the other end of the spectrum, you have folks like HP who made a choice to make something of himself in spite of his difficult start out of the gate. He could have fallen by the wayside much like his friends, but instead he chose a different path. Some people that he grew up with might say HP got lucky. What do you say HP?

  • Grat post HP.

    So many factors both controllable and uncontrollable determine suceess. When it comes to children where almost everything is out of your control it is mainly luck.

    Unfortunately, the backgrounds of the Edgar’s and Sid’s far outnumber the paris Hilton’s. If Paris gets into trouble she has the resources to get herself out. your friends never did.

    Even if you get money later in life, sometimes you can’t overcome your rotten childhood (financial or otherwise) see Anna Nicole Smith

  • I guess “luck” was the wrong word – what would be your description of the hand you’re dealt by birthright or circumstances early in life?

  • I do believe that luck might have something to do with why HP is where he is. But never doubt the power of will, because regardless of where you were born, who you were born too, we all have the power of choice and to make of our life what we want too. Sure sometimes it’s hard depending on exactly where you live. But that’s the beauty of the United States, we’re pretty free here. Sometimes it’s a bump in the road, someone we meet, some thing that causes us to change. But in the end, you change yourself. You make the choice. You decide. You have that much control over your life.

    That is just my 2 cents.

    Excellent entry HP. La neta, one of your best works, hands down.

  • The best way to help our own group hp is to inform them
    , and then show them through instruction, and the available information that is out there, THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

    For our group “The Republican Party” the core ideology is to make people independent of government for LIFE, and to give the people the tools out there to accomplish this.

  • I guess there is some luck. It could have been HP’s step-father not his friend’s who left him in the middle of nowhere to buy crack and then smoked it in front of him. I am sure this was not the only time this happened to Edgar, probably a fairly regular occurence. While it was so far out of the ordinary for him.

    Problem with standing independent without the govt is that it is really hard to stand independent when you are 12 years old and your step-dad is smoking crack in front of you and your friends.

  • [quote comment="138437"]…For our group “The Republican Party” the core ideology is to make people independent of government for LIFE, and to give the people the tools out there to accomplish this.[/quote]

    There was a time, maybe only 20-30 years ago, when this was true. The last real artifact of this may be the “Contract With America” of 1994.

    Since then, Republicans have expanded the federal government to the point they are indistinguishable from Democrats in this regard. Results, not rhetoric, are what counts.

    The Libertarians are the only ones with any principles anymore.

  • That was a truly moving story and a great post. It sounds like we come from similar backgrounds and have experienced the “poverty” of the USA. Regardless, the poor people here still have way more opportunities than most people throughout the world. I have had many members of family and many friends fall into the same traps that your friends did. The difference, I think, was the set of values my parents instilled on me.

  • I just wanted to come here and read the story you told me about. I actually now know what a “cluck head” is now. I must admit…..I laughed at that description.

    On a more serious note……thank you for sharing. Someday you will have to take me into the “Compton” world. We didn’t have much time when I visited in Califas, however, I would like to visit at least once.

    You wrote that you had “free reign”. I had “no reign”. My mom especially was strict…..very strict, but I know she was just overprotective.

    I wish you would write more about this stuff……….

  • P.S.

    I think poverty in the United States is due to a combination of things…….it’s starts with family and upbringing as well as many other things. Happy “Heart” Day! :)

  • [quote comment="138416"]I guess “luck” was the wrong word – what would be your description of the hand you’re dealt by birthright or circumstances early in life?[/quote]

    Since I am a Texas Hold’em player i’ll roll with the “hand your dealt” scenario. In Texas Hold’em, it is rarely a good idea to play extremely loose, But to make my point I will say this: A good poker player can win without having the best hand by playing skillful poker. By mixing it up and playing loose sometimes and then tighting up and playing conservatively you throw your opponents off and make it difficult to be read. Every now and then I will watch a proffessional poker player play a hand that seems crazy. But more often they are not playing their hand as much as they areplaying their position at the table. In other words skillful poker. They have a “crappy hand”, but they are in position to skillfully represent a much stronger hand and possibly steal a pot. In poker if all you ever did was play strong hands and fold weak hands then you will never get ahead. Bluffing, or in other words playing the “hand you are dealt” sometimes makes sense.

    Hp was not dealt a good hand, say 7-2 off suit, but he decided to stay in the game and the flop came 7-7-2. Bamn !!!!! He just flopped a fullhouse because he decided to stay in the game! Good call HP!!!

  • [quote comment="138480"]

    There was a time, maybe only 20-30 years ago, when this was true. The last real artifact of this may be the “Contract With America” of 1994.

    Since then, Republicans have expanded the federal government to the point they are indistinguishable from Democrats in this regard. Results, not rhetoric, are what counts.

    The Libertarians are the only ones with any principles anymore.[/quote]

    If your statement above were so….why is Wall Street concerned about the Democrat political future moves? Pay attention to the stock market, it will sort of give you an idea of American confidence that is sometimes associated with what happens on the “Street”. I know that Wall Street was shaken when the dems took control…..does it surprise you that:

    • We have a growing economy
    • Unemployment is low
    • Inflation is low
    • Wages are rising

    Hmmm. Regarding your LIbertarian remark and as it relates to “principles”……what do you think their take is on Abortion and Gay marriages?

  • My own observation is that the free market works better when either:

    A) Republicans control Congress, and Democrats the White House (e.g. 1994-2000), or

    B) vice versa.

    The above combinations make it harder for the government to upset the applecart: fiddle with tax laws, quotas, all the things that parties in power love to play with. It’s harder to start a war. Businesses tend to have a more stable environment to work in, they can plan their work and work their plan, without having the rug pulled out from under them.

    Not sure how the Libertarian platform comes down on abortion, but I believe most individual Libs would recognize the infant’s right as equal to the mother’s.

  • Dee Dee, I didn’t argue with him because he can not understand the difference between principles, and politics.

    Being Republican is a way of life, and not to the political winds of the day.

    Republicans want to make people independent of government for LIFE, while the democrats want to keep ya on a hook.

  • [quote comment="138616"]

    The above combinations make it harder for the government to upset the applecart: fiddle with tax laws, quotas, all the things that parties in power love to play with. It’s harder to start a war. Businesses tend to have a more stable environment to work in, they can plan their work and work their plan, without having the rug pulled out from under them.

    Not sure how the Libertarian platform comes down on abortion, but I believe most individual Libs would recognize the infant’s right as equal to the mother’s.[/quote]

    If we didn’t have the President with Republicans controlling the COngress, we would not have the following:

    • We have a growing economy
    • Unemployment is low
    • Inflation is low
    • Wages are rising

    Not every President can do what Bush / Greenspan / Bernanke did with regard to our economy. And he was able to do the above 4 points I listed within his presidential term. He acted fast when he implemented tax cut programs and gave more money back to the American People shortly after 9-11. He may not have been able to do so with the Democrats controlling the Congress and the Senate.

    It was tough enough for Bush to push for Social Security Reform with the Republican Controlled Congress which in my view is a sad loss.

    Since you mentioned “wars”…..if we had a Democrat controlled Congress, we would not have been able to show the entire world our strong stance against terrorist.

    Regarding the Libertarian Party……it is my understanding that most would not want gov’t to stop abortions and gay marriages.

    Fernando:

    I understand. Mr. True Liberal mentioned “principles” and I couldn’t resist picking his brain. :)

  • HP,

    Love your stories.

    I was born in Lynwood (1951). My grandparents and several relatives are buried at Rose Hills, 6 miles east of there. One of my aunts spent her career teaching at South Gate High. My mother rode in the South Gate float during the the 1944 Rose Parade. Both my parent’s families grew up in the Compton area. By a strange act of fate, though I live in Texas and married a Texas native, my father-in-law was in high school with my mother.

    Though one of my uncles lived in Downey until he died in 2000, today, none of my relatives lives closer than 40 miles away. Maybe this diaspora has something to do with your story.

  • I agree with CAD and everyone else. These are the stories I’ve heard over Pho with you HP and I never understood why you didn’t get them out there for more people to see. Keep them coming and keep up the great writing.

  • I agree with you Cad.

    I can promise ALL in here that my life has been no bed of roses. I came from a place in New York that was called “The Projects”. A place that not even the cops would go into “strait up”.

    In my neighborhood getting to school was an adventure in, and of itself “avoiding gangs” stabbings in schools, being put into the hospital in just trying to get an education.

    When I came to Virginia it was major culture shock to me, I was surprised that people didn’t carry knives with them “just for self protection”.

    When I got my life in gear I was hit with another curve ball. I was going to see ghost busters, and my car hydroplaned on me, and I ended up in a wheelchair for LIFE.

    I wasn’t stoned or drunk, nor was I speeding “you know just bad luck”.

    Any ways when I got into rehab the quads were complaining that the O.T.’s, and P.T.’s weren’t working enough with them, so para’s like me were left up to learning from the nurses. (By the way I have a VERY soft spot for nurses.)

    For anyone curious? I’m a high para “what that means is that I’m a t4 para”.

    I’m winning, I only go through 2 life, and death medical problems a year “which is nothing to me, compared to that for the first 15 years in the wheelchair every 2 weeks was a life, and death medical problem”. If any of you want to do the math on it? be my guest, but I wont.

    I’m independent, and I’m also a care giver.

    NO MATTER WHAT LIFE THROWS AT YOU, IT’S STILL YOUR CHOICE
    WHETHER YOU MAKE IT OR NOT.

    Oh!!!! I made it in working in the Old Executive Office Building. ONLY IN AMERICA BABY. THIS REALLY IS A GREAT COUNTRY WE LIVE IN.

    People, the democrats only saw me as a cripple, the republicans saw me as a person. I’m Republican to the core, and VERY PROUD OF IT.

  • why is Wall Street concerned about the Democrat political future moves? Pay attention to the stock market, it will sort of give you an idea of American confidence that is sometimes associated with what happens on the “Street”. I know that Wall Street was shaken when the dems took control

    Oh yes. Wall Street really struggled when Clinton was in the White House. It has really been tanking since Dems took over congress. Its just keeps setting records.

  • Michael:

    You can e-mail me if you would like and I will be more than happy to expound for you. HP gets tired of me going “off topic”. My e-mail is deedee@latinorepublican.com Thanks!

  • With the Dems in control of Congress and the GOP in the White House, that means alot of nothing getting done, which means hopefully less spending. I think that is why the market is ok with Dems controlling congress.

  • Hp,

    Thanks for sharing that story with us. It is very sad that so many people don’t make it out of their neighborhoods. Poverty in the U.S. is much more than not having enough to pay the bills or groceries, many times it is combination of various factors such as drug use and gang violence.
    It’s awesome that you made it bro’. I’m sorry that you friends didn’t.

  • hp, a very moving story. i hope you do keep sharing. there are so many factors that contribute to poverty, i agree with the ones you mention above. i’m not one for excuses and i also think its something that one can rise above, like you and many others have, if one truly desires it. there are extensions of my own family where i see that drugs and gang culture are transcending generations and it angers me that anyone would willingly or knowingly suck their children into that world. but i guess that’s the power of drugs for you. hope your doing well.

  • I ran across your web blog, i think your web site is awsome, keep posting.

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