The Demonization of a Young Prince

Senseless murder of Eric Zamarripa in Echo Park

By Slowjoe
Published on LatinoLA: March 9, 2009

The Demonization of a Young Prince

My nephew Eric was busy restoring another old car last time I saw him. He could really turn a wrench. He was well known in Echo Park for his meticulous work ethic and his love of those old 'bombs".

Eric also lived for his mom, his three boys and Leti, his beautiful women. He was estranged from his dad but had a very special relationship with his grandfather; in fact Eric and my Tio Lupe were inseparable. They even restored Tio's old Ford Roadster after the death of my Tia Paulina. Eric used the restoration of that old Ford to help Tio Lupe get through those agonizing days when he thought he'd never make it. The loss of Paulina, his long time love and companion, consumed him until Eric rekindles his other passion, that old Roadster. His mom was so proud of what he had done.

Eric was not without demons. He struggled with gang issues which landed him in jail and alienated him from those who cared. Like many young Latinos who grew up in similar arduous environments Eric was a product of his surroundings, as wild and elusive as the hills of old Echo Park. He was smitten by the Cholo lifestyle, its long history of tradition and lascivious behavior, his father and grandpa themselves were part of the lore. Torn between a changing world and the myths and deeds of tradition, he floundered, looking for redemption. He would later find his salvation in restoring old cars ... by that time it was too late.

This story is as old as time: Gangs are a losing battle, a vortex, a black hole that consumes everyone around, destroying lives, relations, hopes and dreams, leaving destruction and despair in its wake and eventually it took his life.

On Sunday March 1, he heard gun shots and walked out from under the protection of his grandfather's car port. Like any good soldier he sought out impending danger, putting himself in harm's way. Surprised and confronted by a dark adversary, he stood his ground. The young antagonist held a gun and spoke "Eric, today you die".

A shot rang out and Eric lay fallen. There, with his family in hysterics, he took his last breath, there in the barrio that he so cherished.

A few days later at the car wash given to pay for funeral expenses, a colorful gathering of signs waved. A gaggle of friends scattered along the small main street in Echo Park, working the traffic as it juxtaposed rubberneckers and door lockers. A cluster of the faithful sat in a slow-flowing traffic waiting their turn, soon to be directed into the little store parking lot where scary-looking tatted homies lathered up cars in the hot noonday sun as neighbors and friends came together to mourn and celebrate.

All sorts mingled about. Family members, cholos young and old, tattooed-hipsters and bikers, skateboarders, posers, DJs and musicians, movie people, Latino and Asian families, gays, blacks, affluent whites, cops, car clubbers, mothers who'd lost their own in similar gang shootings, chicks in f-me shoes, religious zealots and curious onlookers. They were there to socialize. They'd console each other, this microcosm of changing neighbors, realizing that there is no freedom from impunity.

They had to, because many recognized the deep implanted innate history of survival, realizing neither singular nor integrated ideology but rather a society based on a common defiance. Like the extraneous weeds and wild flowers that permeate the lush but ragged Echo Park hillsides, taking root and blossoming against insufferable odds.

The last time I visited with Eric he was trying to turn his life around and seemed too busy with his cars to be contemplating any serious 'banging'. I'll never forget his expression when confronted with a car question only he could explain or the warm smile on his young face as he interacted with my Tio Lupe. He seemed settled, voicing his aspiration as if they were so many silver dollars in his pocket.

But, alas, instead of looking forward to talking with him again I prepare for the rosary and final interment in the next few days. I struggle to find the right words to help console the family. I know how important it is and I don't take it lightly. Many of you, I'm sure, have been in the same situation.

Unfortunately, we remain a community under siege, human bondage perpetrated by a long history of struggle and false hope. We remain a conquered people always trying to rise from the ashes, always trying to live the myths and blaming others for our misfortunes. There's much good to be said about us, I hear it all the time in this periodical for example, but today, I bow to the morbid dark sidegang violence.

How do we reflect on our cultural heritage, eliminate generations of false hero worship? How do we celebrate the good healthy story of our past, sacrifices, patriotism, our great efforts, and our indifference without eliminating that charismatic little pachuco we all live in vicariously?

Later Eric descansa en paz brother.

About Slowjoe:
Just another car dude from South San Gabriel
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