'It's Like You're Climbing Everest'
Eleven boys thought they'd leave high school as they entered it -- together -- on graduation day. It wasn't that simple.
Left to right, Polo Morales, Mark Cevallos, Elias Fuentes, Andy Hurtarte, Gus Andrade and Isaac Castillo hang out infront of Morales' home in Van Nuys. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / August 23, 2005)
Isaac and four of his friends headed toward their car in the Del Taco parking lot. The other boys closed in.
One faced Isaac. You wanna fight?
All year, Isaac, 17, had dodged confrontations with this group of teenagers. A rivalry over a girl had escalated into a bitter grudge. Now whenever Isaac passed one of them in a school hallway, on a street corner, at a fast-food restaurant, he clenched his fists.
Despite some failing grades, fights and suspensions, Isaac had made it into the home stretch at Birmingham High School. Graduation was just a few weeks away. If he was caught fighting on this breezy afternoon, in a parking lot two blocks from Birmingham, the school would kick him out and bar him from commencement.
His pulse quickened beneath his gray hooded sweater.
Suddenly, a boy rose to Isaac's defense.
My friend is trying to graduate, said David Parraz. So if you have any problems with him, take them up with me.
Isaac's challengers grudgingly backed down.
"He was gonna graduate," David said later, "and not all of us were."
We a family
the Outsiders will always be
remember who we are
we're making history
no one understands how we stay together
I tell them we're brothers
and life isn't the same without each other.
— Rap lyrics by Outsider Mark Cevallos
They called themselves the "Outsiders": a bunch of spiky-haired, barely teenage boys from Van Nuys whose families came from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.