In Allison Anders’ movie “Mi Vida Loca,” Echo Park homegirls Mona and Maribel, known as “Sad Girl” and “Mousie ,” break off their friendship when both get pregnant by the same gang member. But real-life Echo Park homegirls Marlena and Monica, who have small parts in the movie, say they would never get pregnant by the same man and would certainly not fight over him. Marlena and Monica, who are known as “N-owl” and “Smokey,” were active gang members in Echo Park when “Mi Vida Loca” was filmed two years ago. Today, Marlena, 21, is working at a day-care center and Monica, 20, is working on a mural, both sponsored by El Centro del Pueblo, an Echo Park-based social service agency. Although they still consider themselves homegirls, they are struggling to find lives separate from their gangs. They were interviewed by Leila Cobo-Hanlon.
Monica: When Allison came around, at first we thought she was a cop because she would come around with a tape recorder.
Marlena: We didn’t trust Allison at the time. We were busy doing our own thing. When she came with the script we would say, “Hey, we wouldn’t say that, and why don’t you change that?” We weren’t helping her, we were criticizing.
Monica: She didn’t change her story though. Her mind was made up. The movie is just a love story; it’s not based on the way we really are.
Marlena: But, you know, everyone’s upset and it’s just a movie. I don’t know why everyone’s all, you know, bent out of shape about it. Everyone’s putting the movie down. Why don’t they give it a chance? Really look at it. I liked the movie. I like Allison.
Monica: I give her a lot of credit ‘cause she did a lot for us. She was there when we really needed something.
Marlena: To tell the truth, I don’t care what anybody says about the movie. That kind of thing, asking other gangs their opinion about the movie, like asking the 18th Street gang, of course they’re gonna say they don’t like the movie. That’s their problem.
Monica: That 18th Street gang jumps in (initiates) anyone. When Marlena and I met, I was already jumped in. I was only 13 years old when I was jumped in by the girls in Echo Park. I grew up here all my life. We all knew each other. Everyone got jumped in, started gangbanging. I started getting into it because I grew up around gang members.
Marlena: I would get up, get all creased down (dressed sharp), just to even sit in my neighborhood. Feathers and everything. Walk up and down my neighborhood. It was just firme (bad, cool) back then, walk around with nothing on our shoulders. It was my barrio, and no one would dare go by my barrio. There was no conflict over the guys and the girls (as in the movie); everyone was happy.
Monica: We were one big happy family.
Marlena: We were. But when them drive-bys started happening we had to watch our backs.
Monica: There’s supposedly no drive-bys anymore. All gangs supposedly have a peace treaty with everyone. Now you see a lot of the blacks, they stick together, but the Mexicans would always be fighting and killing each other. We should all stick together, like the blacks.
Marlena: But now, we’re just kicking back, thinking about our future. Things are changing. We’re getting older.
Monica: Back then there was nothing better to do ‘cause I was always ditching school, messing around. I didn’t finish school, but I want to try and get my GED (general equivalency degree).
Marlena: I want to go get my GED or get a high school diploma, but I want a job. I started working at the day-care center two weeks ago. I like it. After the summer I’ll go back to school, take up typing, and after that I’ll start looking for a job.
Monica: Before the movie I used to do office work at City Hall. Now I’m working on a mural with El Centro. It’s hard to break away from gangbanging ‘cause you live right there in the neighborhood. I have friends outside the neighborhood, but mainly they’re from here, and it’s hard to let go. If I had the money, I’d move away real quick, somewhere else where nobody knows me. I love my neighborhood, I love my homeboys and I love my homegirls. But for me, it’s too hard to stop gangbanging.
Marlena: I regret what I did a lot. My dad died when I was about 9. I just live with my mom. And now I’m realizing that I shouldn’t have been out there on the streets partying and giving her a hard time. The truth is, if I had money right now, I’d give it to my mom to pay the bills. When kids ask us for advice we tell them to go back to school. I mean, the education’s there, take it. It’s the only thing that’s free. Jump on it. I would if I had a chance to turn back and do everything again.
Monica: I just wish I was 13 again so I could go back to school, and who knows? I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be the way I am. And sometimes, when I go to job interviews, I know they don’t hire me because of the way I look, because of my tattoos. I have tattoos, and I can’t take them off.
Marlena: I’m working with the kids, I gotta think about the way I look. One of the kids asked me, “What’s that on your hand?” (pointing to her tattoo). I said it was (from) a marker. I didn’t say “That’s a tattoo, go get one.”
Monica: I don’t want my little cousins to grow up to be the way I was. I want them to have a better life. If someone comes to our neighborhood, we’ll still kick them out, nothing’s gonna change. But I’m not gonna go out looking for trouble anymore.