Ashamed, Martinez and Oliva have told neither their grandchildren nor Francisco Jr.'s former boss that he has been kicked out of the United States and ordered not to return. The loving Uncle Paquito bears little resemblance to the hard-muscled young man called Boxer by gang members in Apopa, El Salvador, a community of street vendors and jobless day laborers on the outskirts of San Salvador. Shirtless in the tropical heat, his body is a mosaic of tattoos and scars: EIGHT STREET in gothic letters across his chest, roses twining up one arm, a bullet scar at his waist and the track of an eight-inch incision up the middle of his abdomen.
"I miss everything about back there," he says in the Spanglish slang of East L.A. Mostly he misses his homies, so different from the Salvadoran gang members who hang out under a mango tree near the soccer field, devising schemes to raise money for weekend parties. "There we sell drugs and charge rent to others who sell drugs," he brags. "It's like the Mafia."
From the time he turned 10, Francisco was fascinated by the White Fence clique, the neighborhood gang that gathered at the liquor store across the street from his family's apartment in Boyle Heights. "I began hanging out with them when I was 13," he recalls. "When I started using baggy pants, my dad would burn them."
His parents could not understand how their loving son could turn into a drug-using thief when he stepped out the front door.
Francisco was 13 when he was arrested for the first time and sent to the California Youth Authority, where he would spend much of his adolescence. As an adult, he toured California's prison system on various drug and robbery convictions. Finally, he nearly killed a victim in a robbery attempt. Next stop: El Salvador.
During his first year, Francisco has lived quietly in the house that his late grandfather built, passing the time listening to music. Unable to find work, he relies for food and clothes on an account that his parents have set up at the corner store.
"Last month, it was $167," says his father, a hotel maintenance man. "He can get anything except money and alcohol." Martinez and Oliva are convinced that their son would use cash to buy drugs and, despite their precautions, he still finds ways to get beer.
While his parents pay the bill at the store faithfully and talk about visiting, they insist that Francisco not be given their new telephone number or address. "It just wouldn't be a good idea," Oliva says nervously. Their first reaction when a stranger calls to ask about him: "What has he done now?"
"I've got to keep cool," Francisco says. "Maybe I can get a pardon. . . . We'll see what my mother says."
His mother shakes her head of thick, gray-streaked hair as his sister Patricia, a paralegal, answers slowly, "That would be very difficult."
"He does not want to understand," says Oliva. "When they won't listen to advice and instead listen to their friends, that is not going to bring them a good future."
Over the rap beat of drugs and gangs, parental advice seems to be heard only at crucial moments: deportation in Martinez's case, and a long jail term in that of Pedro Amaya, Gonzalez's son. Now Amaya visits Salvadoran schools as a prisoner, telling his story and offering advice--advice he ignored--about staying out of gangs.
He had been back in his native country for two months when he was arrested for stealing a gold chain from a passerby. "I didn't think they would give me a whole lot of years for that," he recalls in an interview at Mariona Prison, where he is halfway through his 12-year sentence.
In six years, Amaya has been transferred six times because of trouble with other inmates, or gang riots. Wherever he is, his elderly grandmother arrives every month with money that his mother, somehow, saves.
Her husband, from whom she is separated, makes the rounds of public defenders and judges, trying to get Amaya's sentence reduced. "He's our flesh and blood," says Mari Amaya, whose last name Pedro shares because of a long-ago bureaucratic mix-up. "However he is, we have to support him."
His family is convinced that the young man with the curly hair and ready smile became a troublemaker for good reason. "Pedro's father does not love him," says Liliana Gonzalez. "He beat him and abused him with words."
She aches with guilt over her marriage to a man who abused her and both their sons--especially Pedro--from the time they could walk. "I was very much in love with him. My love for that man was stronger than my love for my son."
Finally, in 1985, after 12 years of daily beatings, she left the boys with their grandfather and fled the violence of her marriage and her warring country for Los Angeles. Her sister was married to an American and needed a baby-sitter.
"I wanted them to have a better life, but it didn't turn out that way...I regret what I did, but I could not stay there, either."