Luis is short, maybe 5 feet 6 inches. When I first met him he was wearing a grey hoodie which was covered by what looked to be a dark sleek rain jacket. I quickly learned that this was a pretty typical outfit for him. Although he is a genuinely content individual, he rarely smiles. Luis often walks with his shoulders rolled forward and an almost overly-casual stride in his step. He lives in the middle of Egleston Square in a white multi-family apartment with tattered faux plastic shingles on the outside. He shares his house with two roommates and a pair of large pit bulls who are rarely seen but are frequently heard. His room is small. He has several posters of various musicians decorating the walls around his bed. He has a black stratocaster guitar hanging from a wall mount on one end of his room. The occasional sock can be seen strewn on the floor. There is a wall of windows across from his bed; the only windows in his room. They overlook a portion of Egleston Square but are almost completely shrouded by the branches of a tree. Luis’s days are primarily spent at Mike’s Fitness in Jamaica Plain where he works as a personal trainer and at MassBjj where he recently started taking Jiu Jitsu classes with me. His daily commute consists of walking from his house, past the disheveled brick buildings that line his street, to the Brewery Complex. The Brewery is a large multi-story brick building with an enormous smokestack protruding out of it. One of the stores within the complex is the Ula Café. Ula has become one of the spots where Luis buys coffee and other refreshments while working in the area. He’s explained to me several times that working out is the main way in which he releases his stress. Luis has built the majority of his connections through being a personal trainer and has expressed his satisfaction with the job as it connects one of his primary passions (weight lifting) and helping others.
Luis’s work days generally include 7 to 8 sessions where he coaches his clients in strength training or conditioning. He rarely works with one type of person; he helps those in their 70’s and 80’s, young people, men, and women. Regardless of their physical capabilities, Luis is always in touch with what his clients need.
You can have all the technique, but if you aren’t consistent with it, you won’t get any stronger. What I tell people is that if you want to look good you can be lazy with when you work out, but if you want to be strong you have to be disciplined.
Luis’s interactions with the people that he meets are usually quite informal. He has a client who appears to be in her mid 30’s who he refers to as “dude.” Whenever he's around her, he never refrains from using vocabulary like “ass” when referring to her butt or using the term “shit” as a substitute for “things.” This language does not seem to irritate his clients; a testament to his relationships.
Luis is soft spoken. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him raise his voice or lash out in aggression. When explaining his outlook on overcoming hardship or quarrels, there was never any aggressiveness in his voice. One of the things that I find the most intriguing about Luis is how he is able to find a balance between expressing his frustration with political ideologies and remaining respectful and poised in a way that is open to other ways of thinking. Luis and I had met a couple times in the small café next to his work during which we openly discussed some of our thinking surrounding the current political arena.
I’m open to being courteous and respectful and friendly with everyone, but I do have a certain creed and beliefs, you know, I come from an immigrant family that came to the states with political asylum, I’ve had a deportation order before, I lived a large part of my life undocumented. So if— not to say that being on the right is bad, but if you’re far right, then I’m most likely not going to be chilling with you to much, just because you’re going to view me a certain way.
Like many of the Hispanic immigrants living in the United States, Luis has had to deal with discrimination and the societal effects of living in a relatively impoverished neighborhood. Luis explained to me that many of the people he knows in his neighborhood are, or have been, intimately involved in drug dealing or other criminal acts. One day at his house, Luis explained to me that he frequently smokes weed; almost every day. In the same conversation, Luis also explained that there is an important distinction to be made between crime culture and recreationally smoking weed. He told me that he has no problem with any specific “thing” unless it has a direct negative effect on a person. I asked him whether or not the frequent smoking had any detrimental effects on his ability to exercise or be a personal trainer. He clarified that after getting into the habit of smoking regularly, his ability to concentrate and perform athletically, normalized.
Luis was born in Miami, Florida. He graduated from high school and went on to pursue a degree at Miami Dade College. After 2 years of undergraduate studies, he decided to drop out and eventually moved to Boston with several members of his family. Luis rarely talks about his life in Florida. He never mentions the kinds of friends he had there or what he did for work. Everytime he mentions his past, it’s always a brief acknowledgement of Florida and then an immediate transition to discussing his time in Jamaica Plain. Luis rarely mentions his family unless directly questioned about them. He appears to live a relatively solitary life. He has little to no contact with his roommates and the only other person he consistently spends time with outside of work with, is his girlfriend. Luis has a passive nature about him. He never feels the need to talk about other aspects in his life that aren’t relevant to the immediate present. Even then, he stays quiet the majority of the time. Despite his hushed, isolated nature, Luis often mentioned the importance of community.
There are a lot of people, and to think that everyone is going to think a certain way is completely naive, and it’s stupid to think like that, at the end of the day we’re all kind of living in the same spot but we’re living in different tribes. It’s important to respect each other. The best way to overcome our differences is by actually meeting your neighbors that you have preconceived notions about.
I’d wondered whether or not Luis’s semi-secluded lifestyle gave him a bit more insight as to how people should interact with one another in a community. His ability to step back and analyze social interactions should not be taken for granted. I think part of his wisdom and maturity directly stem from him being disconnected from a clique or a confined social group. But even though he seems disconnected, he isn’t truly. He still works in an environment which exposes him to people from all walks of life, he does Jiu Jitsu regularly with a group of people who, again, all have very different backgrounds, and he lives in an area that is considered one of the most diverse in Boston. Based on Luis’s idea of transcending boundaries between various “tribes” I wonder if in his experience, much of what he’s learned has come from reaching out to other people in his community. But that begs the question: “Why keep himself secluded if he has all of this knowledge about others?”On a Thursday evening in Curtis Hall, a Jamaica Plain community center, a group of about a dozen abutters (owners of a property that touches another) meet to determine the merit of a six-unit housing project on Lamartine Street. As the homeowner, his attorney, and the project’s architect discuss the changes made to the plans since the last meeting was called, the owners of its surrounding properties ask numerous questions about the impact this new building would have both on their properties and on the residential community as a whole.