My first year in Bogota I lived across the street from a parking lot which kept three dogs. Their main job seemed to be to bark and harass the passing indigentes / crackheads / bums / homeless / desechables.
One night from my window I saw two guys walking down the street. Something about them wasn’t Colombian. They walked too tall, their swagger too confident. They were speaking Spanish, but too loud and indifferent to everybody around.
The dogs usually antagonize indigentes only, but something about these guys irked them. Just as the guys were passing they started barking. One of the guys yelled back in English, “You wanna die? You wanna die, bitch?” He pulled a knife and started swinging it side-armed at the dog’s face. Every time he missed, the dog would advance a little as if to bite, and the guy would swing the knife again. I don’t think he caught the dog, but after one swing the dog yelped and retreated. The guys moved on. The parking lot attendee never said a thing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my first glimpse at a bona fide subculture in Colombia: deported Colombians from America. I lived in Peru for a year and I’ve traveled all over South America, but I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s a bona fide community. The deported Colombians community. I’m sure they’re in Mexico and Central America, but more the migrant worker type. In Colombia, the deported community are ex-con, East Coast Latin gangsters.
I first met a bunch of deported Colombians in Medellin. There’s a public park a few blocks from Parque Lleras with free weights. The equipment’s not good, but it’s free and there are bars for bodyweight exercises. One time it was crowded with Colombians working out with no shirts on. They were speaking prison English. I’ve never been to prison, so this was the closest I’ve been to working out in “the yard.” It was just a matter of time before we met. They said they could tell I was American. They all work at a call center in the neighborhood (English call centers are the #1 workplace for deported Colombians). They were all friendly.
The typical deported Colombian legally immigrated to the States at a young age. Being Colombian and being in marginalized ethnic ghettos, they’re attracted to crime. And of course Colombian social networks offer ample opportunities in the cocaine industry. So these Colombian-Americans got in trouble for whatever reason, did time in prison, and were deported after completing their sentences. Most left their families back in the States.
These guys lived their whole lives calling themselves “Colombian.” But when they arrived to Colombia, they got a wake-up call as to how different they were. They get called gringos. They speak English and listen to hip hop. Many had never visited before being deported. I doubt they were friendly to real gringos like me back in Miami or New York. But once they were alienated by Colombians they felt a kinship with us.
Some of my best friends in Bogota are deported. They speak English with each other, not just when I’m around. They smoke blunts, listen to hip hop, and wear baggy clothes. It’s like high school all over again.
The Latin gangster type I’d known in America was the Mexican variant: shaved heads, socks pulled up, rosary beads, teardrop tattoos, etc. Deported Colombians are different. They’re East Coast. 90% of deported Colombians are from two cities: Miami or New York. 10% are from all the rest of the United States. The New York guys are centered in Queens but also hail from Long Island to North Jersey. The Miami scene is centered in Miami but includes all of South Florida. There’s a subtle rivalry between the two.
The New York guys are more gangster. Dudes will wear durags to the club, or basketball shorts sagged down to basketball shoes with the hoodie up – at the club! The New York guys look like something out of a Latin Kings documentary (many are actual Kings). I’ve heard New York guys say the Miami guys are “bitch,” despite the fact that they’re all friends.
The Miami scene is less hip hop, more like normal Latin guys. Miami guys say the New York Colombians are “too pushy” or intense, which I don’t entirely disagree with. I’d almost say the Florida guys are laidback, but you certainly find heavily-tatted, thugged-out Colombians from Miami. Plus, Miami in the 80s and 90s was an anomaly in American crime rates. See Cocaine Cowboys for a look at this amazing time of chaos and instability in a new American city.
Here are some of my friends’ stories.
Shorty and Pollo are brothers. They come from a good family in Barranquilla, and they grew up in a nice neighborhood of Miami. However, their affluent Latin neighborhood was surrounded by poor Latin neighborhoods. Gangs from the surrounding areas robbed, beat them up, or took their women. Shorty and Pollo were two key founders of a gang in this nice neighborhood. The gang’s only goal was to protect themselves from outside gangs. They didn’t do any illegal business as a gang, they only fought.
In one of these gang fights Shorty stabbed a rival. He did state time in Florida and was deported almost ten years ago.
Shorty’s vibe is nothing less than prison. He comes off like an ex-con. One time he and I were denied entrance at a bar in Chapinero. This is a small miracle for a gringo. In La Candelaria they’ll turn away a gringo if a club is full, and in the pretentious Zona Rosa they’ll turn away a gringo for any reason. But gringos don’t get turned away in Chapinero. I blame our getting denied entirely on Shorty’s vibe being too ghetto, too prison.
It’s good not to be a fearful person, but some fear is healthy. Shorty’s lack of fear is dangerous. He’s volatile. If it’s nearing the end of the night and there are no girls, he’ll start trying people. He won’t challenge them to a fight in so many words, but he tries people. I had to trade shots with him once (high school?).
Shorty’s lack of fear can be fun. If we’re at the club and you tell him to go ask a girl to dance, it doesn’t matter how many guys she’s with. He’ll be over there with no hesitation. Everybody has a volatile friend who feels no fear. When his name comes up, a lot of deported guys will say, “No, I can’t fuck with Shorty too often.” But it’s never a boring time.
Another night we were at the club and it was about to close. Shorty came up to me and said, “Colin, we got beef with some niggaz outside. Let’s go.” I followed him out to find a group of normal Colombians smoking. They weren’t looking at us, they didn’t have “beef.” Shorty looked around the streets, hoping to find somebody with beef. He was disappointed there was nobody.
One day Shorty was doing pull-ups at home on a bar affixed to his door frame. It came down and broke his nose. The first thing he did was tell everybody on Facebook. Then he put his nose back in place with a big CRUNCH.
Every month or so Shorty will announce on Facebook that he’s going to fuck somebody up this weekend. This is usually prompted by an English student dropping a class. Despite how he comes off when he’s partying, Shorty is an excellent English teacher.
Most people use keys to snort coke. Shorty’s the first guy I’ve seen to use a flathead screwdriver. If ever we’re snorting over at his place, out comes the big screwdriver.
Shorty’s brother Pollo told me that when they moved to Bogota from Barranquilla, their father gave him a gun. Before giving it to him he said he knows how they are and what they were going to get into, so he wanted Pollo to have a gun to protect themselves. There was only one condition: DON’T TELL SHORTY.
Shorty occasionally gets modeling work. This is unbelievable to anybody that knows him because he comes off so ghetto. But if he’s not talking or moving, apparently he’s good-looking enough for ads.
The deported guys all know I’m a writer, and they all want me to write about the deported community. Sometimes someone will say, “You should write about all the stupid shit Shorty does.” I tell them there’s too much. It would be an entire article in itself. I had to cut this down. I didn’t even interview him.
Pollo is Shorty’s brother. He was a high school soccer star. Pollo dresses like a preppie from the 90s. Dress shirts tucked into jeans with dress shoes. No tattoos. He comes from a good family and learned early the value of a respectable presentation, especially if you’re into criminal activities.
Pollo was into scams. Big scams. He and his partners would go to great lengths and make upfront investments. Once they got a hold of a fraudulent contractor’s license, which Pollo says is like gold. They created stationery and logos and got a work truck before pitching a job, whether it be pressure washing asphalt or whatever. Because of his clean-cut look, Pollo was always the talker, the front guy to the person they were scamming. He’d ask for a 50% deposit on a job (“Make the check out to ‘Cash’ and we can start today!”) and never go back.
The guys deported from Miami were often involved in stealing cars. Pollo was involved in car frauds. He had partners that owned a junkyard, so they always had spare titles around. Pollo once got a hold of a title for a Honda Accord. In a complicated and daring con where his friend had to pose as a bank teller over the phone, Pollo got an Auto Loan on a car he didn’t own.
Another auto fraud Pollo assisted with involved selling cars to Venezuela and reporting them stolen. They had a connection in Venezuelan customs to quickly clear the container with the car. A connection at a dealership gets them a fully insured car with no deductible. They’d make a down payment on a big truck and bring it to the junkyard, where they’d load it down with spare parts to sell in Venezuela. They made sure the spare parts weighed evenly on all sides of the truck, as uneven weight distribution is something customs officials look for in detecting contraband (says Pollo). Then they’d ship to Venezuela, selling it for more than its worth in the States but less than market value in Venezuela. As soon as they got confirmation that it cleared Venezuelan customs, they’d report the truck stolen. Here came the hardest part, convincing the insurance company investigators. Pollo played the part once. Another time they got a woman who’d worked as a Spanish language actress. Pollo said she cried in front of the investigators.
These kinds of scams earned big profits. Most deported guys robbed or sold drugs to enjoy ghetto fabulous celebrations. Pollo and his partners would go to DisneyWorld or Las Vegas after a score.
Pollo never got caught for fraud. He got deported for the same reason as his brother – gangbanging. He was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon for hitting someone in the head with a baseball bat.
DC is from New York. He’s a New Yorker first and foremost. If you met him in New York you wouldn’t assume he’s Latin. He could pass for a Guido. He’s a huge Giants fan and fast-talking New Yorker.
I met DC at a nightclub party with dozens of deported Colombians. We were all at someone’s apartment for an after-party. DC pointed out his wife, a beautiful half-black girl across the room, and said she’s bisexual and brings other girls home for trios. He told me I have to play the “I’ll-bring-you-to-the-States” card with Colombian girls. He tells them he’ll bring them to New York, the Statue of Liberty, then he has them snorting lines of coke off his dick and going down on his girl. Hot tub orgies and all that.
It was almost five in the morning and I was falling asleep until DC started talking. I woke right up. Then he started complaining about cheap Colombians. He said he always buys beers and food for others, he always spends more than he consumes, and that they never return the favor. DC says he incurs a net loss among his deported Colombian peeps.
I thought he was full of shit on the money point. But one night I was riding my bike home after a brothel tour. Passing through Chapinero around 1 am, I ran into DC, his girl, and another deported Colombian outside the liquor store at 53 and 13. I stopped to say hello. He told me they couldn’t get into a local brothel because his girl didn’t have her cédula (ID). I looked at her closer and realized, Wow, she looks really young. Then DC invited me out and offered me an ecstasy pill. I told him I had to wake up in the morning; I was going to bed. He countered, “Yo, you know what it means when a Colombian says he invites you?” Yes, I told him, of course (it means he’s buying). I appreciate it and all, but I’m going to bed.
One night we went drinking in La Candelaria. We were outside Ceci’s when a beggar approached. We were speaking English, which is like Spanish Fly for Colombian crackheads. This one wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. Like many Bogota bums, he didn’t accept several No’s. He wouldn’t go away. DC showed him his empty hand, palm up, saying in English, “You see my hand? I ain’t got shit. You see? You see? You see?” Then he pivoted a bit and slapped the bum with a loud CRACK! He slapped him so hard and the CRACK was so loud that the whole block turned to see (a crowded block on Friday nights). The crackhead fell back a step. He looked as if he were about to cry. He was on the verge of tears. The slap seemed to wake him up. It jogged the cloud of crack smoke in his brain. Now he saw past the English. He realized these weren’t gringo tourists he was begging from. He took a couple slow steps backward, still on the verge of tears, and disappeared around the corner.
I’ve seen guys punched or hit with objects harder, but that was the hardest I’ve ever seen someone slapped.
One day DC shared this photo on Facebook:
DC had been on a banging-whores binge in Santa Fe for two days. He left on foot. Thieves prowl the surrounding blocks of Santa Fe, and a couple picked DC. They cornered him with a knife and insisted on taking him to an ATM. As DC explains it, he was afraid at first. But after walking for a block he got over the fear and started swinging on each of them. One ran away. DC got the other one on the ground and pummeled him.
He hasn’t admitted it, but I know he got caught because he didn’t run away when he could. He wanted to punish this thief. That’s why the police got him. They found him beating on someone who wasn’t defending himself. DC paid them 200,000 pesos and was free. On this FB thread a bunch of his NYC friends commented on how great of a deal that is, how they paid a lawyer $4000 and still got an assault conviction and jail time.
DC is short and wears baggy clothes, so people underestimate him. He was a high school wrestler and gangbanger, so strong as shit with experience to back it up. If you look closely at the picture, you can see all his knuckles are covered with scars.
DC was a Crip in New York. DB was a Blood. They’re the only guys I know who claimed Crip or Blood. They’re virtually alone in Bogota, and they all have the same friends, and they get along, so it’s difficult to be enemies. I think that’s hilarious.
In his own words, DB’s “a hood nigga.” He’ll “buck shots or whatever to get this money.” At 15 he was sent to juvenile detention for stabbing someone. He was in and out of jail his remaining four years in the US.
After getting out of juvie, DB was placed on house arrest, for which he moved in with his girlfriend. She soon got pregnant. They fought frequently, often resulting in the police being called. A few times he was taken to jail for domestic violence charges. His girlfriend would never follow up on any charges. She skipped appointments with police and district attorneys. She and DB always got back together. Charges never stuck, but the local police got to know DB from a young age.
Local task force and anti-drug units also got to know DB from the local crack set. They quickly identified young drug dealers and gang members. DB worked in a gang of over 20 local kids aged 16-24 decked out in flashy clothes and new cars. They controlled their neighborhood with violence and by threatening witnesses. DB was charged with gang activity and organized crime offenses, in addition to the dropped domestic violence arrests, when he was only 18.
DB’s fate was sealed by a long-time friend, a weaker kid from the neighborhood (who DB calls an “herb”) with a cleft lip. He grew up with Cleft, bringing him around the gang. He helped Cleft gain respect, but they had a falling out when Cleft owed DB money and had been ducking him. DB beat him badly in public, collecting his debt forcibly. Cleft pressed charges. DB was deported to Colombia after serving another year in Riker’s Island, which he calls his “second home in New York.”
This story from DB sticks out in my mind. One night he was picking up a pistol from a Bogota crackhouse. There’s a young boy who lives at this crackhouse. Every time DB goes there he says hello to the kid. On this night, after he got the pistol he went by the kid’s room. He knocked on the door and nobody answered. It was late at night, so he knew the kid had to be there. He knocked again, forcefully, and an adult male answered. The adult male wouldn’t open the door. DB realized the kid was getting molested, and he made a ruckus. The paisas running the crackhouse came and put up a front. They forced him out of the house.
Armed with an illegal pistol, DB found the closest police station. All worked up and flustered, he explained there was a boy being raped at a house in the neighborhood. The police asked if it was at the paisa house (implying they were in with the paisas). DB confirmed it was the paisa house. The cops replied that DB ought to leave before something happens to him. DB took the hint and, what could he do?
DB is an aspiring rapper. Check out his music.
Pusha T legally emigrated to Houston, TX as an infant. He’s among the few deported Colombians not from New York or South Florida. Most of the Latin people he grew up with were Mexicans. His English has that West Coast, Mexican Spanish rhythm. He attended the same high school as Paul Wall and Chamillionaire.
Pusha T began robbing people in high school with a .357, the “brick buster.” He was heavy into Xanax (Z-bars).
Personal sidenote: Xanax is the motherfucking devil.
Pusha T had beef with some Mexican Syndicate guys in Houston, but they squashed it. At least they told him they squashed it. They went robbing vacation houses in Galveston. They went door to door down an entire street. In the last house, the Mexicans pistol-whipped him. All fucked up on Xanax, Pusha T went right to sleep until the police came. He was still woozy and laughing when they picked him up from the floor. He was charged with Burglary of a Habitation.
Soon after getting out, Pusha T and a friend robbed a drug dealer in his home. They took a bunch of cocaine and ecstasy pills. People rob drug dealers because they don’t call the police. This drug dealer, however, called the police and claimed they stole money. They got away but Pusha T’s friend was later caught in a stolen car with a gun described in the robbery. He was identified and he gave up Pusha T.
Before the Galveston robbery, Pusha T got a Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering charge for running a stolen goods store from his house. He had over $5000 in electronics, clothes, and shoes stolen from local stores. So he had three felony cases, but luckily they were each in a different county in Texas. He hired a good lawyer who “tricked” the judge into agreeing to concurrent time. Concurrent time is where separate sentences are served simultaneously.
Pusha T served 3.5 years of a 5 year sentence in federal prison before being deported. He believes he could’ve been sentenced 15 – 25.
Despite his violent record, Pusha T is one of the more presentable deported Colombians I’ve met. Any gringo in Colombia for a year or more surely knows about the deported community, and most want nothing to do with it. But I can bring Pusha T around gringo expats and nobody suspects a thing.
Miscellaneous Observations on the Deported Community
Despite it being their preferred language, a lot of Miami guys don’t speak good English. It goes to show how Latin of a city Miami is.
From what I’ve heard, when a new deportee arrives in Colombia they go through a phase of hard partying. You can do so much more so much cheaper than in the States. For some guys it lasts a few years. Some guys never escape the rumba. Some guys become crackheads begging from tourists in English. Most get over it and get jobs at call centers.
Some deported guys don’t drink much, and some aren’t into snorting, but ALL the deported Colombians I’ve ever met smoke. If you hang around the deported community, expect to smoke lots of cripy. If you don’t, they’ll assume you’re a cop. In fact, a few guys thought I was an informer when I first started hanging around, and I was drinking, smoking, and snorting right there with them.
If you start hanging around a deported community, it’s only a matter of time before you’re approached to mule cocaine. My advice: DON’T DO IT.
You’ll get approached to mule because the deported community is relatively tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone and they’re all friends. When I first started hanging out, there were times I’d be on the street with guys I knew and two or three heads would stick out of an apartment window checking me out, sizing me up, etc. Who’s the gringo? Who’s the gringo? Some immediately see pesos and want to earn a commission off you. It’s like open season, a race to get the gringo to mule. My advice, DON’T DO IT.
All the guys I hang around know that I’m a writer and I’m writing about the deported community. Pusha T had the idea of a documentary, like Real World Bogota with a house full of deported guys. It’d be more entertaining than Jersey Shore, but it wouldn’t last. Too many fights and too much jealousy in a country too crazy.
I doubt the deported guys gave a shit about a gringo when they lived in Miami, New York, or wherever. But once they got deported and realized how much they have in common, they’re friendly to us. It’s like they want an escape from the laziness, apathy, and Spanish in Colombian culture.
The word “nigga” should not be in my vocabulary. I’m a 32 year old white guy from Middle America with an MBA. But if you hang around these guys enough and hear that word enough (“The nigga did this and …”, “Yeah my nigga but you gotta think …”, etc.), it rubs off on you. I’ve caught myself saying to a deported friend, “What up, my nigga?” Not a good habit.
I’ve met deported Colombians in both Medellin and Bogota, so I assume they’re everywhere in Colombia. Most are super-friendly. They’ll probably spot you first and introduce themselves.
When I first visited Bogota I was amazed at its punk rock scene. Punk rock, a gringo subculture long dead in Gringolandia, is alive and passionate in Bogota. Before moving here I had the idea of making friends with the punks (since I like punk rock) and infiltrating the scene, ala Hunter Thompson and the Hell’s Angels (his breakthrough work). But when I arrived and saw the Colombian punks again, I decided they were broke, dirty, filthy, grimy, and nothing I wanted to infiltrate. Unintentionally I got familiar with a different subculture worth writing about in the deported community. If I ever want to do similar work to Thompson’s Hell’s Angels (who were the most feared gang in America at the time), the deported Colombians will be the subject.
Deported Colombians Making Better Lives
Most deported Colombians lead productive lives after being deported. Some degenerate into crackheads, or they’re in the brothels every day, but most get good jobs and make middle class livings legally. At the very least they have English fluency, so they can teach or work in call centers.
In addition to English, they have an American go-getter mentality and the attitude that they can be anything they want to be – something not taught in Latin America. And as seen with Pusha T or DC, most gringos would never suspect some of these guys were ex-cons. I met a deported Colombian in Medellin (at Facedos) who worked as a real estate agent catering to gringos looking to invest in Colombia.
So while 100% of these guys would love the opportunity to go back to the States just to visit, being deported was a positive for most of them. See the next edition, Deported Colombians Doing Positive Things.
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