Ruben Hernandez

Different worlds intersect in friendship

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Santana and Saúl: A Dual Memoir
By Saul Diskin and Santana Acuña

Reading Santana and Saúl: A Dual Memoir is like peering into the windows of two houses at the opposite ends of town. The long-term friendship of Santana Acuña, a Chicano pachuco in California, and Saul Diskin, a New York-bred Jew living in Phoenix, offers hope for our turbulent times in which different cultures seem to be pitted against one another.

 Santana Acuña was born and raised in a poverty-stricken and violent barrio. Santana grew up amid the criminals who hung out in local cantinas, drinking, shooting heroin, maiming, and even murdering one another. He didn’t know any other life, and ended up spending many years in prisons.

In the book, a young Santana describes his first time shooting up heroin:

I was ready to go into a strange barrio and fight my way out. I was ready to steal, to fight, to stab, to shoot. I could work all day in the fields and drink all night and go to work the next morning. There was no danger I wasn’t ready to face. I held my arm out. He held it and, like a doctor, searched for the vein by tapping my forearm, and then punctured the vein with the point of the needle. In too short a time to measure, in a millionth of a second, a short sentence went through my brain … “This is me.” 

It was in prison that Santana experienced a spiritual conversion and became a born-again Christian. He is now pastor of his own congregation in Rancho Cucamonga, California. 

Saul Diskin, the co-author, lived a life diametrically opposed to Santana’s. He grew up in Brooklyn, the son of eastern European immigrants. In California, the two of them met and became immediate friends. 

Over the years they lost contact with each other. In Phoenix, Saul became immersed in local civic activism, befriending Chicanos por la Causa executives, like Tommy Espinoza, and advocating with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. 

This just-published book covers important issues in vivid detail: the treatment of Mexican Americans, the brutality in prisons, drug addiction, barrio life and belief in God. 

Yet, at its core, Santana and Saúl is a tale of two sensitive men learning the rules of survival in two very different worlds, and how friendship can free us from our own societal prisons. 

Santana and Saúl: A Dual Memoir
By Saul Diskin and Santana Acuña
Available at
Hardcover: $28.99; 
paperback: $15.96; 
Kindle version: $3.03

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