Esperanza is an aspiring photographer from a quiet neighborhood in Pasadena. Her best friend, Rosa, has recently become involved with Al, a gang leader from a gritty East Los Angeles neighborhood. Rosa takes Esperanza to Boyle Heights to meet Al. He shows them around his neighborhood, his gang, and his family, opening Espeanza's eyes to both the depravity and the beauty of life in Al's barrio. Esperanza's naivety and brandishing of her camera causes a disturbance in Al's set which endangers the lives of everyone she cares for. After that tragic day, Esperanza must decide what her life will become as she faces the loss of those she loves caused by the art she loves.