The desire to provide safe schools for the nation's youth is high on the list of priorities for every educator in the country. Yet in the last few years, law-enforcement and public schools everywhere have experienced a virtual epidemic of youth violence that is rapidly spreading from the inner cities to the suburbs.

Gang tumult has become a nationwide catastrophe not only in the country's large metropolitan centers, but in the small urban and rural areas as well (Kantrowitz l993:40-46).

Gang activity not only means unsightly graffiti, but accelerated crime and dropout rates, the deterioration of neighborhoods, parks, and playgrounds, and wasted human resources everywhere. Gangs are no longer just the problem of those who live in the crime ridden neighborhoods where the gangs thrive; they are now everyone's problem.

Los Angeles is regarded as the nation's gang violence capital. And an important first step toward solutions that work is understanding the forces that cause youths to join gangs.

The research conducted in this study focuses on Los Angeles and Ventura County's lower-socioeconomic neighborhoods, the typical Wilsonian "destructive environment" (Wilson 87).

Most of the literature reviewed here is limited to Latino gang members, male and female, and to non-gang affiliated youth from the same barrios. African-American and Asian gangs are undeniably prevalent in the same and near-by areas. However, the scope of any investigation must have parameters.

Additionally, Latino youths, whether first or fourth generation, are swayed in one way or another by a different culture, one that functions unlike the other two in its philosophy and general ties to family. Therefore, there are definite aspects of
Hispanic street gangs that distinguish the members from their African-American and Asian counterparts. Curiously enough, this rings true even in the perpetration of their most grisly deeds.

All three engage in antisocial behavior--about that, there is certainly no doubt. However, gangs differ sub-culturally in their behavior. For example, homicides among Latino gangs are often near-ritual exhibitions of manhood according to Wes McBride of the L. A. Sheriff's Department. In contrast, Black gangs typically fight over drug trade transactions, pay-offs, unmet expectations and similar "business" disappointments. On the other hand, Asian gangs' bedrock crimes are extortion and home invasion (Mydan 1995: A12).

In the current investigation on a number of occasions, one male gang member reprimanded another (sometimes in jest, sometimes rather seriously) if cursing and profanity became too intense in the presence of the principal female investigator--a woman about the same age or older than their mothers. Other same-aged female graduate assistant researchers also reported the same curious etiquette.

In Mexican culture, behavior and respect is prescribed for elders as well as for "Mom," culturally necessitating different linguistic tools in their presence. Clearly an ironic gallantry exists among Latino gang members. Other studies concur (Mydans 1995). In addition, different issues concerning extended family are also culturally germane here even among the worst of them further differentiating, though by no means absolving their conduct.

Return to Table of Contents