An Urban Ethnography of Latino Street:Gangs in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Chapter 9: Age Groups

Francine Garcia-Hallcom

Professor emerita of the California State University (Northridge)
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First appeared: 1999 published at the California State University (Northridge),
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Last modified: 2020-02-19 10:50:19.

James R. Lasley’s l992 data of 435 gang members in Los Angeles do not generally support the idea that gang members age into Dads and Grandpas — as is sometimes presumed (434-51). The street gangs observed herein consisted primarily of adolescents and other members up to age 24 or so, concurring with the Lasley findings.

Latino gang members may have had a father or even a grandfather who was a gang member at one time, perhaps a zoot-suiter or pachuco corresponding to their respective eras. But in the current investigation none was found actually in the gang today past the age of approximately 24. Members seemed to out-grow the street gang. Many older gang members were now on the streets as ex-convicts, some have moved away and gone on with their lives, others are reportedly in prison or dead. While the older former members were friendly to and often related to the current “hard cores,” even hanging out and at times sharing beer on a Saturday afternoon, these older ex-members of street gangs were not active participants in current gang outbursts. Some of the older former members were referred to jokingly as “my employer.” It was intimated that they are probably drug dealers, dealing crack and distributing other drugs. If these young men are in any kind of gang at this point in their lives, it is far more likely to be a prison gang rather than a street gang.

Age groups such as the following are typical of gangs. These parameters concur with John Williams’ “subculture study” (1992). The Latino street gang members observed here ranged from “Peewees” roughly between the ages of 10 to 12, who write graffiti on notebooks, lockers and school bathroom walls and who look up to the gang members. The “gang-bangers” ranged in age from 14 to 20, and the “hardcores,” who were between 18 to 20 and up, with few over 24 or 25 years old.

In addition, there are levels of involvement with “wannabees” talking a lot, dressing the part and generally hanging out with the others, but usually not participating in gang activities. This is not to say that they do not commit juvenile delinquent acts, or that they cannot get into a lot of trouble with individual members of the gang–groups of two or three or four including some members of the street gang acting in concert with peripheral players.

Associates are described by Williams as followers, but not decision makers with the hardcores directing activities (1992). “These guys see themselves as icons,” says Detective David Ortiz, New York, of Black gangs there. One could easily say the same of some of the Latino “hardcores” here in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties as well.

Often gang activities begin as unplanned, unstructured activities such as simple “partying” –listening to music at someone’s house. Trouble has a way of erupting out of nowhere when in the company of these youths. As a matter of fact, few activities, either observed or reported, seemed to involve very much planing at all. In other words, there appeared to be no “brain” behind the scenes directing and managing.

Many times gang activities are labelled as such by the press when in actuality they are the work of a small group of three or four and not the entire gang per se; other larger group activities often involve very little planning–so much so, they might more appropriately be called spontaneous!

There is pleasure, friendship, and often criminal activity combined. Criminal activity in itself is often perpetrated for the fun of it, rather than for financial gain. Of course, other criminal acts are indeed committed for profit, and still others for revenge or for a strange kind of “honor” as it were–for the sake of reputation.

The economic circumstances of the urban poor give rise to youths who have no spending money to go places and do things. Having no spending money is a chronic condition. “Hanging out” in and around the neighborhood is in itself entertainment along with any accompanying trouble it brings. What the mainstream society might call “loitering” is all that is available as entertainment to these urban poor.

On a typical Saturday, perhaps a few members of the gang go cruise Caesar Chavez Boulevard in East L.A. or go to the corner and meet there to hang out for a while. Later, they split off into smaller groups of three or four. Some members hold down jobs–at least for varying periods of time; they leave to go to work. Others show up and maybe two are going to the local mini-mart to buy or steal beer and whatever else they desire. Three others are going to one member’s house to work on a car or play CD’s. Someone may choose to simply wait at a particular location and see who else turns up. Obviously not all gang activities involve committing crimes every minute of the day.


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