Gangs. There is so much one can learn about them but many do not take the time to do so and simply judge them and the people in them. James Diego Vigil notes that youth temporarily or sporadically seek gangs as a source of identity. This is usually a result of family and school authorities’ failure to influence and guide them. A vast majority of gang affiliated youth are immigrants and of Hispanic descent. Many times we are quick to judge and blame the youth for being so rebellious that we forget that we do not know what caused him/her to feel the need to join a gang. Although it takes an active decision on their part, we as a community can also make an active decision to make our youth feel more welcomed and less discriminated and targeted. An excellent example of this ability to make a difference is Homeboy Industries located in Los Angeles, California.
Homeboy Industries provides “hope , training, and support to formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of [the] community”. The industry was founded in 1988 and provides services such as tattoo removal, employment services, curriculum and education, and a few more. This industry has helped hundreds of youth get back on their feet and better their lives. It gives them hope and a sense of belonging as they enter this community that is dedicated to seeing their improvement.
I truly believe that most of the youth involved in gangs are pushed into them as a cause of unfortunate circumstances in their lives, specifically in their households. Gangs have a strong bond and provide a fictive kinship than many do not have with their immediate families. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere and, unfortunately, that place is can be found in violent gangs. Next time you find yourself judging one’s decisions, specifically a youth’s decision to join a gang, I strongly urge you to remember that they are there for reasons we do not know or understandand that there are circumstances that pushed them to make that decision.
I grew up in a gang-affiliated neighborhood where I witnessed how many of the youth in my community became susceptible to the pressures of joining a gang precisely because they lacked a sense of belonging at home or in school. Most of them I grew up with, so I was able to see how their alienation from society–due to their lower socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and/or lack of opportunities–led them to seek acceptance and protection elsewhere, such as in a street gang. I completely agree that we are quick to judge these youth based on their behavior, which many of us consider to be reckless and deviant, but I also agree that in order to provide an alternative for these young men and women, we must first learn to understand where they are coming from and what motives have led them to join a gang.