The Projects

The Projects

JAMES DIEGO VIGIL
Foreword by Thomas S. Weisner
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/717305
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  • Book Info
    The Projects
    Book Description:

    The Pico Gardens housing development in East Los Angeles has a high percentage of resident families with a history of persistent poverty, gang involvement, and crime. In some families, members of three generations have belonged to gangs. Many other Pico Gardens families, however, have managed to avoid the cycle of gang involvement.

    In this work, Vigil adds to the tradition of poverty research and elaborates on the association of family dynamics and gang membership. The main objective of his research was to discover what factors make some families more vulnerable to gang membership, and why gang resistance was evidenced in similarly situated non-gang-involved families. Providing rich, in-depth interviews and observations, Vigil examines the wide variations in income and social capital that exist among the ostensibly poor, mostly Mexican American residents. Vigil documents how families connect and interact with social agencies in greater East Los Angeles to help chart the routines and rhythms of the lives of public housing residents. He presents family life histories to augment and provide texture to the quantitative information.

    By studying life in Pico Gardens, Vigil feels we can better understand how human agency interacts with structural factors to produce the reality that families living in all public housing developments must contend with daily.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79509-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Thomas S. Weisner

    The next time you read about gang violence, or proposals to do something about gangs and the neighborhoods they inhabit, you will bring an enriched frame of mind and understanding to the topic after reading Diego Vigil′s book.The Projectsbrings gangs and families to life; it is a holistic study in the best sense. You will think of gang members not simply as individuals in isolation, but as struggling families and children embedded in their sociocultural setting, with a sense of how they think, feel, and experience their world.The Projectsprovides evidence across levels of analysis, from structural...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-19)

    The strains and stresses of poverty in a public housing complex adversely affect family life, and those families that experience the greatest stress often lose control of their children to gangs. Losing children to gangs occurs in a social ecological arrangement, where there is already a generalized breakdown of major social control institutions. In this situation, street socialization of youths by one another and by slightly older youths becomes common. When street socialization takes over, a street gang with strong roots becomes a fixture. In the community this book focuses on, Cuatro Flats is this gang. Many youths in the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO RATIONALE AND METHODS
    (pp. 20-38)

    There are many rationales for selecting the Pico Gardens development as a research site. First, the complex contains a large concentration of low-income residents, many of whom have experienced persistent poverty over the span of generations. Second, a high percentage of families there rely on afdc (Aid to Families with Dependent Children); many of these households are headed by a single parent. Third, the development features a local established gang, with at least seven other gangs inhabiting surrounding areas. The definitions for gangs are many, but the working one for this book is this: gangs are groups of male adolescents...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A HISTORY OF THE CUATRO FLATS BARRIO GANG
    (pp. 39-53)

    An important part of the investigation into gang and non-gang families in the Pico-Aliso family housing community in East Los Angeles is understanding the history of the dominant gang in the area—Cuatro Flats. It is a long and deep history that began in the 1930s and has continued to the present. This chapter presents the background to the gang and shows how it began, grew, and slowly transformed itself into a street entity with so many of the self-destructive elements common to gangs in Los Angeles today. Family life in the project community also deteriorated during this span as...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR THE GANG SUBCULTURE: Change and Continuity
    (pp. 54-70)

    He used to sneak out of the neighborhood and successfully avoid where gang members hung out. Going to high school was enough of a challenge, but trying to keep away from the guys who hung out all over the projects was an even tougher job. But he did it; he grew up in the projects, poor, with a struggling mother and seven other siblings, and he found a way out. He became a cop, an lapd officer!

    This is what the projects are all about, even though the screening he went through to become a police officer was extraordinary in...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE THE PICO GARDENS CLIQUE
    (pp. 71-93)

    One of the fascinating aspects of the gang member′s persona is how he works at and consciously maintains a sullen, hard look and demeanor to show the world; for some, it is real. When you attempt to interact with gang members for the first time, you get this stony front; forget about questioning them right away. The advantage of long-term fieldwork, however, is that people eventually let their guard down, relax, and behave more like their true selves. Then you see normal young faces, a little scarred and tattered in some cases because of the traumatic lives they′ve had, smiling,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX A GANG LIFE
    (pp. 94-105)

    Turning his stingy-brim hat around in his hands and contemplating its shape and the red feather in the headband, Bebee thought about his life in the projects. Born and reared in the projects, knowing no other life than public housing and support, he had been able to survive even though he had done almost ten years in prison for a killing. As a member of Cuatro Flats from the early 1970s, he had established a reputation as a reliable black Chicano, one who could be trusted to back someone up but not go off the deep end and start unnecessary...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN CHOLAS IN THE WORLD OF GANGS
    (pp. 106-125)

    Young Pico Gardens females face the same social and cultural strains as their young male peers, compounded by the addition to gender strains and their own version of the psychological moratorium (Chesney-Lind and Sheldon 1992). The socialization of girls into street life not only shapes a permissive attitude toward deviant gang subcultures but also affects girls′ behavior with respect to community interactions. Even so, the vast majority of gang-related crime and violence consistently originates from male gang members, who remain the focus of most researchers. Thus, there is a critical void in our knowledge of the dynamics of gender in...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT WHY CHILDREN EITHER AVOID OR AFFILIATE WITH GANGS
    (pp. 126-140)

    The factors determining gang and non-gang families can be traced to macrohistorical and macrostructural forces. Racism, immigration difficulties, poverty, stressed families, and other obstacles and pressures are integral to these larger-than-life dramas. Detailing the specific situations and conditions of individuals and families is another matter and comes under the rubric of micro-level research. This chapter stresses the ethnographic basis for explanations that show agent proclivities, push, pull, and interrupter effects of youth who join or avoid gangs. When these processes are examined, it is clear that no single factor is the sole motivational cause. Rather, it is a combination of...

  13. CHAPTER NINE FAMILIES NOT INVOLVED WITH GANGS
    (pp. 141-157)

    To transcend the one-dimensional caricatures of inner-city life that are commonplace in popular and, occasionally, academic discourse, it is important to closely examine families through methods grounded in the reality of their daily lives. It is readily apparent that these families are consumed with the typical concerns of all human beings, particularly those related to subsistence: food, clothing, and shelter. In addition to these basic needs, families must work on the promulgation of social bonds and oftentimes the desire to improve themselves and their lot in life. These concerns are equally as relevant to families with members involved in gang...

  14. CHAPTER TEN A CLOSER LOOK AT GANG-AFFILIATED FAMILIES
    (pp. 158-176)

    Some Pico Gardens residents are less capable of resisting the pushes and pulls related to the gang activity in their neighborhood and eventually succumb to gang life. This lack of resistance can be attributed to a heightened vulnerability born of repeated challenges to a healthy life—challenges that are generated both outside and within the family. Outside challenges, including the various forces of discrimination, poverty, blocked opportunities, and street socialization, are rendered more powerful when family heads are unable to direct their children effectively. Internal factors, such as single-headed households, a large family size, authoritarian or permissive parenting styles, weak...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN GANG PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION STRATEGIES OVER TIME
    (pp. 177-194)

    The history of Pico Gardens, and, of course, Cuatro Flats as a gang, would not be complete without the history I witnessed and recorded during my life. This is especially the case with the fieldwork I conducted intensively from 1991 through 1995, with periodic visits up to the present. I have already mentioned that in the early 1950s I visited the Pico project with friends who were newspaper boys and heard countless stories about the tough, brave street youth there, particularly the future welterweight champion of the world, Don Jordan, who went by the street name “Geronimo.” Back then, gang...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
    (pp. 195-212)

    In this exploration of the dynamics of family life in a low-income neighborhood, I hope that what separates gang from non-gang members has been better confirmed. Keeping the community and neighborhood effects constant, the variation in households and family members (i.e., family income, occupation, education, size of families, and even child-rearing practices) provides an indication of why some families have gang members and others do not (Gehlke-Baez 2004). Street socialization thrives when adult family members are stressed, bereft of coping skills, and unable to guide their children. The result is that untethered youth are raised in the streets by multiple-aged...

  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 213-226)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 227-239)