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God's Gangs

God's Gangs: Barrio Ministry, Masculinity, and Gang Recovery

Edward Orozco Flores
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 243
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  • Book Info
    God's Gangs
    Book Description:

    Los Angeles is the epicenter of the American gang problem. Rituals and customs from Los Angeles' eastside gangs, including hand signals, graffiti, and clothing styles, have spread to small towns and big cities alike. Many see the problem with gangs as related to urban marginality - for a Latino immigrant population struggling with poverty and social integration, gangs offer a close-knit community. Yet, as Edward Orozco Flores argues inGod's Gangs, gang members can be successfully redirected out of gangs through efforts that change the context in which they find themselves, as well as their notions of what it means to be a man. Flores here illuminates how Latino men recover from gang life through involvement in urban, faith-based organizations. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with Homeboy Industries, a Jesuit-founded non-profit that is one of the largest gang intervention programs in the country, and with Victory Outreach, a Pentecostal ministry with over 600 chapters, Flores demonstrates that organizations such as these facilitate recovery from gang life by enabling gang members to reinvent themselves as family men and as members of their community.The book offers a window into the process of redefining masculinity. As Flores convincingly shows, gang members are not trapped in a cycle of poverty and marginality.With the help of urban ministries, such men construct a reformed barrio masculinity to distance themselves from gang life.Edward Orozco Flores is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University Chicago.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1812-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    I visited Sergio, a twenty-five-year-old former Chicano gang member, one bright, sunny Saturday at a small home he was renting near an East Los Angeles cemetery.¹ As I stood on the porch of his house knocking on the front door, I noticed a couple of plants in clay pots and a cluttered mess: weights and a rusty weight machine, cartons and candy wrappers, two lawn chairs with light cigarette ash, and ants creeping around the cracked paint of his porch’s thin pillars. Sergio greeted me, shirtless, in his loud, boisterous voice, with a firm handshake that pulled me in to...

  6. 1 The Latino Crime Threat: A Century of Race, Marginality, and Public Policy in Los Angeles
    (pp. 31-62)

    Early in the morning of September 22, 2009, I went online to read theLos Angeles Times. I was struck by a headlines of a major, developing story: “Massive Police Raid Targets Brutal L.A. Gang.” The subheading mentioned the Avenues gang, which the mayor and police chief two years previously had targeted in an “aggressive suppression strategy” against the city’s eleven “most violent gangs”; this was the same gang that had earlier been connected to a case of a murdered Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. I immediately felt tense and worried.

    The previous week, Matthew, a twenty-year-old member of Homeboy...

  7. 2 Into the Underclass or Out of the Barrio? Immigrant Integration in Latino Los Angeles
    (pp. 63-87)

    Ramon is an undocumented immigrant, brought from Mexico by a single mother when he was only twelve years old, and his experience illustrates the risk that today’s street gangs pose to immigrants (e.g., Portes and Rumbaut 2001). Although Ramon’s mother brought herself and her children to the U.S. to distance them from her husband, and for better educational and occupational prospects, by age fourteen, Ramon had joined a street gang and become involved with gang violence. He had been shot at, nearly stabbed, and attacked with baseball bats. He had carried guns to school, used drugs, ran “missions with his...

  8. 3 Recovery from Gang Life: Two Models of Faith and Reintegration
    (pp. 88-108)

    Ramon was able to leave gang life despite enduring obstacles that segmented assimilation theory predicts would yield downward assimilation: undocumented status, lack of middle class cultural capital, and lack of access to public resources. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Ramon had come to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, joined gangs in his early teens, and become a homeless drug addict by early adulthood. However, after entering the men’s recovery home, Ramon became a drug counselor there and then, after years, a Victory Outreach church leader. At the time of his interview, he had been involved with Victory Outreach...

  9. 4 Reformed Barrio Masculinity: Eight Cases of Recovery from Gang Life
    (pp. 109-144)

    On a chilly November evening, Antonio, Homeboy Industries’ drug counselor, held his first art show at the large Homeboy Industries building in Downtown Los Angeles. Two vintage 1960s era lowriders, one of them a Riviera airbrushed with Aztec images, sat on the concrete sidewalk outside of the Homeboys Bakery. Stocky, older Homeboys with thickbrochas—mustaches—and sunglasses socialized and admired the cars. Closer to the entrance of the building, younger Homeboys and Homegirls exchanged elaborate handshakes, laughed and embraced. Inside the building, Antonio’s large oil paintings lined the walls of the Homeboy Bakery, along with the colorful works of...

  10. 5 Masculinity and the Podium: Discourse in Gang Recovery
    (pp. 145-167)

    “I want you to walk away knowing what empathy is today,” announced Alfredo, a bearded, late-twenties ex–gang member, in a soft voice. Homeboy Industries’ Anger Management class had just begun. A few Homeboys and Homegirls trickled in late, joining about a dozen others who sat behind tables arranged in a large square. This chaos was generally reflective of classes at Homeboy Industries. Alfredo, the moderator of Anger Management, stood at the end of the circle with a hand on some manila folders. Previously joking and flirting, the class participants fell silent once he started to talk. “Empathy means to...

  11. 6 From Shaved to Saved: Embodied Gang Recovery
    (pp. 168-190)

    Ramon’s recollection illustrates the hostile relationship between the police and poor men of color. As Ramon and another Victory Outreach member arrived at the church for an event, two police officers stopped and frisked them. According to Ramon’s account, during the search, he and his fellow Victory Outreach member remained polite and quiet, speaking only to answer questions. While Ramon obeyed the police officer’s commands and attempted to demonstrate that he was not involved in gang life or criminal activity, the police officer rebuffed him and accused Victory Outreach of harboring Mafia activity. As Ramon recounted this story to me,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-204)

    InRuta Transnacional, Mexican scholar Juan Carlos Narváez Gutiérrez (2007) used the cases of Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13, a transnational gang) and Homies Unidos (a nonprofit dedicated to serving El Salvadoran exiting gang members) to grapple with the issues of gangs, transnationalism, and social activism. Narváez Gutiérrez suggested that at the root of the gang problem in the twenty-first century were the problems of late modernity: unease, marginality, and exclusion. Where the old state used to be primarily concerned with spreading its domain over new populations, the new state has engaged in projects of marginalizing and casting out populations—most...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 205-210)
    (pp. 211-224)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 225-229)
    (pp. 230-230)