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The film; American Me is an epic depiction of 30 years of Chicano gang life in Los Angeles, California. The movie focuses on the life of a 1950s teen named Montoya Santana, who forms a gang with his close friends. The gang is arrested for a break-in, and sentenced to time in juvenile hall. Santana finds trouble on his first night in juvenile hall and goes from juvenile hall to prison for 18 years. There he created and led a powerful gang that operated both inside and outside the prison.
When released from Folsom Prison, he tries to make sense of the violence in his life, in a world that has changed greatly. Inspired by a true story, the film provides a fictionalized account of the founding and rise to power of the Mexican Mafia in the California prison system from the 1950s into the 1980s. The story opens by taking the viewer on a journey back in time to the Zoot Suit era of World War II before the birth of Montoya Santana.
Santana’s parents were Zoot Suitors. It is here that Santana’s destiny began.
Because of the wartime labor shortage of this era, the American and Mexican governments agreed to a program by which braceros (contract laborers) were admitted to the United States for a limited time to work at specific jobs.. Mexican Americans were the second largest group of migrants after Black Americans in the 1940s. The influx of Mexican Americans created societal change. “The sudden expansion of Mexican American neighborhoods created tensions and some conflicts within white society and governmental bodies.
White residents of Los Angeles became alarmed at the activities of Mexican American teenagers, most of whom were joining street gangs. Zoot Suits became popular (baggy pants, long loose jacket, the big collar, the long watch chain, the slicked back hair, broad-brimmed hats), which became a symbol of rebellion against conventional white society” (www. stuffliketaht. org, 2010). Thus the term, Zoot Suit was born. “In Mid-1943, a four-day riot in LA broke out because of the hatred toward the Zoot-suitors. White sailors invaded Mexican American communities and attacked Zoot Suitors.
The city police did nothing to restrain the sailors, who grabbed the Hispanic teenagers, tore off and burned their clothes, cut off their hair, and beat them. However, when Hispanics tried to fight back, the police moved in and arrested them. After the Zoot Suit riots, LA passed a law prohibiting the wearing Zoot Suits” (www. stufflikethat. org, 2010) It was during these riots that Santana’s parents Pedro and Esperanza were attacked. After being beaten, Pedro was arrested by local police for being a Zoot Suitor. Violently raped, Esperanza had her clothes torn off by a multitude of Caucasian sailors.
The film brings the viewer forward in time to 1959 with Santana as a young man of 16 growing up in the barrios with his friends and fellow gang members Mundo and JD. After being arrested and sent to juvenile hall, Santana has his “manhood” taken from him on the first night and murders the man who sodomized him. The power and respect that killing this man brought from his peers was intoxicating; his act also brought him a long prison sentence. During many years of incarceration, Santana and his gang affiliates grew their business and their numbers both inside and outside the prison.
Upon his release from prison, he was surprised how much life and the barrios had changed. Santana struggled as he observed the power plays between the Italian mafia, the Black Guerillas, and the Aryan Brotherhood. They all wanted more territory and more business. This created internal conflict for the main character as the roots of his belief about his gang Por Vida (for life) was to lift and strengthen the Chicano communities. . His associates saw this internal struggle as weakness. Santana’s challenges in society were appropriate socialization and healthy behavior in romantic relationships.
After a short time on the outside, Santana is arrested, and returned to prison. It is here that Santana’s life ends. He is brutally murdered by his gang associates for not going along with a decision. The Santana family lived in the same home in the barrios (ghetto) of East Los Angeles for some 30 years, their economic status described as poor working class. Santana’s’ parents were Mexican American. Santana’s ethnicity is partially unknown, as he was born as a product of his mothers’ rape.
Some of Santana’s strengths were his strong family and neighborhood ties, his abilities to organize and lead people, his loyalty, and pride. He also had a very sensitive side to him, which was deep, poetic, and soulful. The primary presenting issues of the character Santana are: He comes from a background of poverty, lacking education and job skills. His neighborhood role models and leaders were gangbangers or Zoot Suitors. He spent most of his life institutionalized in prison and lacks socialization skills, such as knowing how to buy a pair of shoes or how to go about build relationship with a woman.
He has never had a healthy sexual relationship and his sexual and relational development was largely thwarted by living in prison. The main character would be well served with supports in assessing and developing career skills and opportunities for continuing education as well. A human service worker could best help assist Santana by having knowledge of the culture background, local cultural competency support and resources, pertinent cultural information and have certain skills that are common to assisting with minority individuals and groups.
These common skills include communication, access to interpreters, assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation, drawing upon a range of theories of human and group behavior, knowledge of individual differences and the minority identity development model and stages for change, and an awareness of the larger social context of Santana’s. “To be an effective human service worker, it is important to apply various skills with an understanding of relevant theories and minority identity models and be able to choose appropriate intervention strategies and methods for particular situations.
There is no substitute for working with individuals or groups; an important part of enhancing a workers intervention skills is obtaining hands-on experience” (Human services Interventions, 2002). Some culturally competent local support services and agencies suggested for Santana are as follows: “Friends-CARE is a nonprofit organization designed to break the cycle of generational crime. Its purpose is to raise awareness regarding the children and families of the incarcerated.
Friends-CARE does provide services, intervention, community resources, and programs for these families and supports the appropriate relationships between inmates and their families upon returning to the community” (www. friends-Care. org, 2010). California Gangs Anonymous (CGA) “CGA is a twelve step program for criminals and gang members both inside and outside the prison system. Participants attend meetings regularly and express the genuine details, past and present of their lives, CGA is a place to let our emotions out freely in a safe environment. CGA is about honesty, hope, solutions, and alternatives to living a happier life” (www.cganon. com 2010).
Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services – “Adult Education program provides unique learning opportunities to adults at no cost in a supportive, highly personalized and non-judgmental environment. Education is provided in the classroom setting as well as through one-on-one tutoring and appointments. All services are free to the community and open to adults over the age of 18. Educational services include tutoring in literacy, math, reading and writing, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, assistance with job searches, resume building workshops, computer basics classes in English and Spanish” (www.sfbfs. org, 2010).
After evaluation of Santana’s background and presenting issues, the assessors recommend an intervention treatment plan consisting of the above-mentioned community resources Criminals/Gang Members Anonymous for working through what it means to be gang affiliated, Friends-CARE as an external support including participating in a program intended to build/re-build family relationships after incarceration.
As these family relationships may serve as strong supports as the client moves away from gang related activities and individuals. Additionally, the SFBFS Adult Education Program, where Santana can build his English-speaking skills, acquires an education, job skills, and takes computer classes. Socialization and sexual socialization therapy is strongly suggested. The founding and rise of the Mexican mafia in 1950s East Los Angeles was inevitable.
The wartime indecencies to the previous Mexican American generation known as the Zoot-suitors caused a community to want to stand strongly as a people. A natural and inherent part of Mexican culture is to gather, to band together as family and friends in strength and celebration. Perhaps a Mexican gang is a distorted extension of this natural inclination to gather and join in strength caused by acculturation present within white society. References CGA (n. d. ). CGA.
Retrieved August 30, 2010, from www. cganon. org (n. d. ). History Review Sheet. Retrieved August 30,2010, from www. stufflikethat. org/minorities Human Service Interventions (2002). Working with Individuals or with Groups. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from http://www. cpcs. umb. edu/support/studentsupport/red_book/humser_intervention_one. htm Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services. (). SFBFS [Brochure]. Sacramento, CA: Author. Universal (Producer), & Olnos, E. J. (Director).
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