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Society would like to accept that children lost to gangs are from dysfunctional and uncaring homes. While in some cases this may be true, in many homes this is not the case. In Susan Horton’s article “Mothers, Sons, and The Gangs” she speaks of three different scenarios of gang members and their families. Although the families had different backgrounds, beliefs, and techniques they all shared in common sons who were gang members.
They are mothers who care but have to face alone the battle of raising their sons in a community lost to gangs. In Horton’s article we are introduced to three different families whose sons are involved with gangs. Teresa Rodriguez who still feels foreign and timid about the culture of America. Maggie Garcia who was raised in the same neighborhood as her son and believes that loyalty to the neighborhood is just and understandable.
And Gayle Thomas Kary who because of financial struggles was thrown into the gang community and fought her best to save her son. And their sons whom are all minors living in a society pressured by gang affiliation. Although their homes had loving mothers their gangs had friends, bravado, acceptance, and a way of life. Studies prove that youth join gangs because of “low self-esteem and a stressful home life. A youth whose friends with gang- members and experiences peer- pressure to join.
A youth with poor academic performance, a lack of alternatives, lack of positive support, a feeling of helplessness, and hopelessness, as well as very frightened youth who is intimidated by the gangs.” (Yahoo, Lopez 29) Not all of these aspects are apparent in gang members but at least one is. In Teresa Rodriguez’s case her son at thirteen unbeknown to her belonged to the gang Sur 13. Because of his bravado he was shot and the family home has been victim to shootings ever since. Luckily the bullet missed his heart and he survived. Still he did not learn his lesson and claimed that he did not care if he died. Finally his mother threatened to send him to live in Mexico if he continued to go out. “he does not want that, so he stays inside.” But that has not stopped him from dressing or acting like a member of the Sur 13. After the incident of the shooting Rodriguez also found out that all three of her older sons were part of gangs. She states ‘”My 16-year-old threw away his cholo clothes right when he heard about his brother. He hasn’t been with the gang since then. The two older boys are very repentant , but it is hard to step away from their pasts.”‘(Horton 232) The past of the two older boys were not only hard to step out of but also proved to be hard to avoid. It is not surprising that the thirteen year old brother joined the gang, after all his older brothers all belonged in gangs. Because of that the youngest child felt he had no other alternative, he had to prove his bravado. He too had to belong to something because his future was paved for him. His brothers were all able to blind their mother of their gang affiliations and even at 9 years old were able to stay out later and later. That fact served as an attraction and also a form of peer-pressure to join a gang. Also his father “had always left rearing the children to [the mother]” he did not have a strong ,active, male role-model. So, perhaps he felt as if he had no other alternatives. He lived in a community where gangs were prevalent, and his brothers were all gang members, and his father had nothing to do with raising or discipline. Perhaps he could have beaten the odds and raised above but it was easier to join them for there were no reasons why he should beat them. Maggie Garcia also has a son who is a gang member but her view and approach to her sons affiliation is very different. Because she was raised in the same neighborhood as she raises her son in she understands how much the neighborhood could mean. She states ‘”Here the neighborhood, it is family.”‘(Horton233) She claims to understand the loyalty to the neigborhood because “her whole life,…is wrapped up …in it” (horton233) During school her son gets into a fight with a rival gang member because each claimed a different neighborhood. Her son was expelled and she says ‘”The principle at his school was upset because my son said ‘I’d die for my neighborhood.’ If he’s said ‘I’d die for my country,’ the principal probably would have given him a medal.”‘ (Horton233) Garcia knows that the danger in the inter-neighborhood conflicts that her son gets into because three nephews and three of her nieces boyfriends have been killed by such conflicts. But this is not enough for her to forbid her son from being with his friends. She feels that by doings so would be like her son telling her not to be with her friends. She states ‘”It’s such a small neighborhood, there are only a few boys my son has here. If he didn’t hang out with them, he wouldn’t have any friends.” She does not forbid him from being with his friends but she does advise “…you can live in the fire, but you can’t let yourself get burned. You’ve go to learn to live outside , but when you see something about to go down, you have to get out of there.”‘(Horton 234) Either her son did not heed the lesson or he did not run quick enough because he was arrested and charged with arm robbery which took place a few blocks from his home. His mother claims he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although Garcia feels that the neighborhood is everything her older son takes a different opinion. He told his brother ‘You know if they kill you, your friends will go to your Rosary and they’ll go to your funeral. Then they’ll have a party and forget all about you.” (Horton 234) But still the younger son values his own friends and neighborhood over his life and claims “Here today, gone tomorrow so what?(Horton 234) So he’ll never know what tomorrow could have offered him. Here although Garcia follows similar problems as the Rodriguez family she adds to it her history and connection to the neighborhood. In this story the father is also absent and the mother supports her son and find it difficult to believe that her son is wrong. She can rightly be classified as viewing her son as “Mama’s little darling.” She does not have a bad relationship with her son but he receives “no discipline or clear cut parameters [from her].” (yahoo) She supports his affiliation with the gang and says “He is just,…very loyal to his friends and neighborhood.” Even after he was expelled for fighting she did not feel that he was completely wrong she felt that he simply “…has taken his feelings for his barrio a little far…”(Horton 233) Garcia seems to adopt the “boys will be boys” attitude and does not want to believe that her son may be committing crimes or may be with the wrong crowd or may be in a gang. When he was arrested she insisted that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She could not accept that maybe he is doing wrong and that he should have known better than to be in such situations. She tells him to stay out of the fire but her words are not strong enough to keep him out. Although she is not a bad mother, she is not giving her son reason to stay out of gangs. Because of her loyalty to her neighborhood he has also adopted that loyalty and may have no other alternatives. Because she could no longer afford to live in a community where her son had more opportunities and alternatives her son joined the only other thing, the gangs. The story of Gayle Thomas Kary may be the saddest one because the she tried everything and when she finally thought she succeeded her son, Jamee, died as a result of gang violence. Kary did more than all the other mothers we talked of, she not only disciplined her son with rules she took action. When she caught her son cutting up soap to look like cocaine she tried to send him to his father. In hopes that a changed environment would change him. But three weeks after his father sent Jamee back because he could not control him. When he stole her car and was driving the wrong way on a one-way street the police only gave him a citation and sent him home. But Kary wanted more than that so she put him in her car and drove him to the police station in desperate plea for help. But all they told her was “There’s nothing we can do.” So again she was faced with this huge problem and she was alone. Kary continued to apply strict household rules to Jamie and he found gang life more attractive so he ran away from home. “Jamee started seeing these guys out there who were wearing expensive clothes and they didn’t have to go to school or ask their parents for money.” So to be like them he began to sell drugs. When he tired of life on the run he returned home and Kary still expected he abide by the rules. He always promised to. She tried reasoning with him telling him “…fast life goes fast.”(Horton 236) But he insisted that his wouldn’t because he sold good drugs. When he was arrested for possession of cocaine Kary was highly relieved but to her disappointment he was let out on probation. Kary refused to accept him and he was sentenced to juvenile hall and a youth camp. When he was released he had a probation officer Kary could turn to. Jamee was tired of life on the streets and his probation officer convinced him to turn himself into a youth facility away from Los Angeles. Finally things were turning around, “he really seemed to have changed. It was like the child I use to know.” Unfortunately when she let him go out with his friends to get something to eat he was shot and died. She did everything she could but still she could not save her son’s life. His death did not result from her action, rather it resulted from misfortune. Unlike the other two mothers Kary was really able to turn her son Jamee around. She finally made him understand and she can say that his death was an accident. He was not just a number or a statistic of children lost to gang violence. He made a difference because his mothers actions made a difference. She could not help the factors that made her son join the gang but she did everything she could to get him out. It is explained in FAQ Suburban Gangs that “about 75% of gang youths have the Missing Protector Factor (MPF) operative in their lives….The rupture/broken home acts as a magnifying glass on a youths rebellion…Frustration, anger, loneliness, isolation, etc. Become exaggerated, youths find those like themselves. ((Korea 10) Kary did all that she could but she could not take the place of her husband in Jamee’s life. His loneliness and frustration probably peaked when she sent him to his father and three weeks later he was sent back. Another factor that pushed Jamee into the gang is probably the fact that he had a learning disability. Although, he may have tried in school he probably felt that he could not measure up to Kary’s older son, who always met his mothers expectations. Joining a gang was easier than trying to measure up or succeed in school, after all his neighborhood it was the only thing to do. When the gangs are so prominent and available in society, keeping children out of gangs can be a difficult task. In the stories above we talked of three women who struggled with sons who were in gangs. Although, these mothers were loving they could not help that a major factor was absent from their sons lives, their fathers. The fathers may have been there but none seemed to take an active role in their children’s lives. Parents can make a difference in their children’s lives but many times they can not do it alone. Gangs are not only the problem of the parents it is a problem of the whole society. When society does not give youths an outlet other than the gang, joining the gang may be the only alternative. To prevent gangs society as well as parents have to work together to keep gangs out of neighborhoods and also to address the existing gang problem. It may be easier to blame the parents but the truth is the parents are not only the ones to blame. We have to realize that in a society where gangs are the neighborhood it could be our son, our daughter, our nephew, etc. that is lost in the gangs.
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