Racial Divide: Gang Wars Among White and Latin American Adolescents

Categories: West Side Story


In the context of 1960s, chain gangs and gang wars are prevalent between Latin and White American adolescents. For the reason that the White American adolescents despise and discriminate against the Latin Americans (particularly the Puerto Rican race), the Whites resort to bully the minorities and they even ostracize the Latin Americans by depriving them of their rights to use recreation places like the street’s basketball court, food houses, and the like upon believing that the White Americans are the most superior and the better race than the Latin Americans; and in so doing, the White Americans perceive and believe that should not mingle with those inferior and minority race (such that of the Latin Americans as an example) who were different from them (Brian 2005).

Moreover, in this movie directed in 1961 by Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise entitled: West Side Story, the conflict between the two opposing races namely the White and the Latin Americans was further described through presentation of some prevailing scenarios that the Latin Americans unjust encounter and experience with the White Americans.

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Body The West Side Story is a movie adapted from Broadway’s musicale. It was an adaptation of the infamous Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet (UAPI 2009).


Starred by Natalie Wood as “Maria,” Richard Beymer as “Tony,” and George Chakiris as “Bernardo,” the rest of supporting characters of the film includes: Russ Tamblyn as “Riff,” Rita Moreno as “Anita,” Simon Oakland as “Lieutenant Schrank,” Ned Glass as whom they call “Doc,” William Bramley (as the notorious police of the street) named, “Officer Krupke,” Tucker Smith as “Ice,” Tony Mordente as “Action,” Eliot Feld as the “Baby John,” and lastly, David Winters, as the one who portrayed the character of “A-Rab (Shulman 1961).

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” The Plot of the West Side Story The Movie West Side Story was depicted in the life of the citizens of the White and Latin Americans living in the 1950’s in Manhattan streets of the United States. Read why vandalism happen

A division was clearly evident as it was created and recognized by the adolescents of the east coast and west coast of Manhattan. The setting begins in the mentioned streets of Manhattan as a self-gratifying and self-centered musical song was sung by the Jets (the name for the White Americans’ gang and clique). Throughout the song sung by the Jets, the Puerto Ricans/Latin American adolescent gang led by Bernardo were discriminated and ostracized. First instance was when a fruit held by one of the Sharks (the name of the Latin adolescent Americans)--it was abruptly grabbed by another member of the Jets without consent and respect to the quiet Latino. Moreover, the Latin Americans/ Puerto Ricans were mostly driven away and out of establishments and public leisure places.

It was evident in the entire film that the height of discrimination and prejudice occurred in the late 1950s to early 1960s and it was shown how the Latinos were mostly bullied by the White Americans (Dirks 1961). The setting of the West Side Story is at the basketball court of Manhattan. Even if the scenario in the court, it was obvious that the Latin Americans were discriminated as they were not favored to play in the same court with the White Americans. It was evident however, that there was a rival even in basketball for the two different races. Furthermore, a representative member of the Jets (White American adolescents) vandalized a wall and wrote: “Sharks stink! Upon catching this adolescent in the act, the Sharks saw what the White American adolescent did and so they chased after him and the riot between the White and the Latin Americans began (Howe 2003).

The Sharks (East side) and the Jets (West side)

A hot-tempered and authoritative cop was assigned in monitoring the activities of the two distinct groups, The Sharks and Jets. The cop’s name was Officer Krupke, played by the actor William Bramley. Officer Krupke’s major task and obligation is to control and to minimize the rate of crime and therefore maintain peace and order in the streets of Manhattan. Meanwhile, the Jets (West side) were preoccupied in praising themselves with all pride and self-centered egoism. According to the Jets, they walk tall as they consider themselves the kings of the streets in Manhattan.

The Jets perceive that the east side, Sharks (the Latin Americans) were a threat to their dream of being the king of the streets, in so doing, the Jets consisting of the White Americans just would not stop throwing mock at the Latinos and drive them away wherever the Jets hang out. Further, the Sharks or the Latin Americans led by Bernardo just kept themselves mum at a time just to keep their group away from trouble. However their threshold of patience was reached at a certain point of them when Bernardo was mocked by the cop, Officer Krupke himself—showing that he was in favor of the White Americans. In this case, Bernardo decided he would stand up for his group and race and they decided to fight in defense of those Jets and other White Americans who interfere with their freedom and right of peace (RC 2008).

Upon Bernardo’s (leader of the Sharks in west side) and his group’s implicit decision to fight for their right of freedom, respect, and peace in Manhattan, they resort to fight with the Jets in a dance showdown. From that dance, the difference of the two cultures was shown in terms of their specialties in music genre: the Latinos were good dancers of boogie, salsa, twist, and cha-cha, whereas for the white Americans, they are good dancers but not as good and as creative dancers as the Latin Americans. During the dance showdown, two eyes met as if they were magnetized to notice each other inspite of the numerous Sharks and Jets dancing on the floor.

The two love birds - Maria  and Tony .

Maria (a Puerto Rican/ Latin American woman) fell in love at first sight with Tony ( a member of the Jets, a white American) during the first dance showdown between the White Americans and the Latin American adolescents. Further, the dance showdown halted as soon as Bernardo (Maria’s brother) noticed the undesirable scene. Bernardo obviously did not want his sister to fall in love with a White American especially with belonging in their opponent Jets (Shulman 1961). In the next scene of the film, the West side Jets claim they have departed the social norm that is why they are anti-social and juvenile delinquents.

According to the songs they sing, they need help and they could not be blamed for their behavior since each one of them have their issues and problems in their families. Most of them were misunderstood and belonging in the broken family set-up. At the end of their song, they address officer Krupke (RC 2008). The climax of this move is when the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks became intense up to the point that both parties decided to pick a fight and end their rival in duel. ON the other hand, Maria (Bernardo’s sister and Tony’s girlfriend) secretly meet with Tony even she knows that it is dangerous for the both of them. Since Tony was madly in love with Maria, he took the risk and courted Maria. However, Maria requested and pleaded her Tony to try to stop the war between the two groups.

Tony, hesitant at first for the difficult request of Maria, agreed to do his best and try to stop the fight as soon as possible (Shulman 1961). The West Side Story: A grand slam receiver of Academy Awards Having been released by the United Artists in 1961, the West side story gained praise and at the same time critiques from the viewers and it also achieved the title of: “the 2nd highest grossing movie” in 1961. The West side story received a total of ten Academy awards and it achieved several nominations and recognitions in the United States. This award winning movie, West Side Story achieved success in depicting the current existing culture of the Americans (both for the White and Latin Americans) during the 1960’s.

The "West Side Story" awards

The West side story achieved several honors and Academy awards namely for the following categories:

  • for Best Picture, considering Robert Wise is the producer;
  • Best for Supporting Actor played by George Chakiris as “Bernardo;”
  • Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno who portrayed the role of “Anita;”

another Academy award for the film’s Best Art Direction category considering the aspects of the right choice of set color and design, claimed by Victor Gangelin and Boris Leven;

Best in Cinematography category: good choice and quality for the film’s color which induces the movie’s theme, claimed by Daniel Fapp;

  • another award of Best in Costume Design for Irene Sharaff;
  • Best in Directing for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins;
  • Best Academy award in Film Editing for Thomas Stanford;
  • Award for the film’s Original Music Score and of the Musical Picture credited to Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin, Sid Ramin, and Irwin Kostal;
  • and last but not the least, the West side story also gained the Academy award Academy for Best Sound as credit to Fred Hynes (Todd-AO SSD) and Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD) (Howe 2003).

In addition, the West side story achieved further recognitions, awards, and nominations were the result of the cooperation of the cast and those working staff behind the scenes.

In 1997, the film was promoted by the United States Library of Congress (USLC) as it has been considered as a film that is being "culturally significant" and it was chosen to be preserved in the collection of the National Film Registry. Similarly, the West side story achieved further awards and recognition as Best in Writing and Screenplay based on material from another medium, as credited to Mr. Ernest Lehman; another received award by this film is the Academy Award for Brilliant Achievements in the Art of Choreography on Film credit to and for Jerome Robbins (one of the directors of the West side story). Furthermore, the west side story achieved 1998 American Film Institution Recognition (AFI) as rating number 41 out of 100 movies in the United States.

In 2002, it also gained American Film Institution Recognition (AFI) as rated number three in the Passions of the United States for 100 years. The songs used in the West side story also top rated the charts especially for the songs: Somewhere (rated number 20 for 100 years), also for the song America (rated number 35 for 100 years), and also including the song, Tonight (rated number 59 for 100 years) consecutively as recorded in 2004 charts. In 2006, it achieved recognition of100 Years of Musicals rating number 2 from AFI and apparently, the West side story achieved the recognition of 100 Years for 100 Movies in its tenth (10th) Anniversary Edition rating number 51 from AFI, as put into account in year 2007 (Howe 2003).

The soundtrack of "West Side Story"

The Soundtrack used in the West Side Story In order for a great multi-million dollar winning movie to become possible, the choice of songs as background music for the movie’s soundtrack plays a very important factor in determining the success of the movie. Originally, the West side story was a musical created by Johnny Richards. In 1961, West side story was adapted and recorded by the Stan Kenton Orchestra as musical collection jazz orchestra using Bernstein scores. However the Stan Kenton Orchestra’s version was viewed and evaluated by the film directors of the West side story, it was the different version of musicale from the musicale included in the ongoing film.

In fact, upon seeing the Stan’s orchestra jazz version, the directors claim that they should have used Stan’s version as soundtrack of the film but it was too late and a new and different version was created by the song directors to be used in the West side story. Although The Stan Kenton’s version was not used as the basis of musicale background of the film, it gained a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Recording of a large group in 1962 (Shulman 196). This is not saying that West side story was free from flaws and considered therefore as perfect, but it was generally agreed by majority that the film was a good and timely musicale reflecting the current cultural norms and values of the Americans in 1960s. In manner of clothing, perception of power, basis for conflict, the prevalent prejudice and discrimination, and the diverse nature of language, music, and dance steps.

The difference between the White and Latin Americans

The difference between the White and Latin Americans was explicitly described and presented in the portrayal of the main and supporting characters of the movie (RC 2008). Characteristics of the Characters in West side story Described as “New York’s classic of the 1960s,’’ West side story was astoundingly studded with magnificent and good starts who sang the songs like Tonight, Maria, I Feel Pretty, America, Officer Krupke, A Place for Us, and I Have Love (citation). Although Maria was criticized for delivering some lines the songs with uncertain accent, the musicale was a success for its overall success in portraying the life and culture of the adolescent, White and Latin Americans in 1960s.

The characters of the West side story played a major role in making the film on of the best musicale created in the United States. First and foremost, Rita Moreno (girlfriend of Bernardo) and the one who played the role of “Anita,” delivered a great portrayal of her character in the movie. Anita, as a Latin American, was a graceful and flexible dancer, and at the same time, was good singer as she sang some songs in the film. Similarly, Russ Tamblyn, who played the role of Rif, was the persuasive leader of the Westside Jets and portrayed his character fairly as well. Having been playing the role of Maria, Natalie Wood portrayed her character as an innocent-looking, young, and a graceful dancer and singer, Maria.

The character Maria fell in love with Tony, the member of the Jets gang in the west side. On the other hand, George Chakiris playing the role of Bernardo, as the brother of Maria and leader of the Sharks in the East side, portrayed the role of a discriminated leader of a minority group of the Latino adolescents in Manhattan. Bernardo could be quiet and soft spoken at times but he has the tendency for aggression to assert himself and represent his group in defending their race against discrimination and prejudice of the white Americans. Most and the rest of the characters exerted their best performance level in portraying their roles for the West side story (UAPI 2009). The Significance and Recommendation of the West side story

Thought the West side story was just presented in such a simple way, it successfully addressed the important issues and problems in the society existing long, long time ago at the onset of 1960s and still exists nowadays. The social issues of family set up of the adolescents (particularly as sung by the Jets), the lack of attention parents and school personnel who should aid the personality development of the disturbed adolescents, the racial issues, conflict, discrimination and prejudice existing among culturally-diverse communities, increased the awareness of the viewers (who may be a parent, a policymaker, or district guidance counselor) and so, they could devise ways and create programs for the benefit of the currently growing adolescents.

The culture describe in the film

Even if the culture describe in the film was during the 1960’s it is obvious that discrimination and prejudice is still occurring in some communities in the United States; in so doing, this film may serve as a guide for the adolescents and the adults to address and provide solutions to current problems in the society and its members—especially for the benefit of the adolescents who are in pressing need of guidance, understanding, attention, and advice from the adults. In such case, the West side story is must-seen (UAPI 2009). Indeed, the West side story is a re-tell or a remake and a musical version of the popular novel/movie Romeo and Juliet (citation).

It is a musical drama with soul-inspiring and enervating song lines sung by the stars of the film. Just like the tragic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet, the West side story ended with a tragic accident of killing the major characters in the movie namely Bernardo and Tony. Maria was left alone by her two loved ones due to the hatred built between the Jets and the Sharks of Upper West side Manhattan, New York City (RC 2008). Compared between the rival between Montague and Capulet families of Romeo and Juliet, the gangs Jets and Sharks hate could not stand each other as well. And so the gang wars between the two different races began (war existed between the Latin and White Americans in Manhattan, New York).

Thus, the creation of the West side story was just in time to support the cinema/ silver screen in competition with the shows on television popularized during the 1960s (UAPI 2009). The Staff behind the Scenes of the West side story The film version of the West side story was based from the book of Arthur Laurents having the same title. Further, the musicale collection based from the collection of musical scores of Leonard Bernstein. The lyrics of the songs sung by the stars in the West side story were composed by Stephen Sondheim. Moreover, the choreography and the musical concept were contributed of Jerome Robbins. Further, the screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman. Producers of this film were Walter Mirisch, Robert Wise, and Saul Chaplin respectively.

The creative mind of Daniel Fapp

The cinematography on the other hand, was powered by the creative mind of Daniel Fapp. Color for the film was also powered by Technicolor and thus, the film itself was taken in Panavision 700. This movie was astoundingly directed two of the greatest directors of the era: namely, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (UAPI 2009). The Relationship of the West side story to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet The West side story was indeed a vibrant film which is full of life among the characters. Further the Broadway musicale style of the 1961 film written by Laurents and directed by Robbins was a “hit” top-notching the charts of the best movies in 1960s in the silver screen.

Replicating the tragic, Shakespearean novel, Romeo and Juliet, the West side story has the same characteristics of the play Romeo and Juliet since the lovers in the story, Tony and Maria attempted to risk the danger of having a relationship despite of their difference in their races. Maria was Puerto Rican and Tony was a White American making them members of the two opposite races (UAPI 2009). The two opposing and distinct races and ethnicities, White and Latin Americans were the focus of this movie. In order to present the differences in culture of the White and Latin Americans, the movie was able to show the attitude of White, European adolescents towards the Latin, Puerto Ricans. Further, the story was presented by producing the story using a ground-breaking, exhilarating musicale with an astounding well-performed choreography by the various outstanding artists.

The emerging conflict

The West side story poses the emerging conflict present among the inhabitants of the Upper West Side Manhattan in New York City during the 1960s. The movie poses the problems of the adolescents in engaging in criminal chain and gang wars which obstructs the peace and order in the community of Upper West side New York. Moreover, in order to present such existing culture and social problems of the United States in 1960, the entire movie was taken and shot in the streets of Upper West side New York City and in Manhattan. However, some of the parts and scenes in the movie were shot and recorded on the improvised sets and studios prepared by the floor directors (UAPI 2009).

In comparison of the West side story in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Montague family came to be the counterparts of the White American Jets in the West side story. Similarly, the Capulet family was the counterpart of the Puerto Rican/ Latin American Sharks. Relatively, Bernardo’s abduction of Riff in a gang fight (Tony’s elder brother), simulates the similar scenario of the tragic accident of Mercutio (Romeo’s friend in Romeo and Juliet) being killed by Tybalt, who appears to be Juliet’s cousin. As a result, Romeo resorted to kill Tybalt as well as a revenge for the death of his friend Mercutio. Apparently, the same related scenario of revenge in a fight simulates the scene where Tony abducted Bernardo after stabbing Tony’s elder brother, Riff.

Furthermore several characters in the west side story have their counterpart or equivalent characters that portrayed similar roles in Romeo and Juliet and these are the following: Anita in the West side story portraying the “Nurse” (Juliet’s confidante in Romeo and Juliet) and Doc in the West side story portraying the role of “Friar Lawrence” in Romeo and Juliet novel. But it is to put into account that the tragic suicide of Romeo and Juliet at the end of the story was not the same with the ending of the West side story since Maria, after the death of her beloved Tony, did not kill herself but she just furiously pointed the blame to the pointless, mad desire of the Shark and Jets gang (citation). Critiques argue for the West side story that the movie was a similar recreation of other classic hit musicales like the “Gypsy” and the “Dolls. However it was interpreted that way by critiques and viewers

The West side story is considered as one of the America’s masterpiece production in the global silver screen. The West side story was a hit for it was a divergence from the current popular culture of movies in the 1960s. The unique musicale of the West side story discussed social problems in the United States: gang wars, racial discrimination, juvenile delinquencies and family problems through the songs sung by the adolescents, Jets in the entire movie (Zoglin 2009). Salient points to consider and some important scenarios in the West side story Focusing on Maria and Tony’s love affair, they seem to risk what danger could happen the moment the other members of the Sharks and Jets the get to know the forbidden relationship of Maria and Tony.

When the lovers hear the arrival of Anita (Bernardo’s girlfriend) Tony quickly escaped his way out of the house and he said Maria that they should meet at the drug store owned by Doc to elope and get married. However, Anita accidentally caught the presence of Tony quickly escaping the house. Anita was startled and reacted negatively at first but she listened when Maria explained how she loved Tony so much. Inspite of Anita’s grievance over Bernardo’s death she resorts to help Maria arrange their plan of eloping and getting married. Moreover, Anita gave Maria a hint that Chino of the Sharks is after Tony to kill him with a pistol (Zoglin 2009). As the officer, Lt. Schrank arrived at Maria’s house he questioned Maria for the riot/gang wars that recently occurred between the Sharks and the Jets. Maria was careful enough for covering up Tony in order to protect him from the further questioning and investigation of the officer. Maria lured the Lt. Schrank by sending Anita as an errand to Doc’s drugstore to buy a medicine to relieve the pain she is feeling in her head. Such action of Anita was for the purpose of delivering a message to Tony at the drugstore that Maria could not come and meet her for Maria was held as a detainee a under investigation of Lt. Schrank. However, upon entering the drugstore, Anita did not expect that she was going to be mocked by the White American, Jets.

Not only this, the Jets tried to harass her as an insult to her being a “Puerto Rican. ” Maria was disrespected by the rest of the Jets not giving her a chance to deliver Maria’s message for Tony. In so doing, the circumstance really made Anita really furious. Consequentially, Anita distorted the real message that she has to deliver (that Maria was detained due to Lt. Schrank’s queries) and she imparted that her message was to tell Tony that Maria was shot dead by Chino with a gun. The chaos was stopped by Doc as he yelled to them inside the drugstore and also, for the Jets to stop harassing and making fun of the Puerto Rican lady, Anita. The jets stopped and listen to the old man (Doc).

However, Doc went down to the basement and checked out the hiding Tony. Further, he relayed Anita’s untrue, bad news to Tony that Maria was shot dead by Chino. So, Tony abruptly ran his way up and out of the drugstore’s basement and then he searched for Chino with desolation and hopelessness and how he’d wish that Chino would kill him as well (Zoglin 2009). While searching for Chino, Tony saw Maria on the road. The lovers were so happy to see each other again especially Tony when he thought that his beloved Maria was already dead. Suddenly, Chino appeared in the scene and shoot Tony. Maria was so startled as her lover fell on his knees and landed on Maria’s arms.

Maria, trying to comfort her dying lover sang a song for him so that he will not be afraid. The lovers affirmed that if their love was not possible here, they should continue their love somewhere place as they should see each other again in their next life and in the other world. The White Jets and the Puerto Ricans Sharks ran towards the death scene together with the cops (including Officer Krupke in the scene). Maria was infuriated with the mere presence of officer Krupke and she yelled at him not to even dare to come closer the dead body of his beloved Tony. Maria took the gun from the suspect Chino and there she pointed the gun ate everyone: the Sharks and the Jets.

She blamed that the death of Riff, Bernardo, and Tony was the fault of the both gangs and the result to all their selfish hatred. So for the reason that Officer Krupke was hindered by Maria to get even closer to Tony, some of the members of the Jets and Sharks took the initiative in carrying Tony’s corpse. After the tragic killings of the leaders of the Jets and Sharks in the streets of Manhattan, New York, the gang war between the two gangs was considered over (Zoglin 2009). Realism was shown and achieved in the West side story since the songs used in the entire movie were a mixture of English and Spanish songs. In order to reflect the underlying multicultural theme of the story, the songs were carefully selected and very well performed by the actors/singers.

Together jam-packed with a set of dance steps, pirouette, leaps in its choreography, the overall mood of the movie was an exciting one (citation). The West side story was indeed a must-seen movie since it is very substantial and culturally significant. In order for people to understand the nature of conflict in different groups, and the reason for discrimination and prejudice, the West side story successfully presented the conflicts occurring among the adolescents resulting to their behavior problems and maladjustment in the society. In the form of musicale of songs and dances, the message of the film was carried out through the innovative and creative performances of the carefully-selected artists of the film (Zoglin 2009).

The rewrite version of the West side story

Modified by Ernest Lehman, the rewrite version of the West side story had remained a striking and filled with energetic and enthusiastic songs reflected from its lyrics. Furthermore, the book version of the West side story play was containing songs which are mostly composed by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. The talented directors of the West side story are Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Considering Robert Wise’s expertise I the field of directing, the collaboration with the professional dance choreographer, Jerome Robbins was a very intelligent decision and resulted to make the movie a real big hit in the silver screen (Zoglin 2009).

Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins respectively gained recognition for the West side story. However, Jerome Robbins was pulled out of the West side story project since he was frequently the reason for procrastination of the shoots, budget-exceeding production rates, and also, Robbin’s frequent disagreement with Wise was a reason for the rest of the staff to remove him from the direction of the West side story. Robbins’ ideals for the completion of the West side story were becoming overwhelmingly expensive just for his wish to make the movie close to perfection. Four of the dynamic dance steps which Robbins choreographed in the West side story were the following: “Something’s coming,” “Prologue,” “Cool,” and “America. ”

The West side story is also focused on the love story of two different people having different races. However love was the foundation, Tony and Maria were separated due to hatred and violence. Tony was Maria’s first love. She loved the man inspite of the fact that they were belonging in different race and that her brother and their group of minority Puerto Rican gang (Sharks) not in good terms with the White American gang (Jets). When Maria first set her eyes with Tony, she fall (right then and there) madly in love with Tony and vice versa; these first encounter of Maria and Tony happened during the dance showdown between the Jest and the Sharks.

Tony’s on the other hand, who was previously preoccupied with the activities with his gang in the West side has diverted his attention to Maria when he fell in love with her. However, considering the obvious fact that Maria’s brother, Bernardo was a leader of the Sharks and his prospect lover Tony was member of the opponent Jets, Maria still persists to pursue her forbidden and controversial love affair with Tony. Maria knows that Bernardo would never approve of her love affair with Tony for Bernardo knows how cruel, prejudicial, and discriminating the White American race was. Meanwhile, Jets Sharks just would not stop claiming right over the west side streets of New York for their gang’s territory.

At first, the Sharks could be observed that they do not have any intention of keeping the streets to their own, but the Jets just would not stop bullying and discriminating, and driving them away wherever they see them. The Sharks think, especially Bernardo (as their leader) that this was too much and they believe they deserve a right to whatever the White Americans enjoy doing and hanging around. So what the Sharks did is to engage in a fight with the Jets most of the time to defend themselves from the unjust dominance of the Jets. Consequentially, the rival lead to a fight between the Jets and the Sharks and this caused the death of Riff, Bernardo, and Tony as well (Zoglin 2009). Maria requested Tony if he could no something to stop the mad fight between the two gangs.

At first, Tony hesitated to give in to Mari’s request but because he loves her so much and he would love to marry her, he agreed with Maria and he said he would do everything he can to stop the war between the two gangs. The sad thing is, Tony did not expect that his brother Riff was going to be killed in the gang war. So, to avenge the sudden death of his brother in Bernardo’s hands, Tony resorts to abduct Bernardo as well due to the sudden rage of his emotions (Zoglin 2009). The 1960s showed a great importance to the subculture created by adolescent Americans. Although the Americans are a culture in itself, it has different influence of subcultures branching out and one example of this subculture is the Puerto Ricans.

The multicultural society of the gangs

The multicultural society of the gangs among the adolescent White Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York, West side community was emerged during the 1960’s where gang wars chain gangs had become eminent and widely spread in the local news (Zoglin 2009). The West side story was indeed an enticing film by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Similar to the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, the west side story successfully addressed the social problem of juvenile delinquency and discrimination in the multicultural society of the United States during the 1950s to 1960s. Relatively, the love story of Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) is similar to the love story of Romeo and Juliet that the lovers crossed boundaries despite their difference in ethnicity, race, and culture. This shows that the heart does not choose the one to love.

For Tony, It does not matter if Maria is a Puerto Rican, discriminated and a member of their enemy, Sharks. Same for Maria: she does not care if Tony is a white American, a mocker, discriminating, and a member of the Jets gang which is the opponent of Maria’s brother, Bernardo. The west side story was able to accomplish a creative, upbeat, and ardent choreography of dance steps and overwhelming lyrics of the songs sang by the characters in the West side story (Zoglin 2009). This invigorating and elating film is dazzling with the combination of songs and dance steps interpreting the lifestyle and culture of adolescent Americans in the United States during the 1960s.

It was plausible to the extent that the prevalent gang wars among the diverging culture of the Puerto Ricans against the White Americans was portrayed in such a way that it seems less violent and therefore, there was no violent bloodshed in the movie. However, there was no need for blood-shedding, serious fight in the entire film in order to present how serious the outcome would be for engaging in gang wars of the New York streets (Zoglin 2009). Officer Shrank warned both the Jets and the Sharks to avoid fighting on his streets or else, Officer Shrank threatened the boys that he would beat the boys up. After the encounter with Officer Schrank and Officer Krupke, Riff led his group to sing a song which is praise for the Jets.

The Jets despise the Sharks for they were a threat to the streets in which the Jets wants to own. He persuaded the rest of his Jets members to perceive that their gang is the most strenuous, invincible, and superior team and that they deserve the right to everything especially in the streets of the Upper West side New York. Riff was very anxious to control the spreading volume of the Sharks since it was a tendency that the Sharks might dominate the streets of New York, should the latter multiply its members. In so doing, Riff persuaded his gang mates that they should fight against the Sharks/Puerto Ricans and kill them if they have to so as to control their proliferation in the streets.

The one who should win the fight would be declared as the winner and therefore, would have the right to dominate in the Manhattan streets of New York. Moreover, Riff resorts to fighting their rival gang, Sharks with deadly weapon like a dagger for instance (Zoglin 2009). Overall, the story shows that there is both a similarity and difference in the culture of the Puerto Ricans and the White Americans. Though they are different in race, color, and ethnicity, both races was shown to have the same interests like in dancing, singing, basketball, and favorite hang-outs. Because of such similarity and interests, the White American Jets, led by Riff was pissed off upon always seeing the Puerto American Sharks wherever they go and spend their time.

Further, it was explicitly shown that the Jets are more confident than the Puerto Ricans since they are the majority of inhabitants or citizens in New York during the 1960s (Zoglin 2009). From a challenge to a dance night out with the Sharks, the Jets just would not stop pissing the Sharks and driving their rivals away so that the Sharks would not be a threat to their desire of keeping their authority and ownership of the streets of New York west side. But what happened in the dance was overlapped with the instance when Maria and Tony saw each other and locked each other’s eyes for long time as if they are not seeing anybody but the two of them. Bernardo caught the both of them in the act that is why he did not decide to finish the dance; hence, he took his sister’s hands and pulled her off the dance floor (citation).

Because of pride, the Jets boosted their egos by singing themselves song of somewhat victorious melodic songs as if they were the superior race and the others are just second class. Riff (the current leader of the Jets) decided that Tony should be the one to coordinate the challenge of the Jets to the Sharks. At first, Tony was hesitant to give in to the request. However later on, Tony agreed to tell the message to the Sharks. For the reason that Tony was once the leader of the gang since Tony was also a mastermind in co-founding the group of White Americans. On the other hand, Maria was conversing with Anita at a bridal shop where Maria is working.

Maria told Anita (Bernardo’s boyfriend), how much Maria loves Tony and that she explained to Anita that his brother Bernardo, should not be that too much, extreme protective of her (Zoglin 2009). Inspite of the distinct difference of the Puerto Ricans from the White Americans, the two divert gangs were shown to be enjoying themselves using their talents in dancing and singing which makes them similar in their interests. The gang members Sharks and Jets may have experienced conflict between their groups because of their overt difference. The majorities of the White Americans dislike the minorities of Puerto Ricans because the Whites believe and perceive that they are the strongest race, invincible, and therefore, they should walk tall and act like kings!


The West Side Story highlights the following scenarios which had occurred in the 1960’s: During the 1960’s, juvenile delinquencies are rampant among adolescents. Similarly, there is also prevalence of discrimination and prejudice among the White and Latin Americans. Puerto Ricans are disliked and bullied by the White Americans upon thinking that the White Americans are the superior race that should own the streets and that the Latin Americans, specifically the Puerto Ricans, have no right to be in places where the White American adolescents hang out and play. In so doing there were chain gang fights are everywhere.

Emerging in late 1950s and early 1960s, the streets of Manhattan had become a place where there is no peace and order due to the frequent gang wars that occur between the two distinct races of the Whites and the Puerto Rican adolescents. However, the love story of Maria and Tony having the opposite race shows that love does not choose the color, race, and ethnicity of a person as a basis of whom it should love.


Brian, Paul. 28 November 2005. Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story. 29 April 2009 Dirks, Tim. 1961. West Side Story. American Movie Classics Company LLC. 29 April 2009 <http://www. filmsite. org/wests. tml>. Howe, Matt. 03 April 2003. West Side Story Impresses. 29 April 2009 <http://www. time. com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1887470,00. html>.

Updated: Mar 22, 2023
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Racial Divide: Gang Wars Among White and Latin American Adolescents. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/west-side-story-new-essay

Racial Divide: Gang Wars Among White and Latin American Adolescents essay
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