November 7, 2000

Panel Discusses Latino Gangs

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An informational roundtable discussion regarding the nature of Latino gangs and their transnational experiences was held last night in the Latino Living Center in Class of ’22 Hall. The discussion drew attention to gangs in the United States and the ways they are recreated in Latin America.

The discussion, sponsored by the LLC, the Committee on United States/Latin American Relations, International Studies in Planning and the Cornell Latin American Studies Program, was proctored by Prof. Mary Jo Dudley, Latin American studies, Julio Joseph grad and Matthew Eisen.

Eisen is a member of Nueva Generacion XXI, “a youth movement committed to creating positive alternatives and holistic development within marginalized communities” of El Salvador.

“Every Friday a plane from the U.S. lands in El Salvador with deportees. These kids are lost in both countries and cultures and are forced to continue with their gang culture,” he said.

“Gangs are treated as a criminal issue,” Dudley said. Advocating further study of gang dynamics, Dudley added, “Let’s deal with why people are coming to gangs and what they get out of it.”

Espousing the concept of “empowerment,” Joseph said, “We must try to provide a voice to gang members. These gangsters are being ignored and that’s why they exhibit social deviance. The empowerment process sustains communities by pushing for social action for the common good.”

Commenting on external factors related to gang development, Eisen and Joseph supported the claim that a discriminatory society is partially at fault.

“Cops put everyone up against the wall,” Eisen said, referring to a common claim that the police forces in El Salvador are catalysts for violence. “It’s angering to see the types of discrimination El Salvadorian youths receive in their own country.”

The panelists briefly shifted focus to the significance of drugs in gang behavior and the potential effects of legalizing them.

“It’s not just about drugs. Legalization would alleviate some problems, but gangs are not just fighting for drugs. What about weapons and how people understand weapons in this society?” Dudley asked.

“Gun violence in Panama is very proliferate,” Joseph said. “Gangs ambush police officers, take their weapons and then murder them. That’s how powerful [gangs] are.”

In addition to arms accessibility, the question surrounding geographical demarcation lines between gang members is a key issue facilitating gang violence.

“Understanding how space is marked is very critical in understanding the nature of gangs. A lot of the people that couldn’t make it in school or in the professional world find a safe space when they’re in the their barrio. The struggle happens when you’re defending your spaces,” Dudley said.

After discussing discrimination, drugs and weapons, the panelists focused on the media and its effect on gang evolution.

“Our society promotes violence,” Joseph said, commenting on the media’s tendency to romanticize crime. “Movies like Menace II Society promote drug use and delinquency. Panamanian gangs embrace these movies,” he said.

Continuing to chastise the media for its indirect promotion and glamorization of crime, Eisen spoke out against the media’s tainted image of gang membership.

“We are in the process of exporting gangs. There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done in regard to the issue,” he said.


Students in the audience thought the discussion was informative.

“I’m from Los Angeles and I’ve been exposed to gangs. For people who didn’t know about gangs and their behaviors, this discussion was very helpful and full of information,” commented Maria Morales ’02.

“I think it was an informative event. These issues need to be discussed. Gang members lack alternatives in society,” said Juan Barahona grad.

Archived article by Sai Pidatala