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Changing Chicano Gangs: Acculturation, Generational Change, Evolution of Deviance or Emerging Underclass?


In this paper I will focus on changes between the 1950s and 1970s. Our data are drawn from a sample of men and women (157 persons in all) who were members of two major East Los Angeles gangs during their adolescence. Few researchers have considered gangs as long-lasting or quasi-institutionalized groups, but when we consider the differences between the two cohorts in family characteristics, behavior and values, at least three distinct interpretations are possible.

First, since the earlier gang members were largely children of Mexican immigrants and the parents of later members were born in the United States, we would expect the older cliques to be more "Mexican" and the younger, more acculturated. To some extent this also implies that the more 'Mexican' families may be more likely to be traditional.The younger ones may be more likely to be disorganized.

Second, it might be argued that the gang is a 'deviant," and hence socially isolated group,with its own subculture. As such, we might expect that deviant group subculture to evolve on its own.

Finally, it may be that today's gangs are developing into a fraction of an emergent underclass in these Chicano communities, parallel to developments in Black communities elsewhere in the nation (cf. Wilson 1987).

To deal with these interpretations we must first describe the major differences we found between older and younger cliques in three basic respects: (1) family background; (2) behavior and values relating to the gang; and (3) current status. Throughout this discussion, 'older members' will mean those cliques of the gang active in the 1950s. The "younger members" are those active in the 1970s.

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