Ethnic Studies - Gangs Today's Term Paper

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" (2002)

The involvement in block gangs results in the adolescents being more likely to carry guns for two reasons:

(1) Protection and a deterrent to violence; and (2) a strong belief that the opposing block-gang members will carry them. (Mateu-Gelabert, 2002)

Guns are in addition to being used as "a currency for respect and a source of protection" intricately related to the business of drug dealing and therefore their use is for protection of markets. Mateu-Gelabert notes that the "presence and use of guns in the neighborhood affects the sense of safety among adolescents, increasing their sense of insecurity and further convincing them of their need for protection…" (Mateu-Gelabert, 2002)

These conditions are those which immigrants recently arriving have to adapt to and quickly because the "block gang reality is their new environment." (Mateu-Gelabert, 2002) Mateu-Gelabert relates that new arrivals are referred to as "hicks" and that the inability of these individuals in fitting in and adapting to the new country results in them becoming easy targets and the result is that they are easy to victimize. Furthermore, since these individuals are many times not accepted by the gangs the requirement is that they form their own groups and this means "findings their own resources for backup and methods of developing networks with those who are similarly labeled." (2002) Parents relate viewing New York as much less safe than the Dominican Republic for the reasons as follows:

(1) Neighbors are unknown here and there is lack of trust among them, while in the Dominican Republic neighbors are personally known to one another. People feel they can trust and rely on neighbors for help;

(2) There are more weapons on the streets of New York;

(3) There are gangs in New York; and (4) There is increased violence due to drug markets in New York. (Mateu-Gelabert, 2002)

Mateu-Gelabert (2002) conclude by stating that in order to prevent these immigrant adolescents from joining violent peer groups it is necessary that safe environments are provided to these adolescents which allows them to adapt to the new life in the United States without having to turn to these groups for safety.

II. Transnational Criminal Organizations and Gangs in Southern California

The work of Kay Kei-ho Pih and KuoRay Mao (nd) entitled: "Transnational Criminal Organizations, Gangs and Contractors: The Social Organization of Taiwanese Gangs in Southern California" reports the examination of the "organizational structure and operations of Taiwanese organized crime and youth gangs in Southern California." The findings in the study report that in contradiction to the criminal conspiracy claims and the La Cosa Nostra model, "these criminal groups are largely discrete local Taiwanese youth gangs operating as largely independent economic units." (Pih and Mao, nd) Stated as the primary function of these groups is their seeking of financial gain and through the means of illicit and legitimate trade and stated as absent among these groups are "…rigid organizational structures, transnational connections, control and command from the indigenous Taiwanese criminal organizations." (Phi and Mao, nd)

It is reported that narcotics trafficking along with human smuggling and trafficking and transborder money laundering are believed to be under the monopoly of these transnational criminal organizations and it is reported that findings of Homan (2003) and Mahamann (2003) include the linkages of these criminal organizations to terrorist networks. Two primary criminal organizations which have gained prominence both in Taiwan and the U.S. are those of:

(1) the United Bamboo; and (2) the Four Seas. (Pih and Mao, nd)

There are stated to be four major subpopulations with in the Ethnic Chinese population in Southern California:

(1) Mainland Chinese;

(2) Taiwanese;

(3) Hong Kong Chinese and (4) Chinese from other Southeast Asian Countries. (Pih and Mao, nd)

These groups are stated to share a common ethnic identity and culture "on the surface" however "regional differences created substantial cultural and social diversity amongst various subpopulations." (Pih and Mao, nd) the divisions are stated to be as follows:

(1) Mainland Chinese -- refers to individuals who migrated form the People's Republic of China;

(2) Taiwanese -- from the Republic of China (Taiwan);

(3) Hong Kong Chinese -- originate form the former British Colony and now the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, China (HKSAR); and (4) Chinese descendents in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Other South East Asia countries -- these migrated to the U.S. during the late 1970s and 1980s. (Pih and Mao, nd)

Pih and Mao relate that since these groups are characterized by "regional, political and cultural" differences that each of these four groups "developed their own communities with distinguishable cultural identities." (nd) it has been reported by the FBI, DEA, BICE and the State Department that the United Bamboo is heavily involved in narcotics trade, human smuggling, extortion, and other serious threats to national security." (Pih and Mao, nd)

Reported is the study of Mark (1997) which is stated to have "…chronicled the emergence of Chinese youth gangs in Oakland's Chinatown. These youth gangs were typically spontaneously formed by immigrant youths with little organizational history and affiliation with established criminal organizations. Immigrant youths from China and Hong Kong, with very little social and individual capital in the economically depressed Oakland Chinatown formed street gangs to gain protection from other ethnic gangs and to extort money from local business owners." (Pih and Mao, nd)

Furthermore it is stated in the work of Mark 1997) that the Oakland "Tongs" were found to have "…only recruited youth gangs in order to control subsequent gang violence in Chinatown. The tongs provided local youth gangs with illegitimate employment and financial opportunities as enforcers at gambling dents. In fact, local tongs in Oakland later turned victim to the local youth gangs." (Pih and Mao, nd)

Phi and Mao conclude by stating that future research should direct its focus on the "social and cultural environment that engender gangs and gang members, the nature and extent of criminal acts and economic activities, and direct comparison of different ethnic gangs and their members." (Pih and Mao, nd) Pih and Mao relate that their study demonstrated that the view of gangs as being "…strictly illegal or deviant enterprises could be constraining in gaining a full comprehension on gangs, gang activities, gang members, and the illicit market. An economic and network approach towards gangs and gang activity could potentially yield further meaningful knowledge." (Pih and Mao, nd)


The ethnographic studies examined in this report have demonstrated that while many members of adolescents youths are involved in 'gangs' that this activity for the most part is geared toward protection and this is true of adults who adhere to the demands of the 'gang' activity in their city of town. As shown in the study of 'El-Dorado' a New York City neighborhood youth violence is many times begun from simple confrontations of youth who enter these confrontations for the purpose of 'respect' and escalate to the use of guns and other weapons. The problem is identified in the foregoing studies reviewed as the failure of neighborhoods to provide a place that is safe for these adolescents to grow properly during this critical life stage.


There is a critical need for much more in the way of research which examines specifically the nationwide impact that treating young adolescents as criminals due to their perceived status as a 'gang member' has upon the future of American society. Specifically there is a need for research that seeks to determine how the provision of a safe neighborhood to these individuals is in enabling to free them from their need to be gang-related individuals.


Year after year in the United States a new group of adolescent individuals enter into the American society with their only point of reference being that of the hierarchy of the gangs ruling the city blocks where these individuals were formulating their own sense of self-identity which they take forward with them into the American society. Certainly, the provision of safe neighborhoods is still part of the American dream -- or indeed is it?


Mateu-Gelabert, Pedro (2002) Dreams, Gangs, and Guns: The Interplay Between Adolescent Violence and Immigration in a New York City Neighborhood. Vera Institute of Justice. National Development Research Institute, Inc. April 2002. Online available at:

Chaiken, Marcia R. (2000) Violent Neighborhoods, Violent Kids. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. March 2000. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs -- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Online available at:

Hunt, Geoffrey P., and Laidler, Karen Joe (2001) Alcohol and Violence in the Lives of Gang Members. National Institute of Justice Report. Online available at:

Mason, Cheryl L., Klein, Malcolm W and Sternheimer, Karen (2002) Homicide in Los Angeles: An Analysis of the Different Character of Adolescent and Other Homicides. March 2002. Online available at:

Pih, Kay Kei-ho and Mao,…[continue]

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