Added to this is the challenge that the recidivism rates for gang members are significantly higher than non-gang members. According to Hughes (2006), "gang members were almost 3.5 times more likely than nongang members to get rearrested for a new crime. (...) (T)heir gang membership in and of itself (I.e., after statistically controlling for these other factors) also increased their odds of rearrest" (p. 200). Social instability also includes an increased incidence of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Gang membership has been associated with an earlier onset of sexual intercourse. Increased unsafe safe practices also plagues gang members of all ethnicities, including Mexican-American gangs. This leads to not only an increased chance of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, but also for early pregnancy or fathering a child. Morris et al. found that incarcerated youth gang members also more frequently reported suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (cited in "Youth violence," 1998). Long-term involvement with drugs, frequent incarceration, and continued exposure to violence effectively rules out stable work or family careers, according to Moore (2000).
Gang life for many Mexican-Americans, at first glance, appears to be an acceptable lifestyle alternative. In fact, given how embedded Mexican-American gangs can be in certain neighborhoods, due to their longevity lasting generations, it may appear to be the only lifestyle choice. In contrast to gangs of other ethnicities, Mexican-American gangs have a community familial aspect, due to the close-knit Hispanic community. This extended gang family is especially important when students fail in areas like education and feel like they really have no other viable options. However, this close-knit community still exists culturally, even without the existence of gangs, therefore it's truly not a benefit for Mexican-American community members.
Other benefits of belonging to Mexican-American gangs involve economic opportunities that individuals may feel are unavailable in their communities. Selling drugs, to prospective gang members, may appear to be the path to wealth and the accoutrement that accompany wealth. With this is also the perceived benefit of status and power. Yet that wealth, status and power are fleeting, given the illegal nature of their attainment, and can be taken away in an instant by law enforcement or an act of violence. Partying, women, and access to drugs is another benefit potential gang members may see to joining a gang; however, this often leads to one of the greatest disadvantages too.
Although access to illicit drugs may seem to be a benefit, the high rate of drug and alcohol abuse for gang members, especially Latino gang members, tells a different tale. Although many second and subsequent generation Mexican-Americans have been party to acculturation, gang activity, according to Miller et. al (2008), has a much greater impact on drug use and other risky behaviors than anything else. With a majority of gang members using drugs more than once a week, a figure four time higher than that of non-gang members, the gang lifestyle takes illegal recreational drug use and for many converts it to addiction, making what originally was perceived as a benefit a large detriment. Violence too is a significant disadvantage of being a gang member, as is social instability.
From the moment a gang member enters a gang, violence is a part of their way of life. Many gang induction ceremonies are based on ritualized violence. Whether it is part of drug dealing or ancillary to some other crime or simply violence conducted for the sake of violence, the reality is that gangs are becoming increasingly lethally violent and the mortality rates for gang members far out pace their non-gang member counterparts. It's difficult to enjoy any small benefits of being in a gang when an individual is severely injured, or worse, dead.
All of this leads to social instability, coupled with increased likelihood of being convicted of a crime, increased recidivism once convicted of a crime, increased chance of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, and increased chance of being a party to an unplanned pregnancy. All of these factors lead to the biggest disadvantage, the reduced likelihood of a gang member ever being able to enjoy a stable family environment or career. Although at first glance joining a gang may seem to offer a variety of benefits, the disadvantages that come with Mexican-American gang life outweigh the few benefits that are perceived.
de la Rosa, M. & Rugh, D. (2005). Onset of alcohol and other drug use among Latino gang members. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 23(2/3). Retrieved May 18, 2009, from SocINDEX.
Delgado, M. (2005). Latinos & Alcohol Use Abuse Revisited Ad. Binghamton: Haworth Press Inc.
Harris, M. (Feb 1994). Cholas, Mexican-American girls and gangs. Sex Roles, 30(3/4). Retrieved May 18, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier.
Huff, C.R. (2001). Gangs in America III. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Hughes, L.A. (2006). Studying Youth Gangs (Violence Prevention and Policy). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Miller, J., Miller, H., Ventura, H., Zapata, J., Zenong, Y. (Winter 2008). Mexican-American youth drug use and acculturation. Journal of Drug Issues, 38(1). Retrieved May 18, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier.
Moore, J. (Apr 2000). Latino gangs: A question of change. Justice Professional, 13(1). Retrieved May 18, 2009, from Business Source Complete.
Spergel, I.A. (1995). The Youth Gang Problem: A Community Approach. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.