deviance relates to the American Dream
In his book, Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., Luis J. Rodriguez uses his own experience and writing talents to tell the story of lives that are caught in the fire of bad luck. Children who happened to be born in some of the poorest neighborhoods of LA in the 1960’s, 70s or 80s, as Rodriguez, were condemned to contamination from the gang life that was going in the streets, around their homes, even creeping into their porches. The U.S. was marching on its way to become a world leader while huge urban areas like those of LA or Chicago were infested and ruled by a way of life that had little or nothing to do with the “American dream.” Prostitution, drugs, alcohol and extreme violence, were the four main driving forces of “progress” in the “barrios.” Life had little to no value as long as it did not fir into this landscape. This gangrene spread on the face of cities like LA or Chicago, covering huge areas an increasing in numbers to such an extent that police forces became completely powerless.
Rodriguez looks back on thirty years of his own disorderly, gang related life as well as forward, at his children and grandchildren and describes how little one could do to actually escape the fate of being born in a gangs controlled neighborhood. This richness of perspectives and deep involvement into what for most researchers remains a parallel world, gave his accounts the power of persuasion. One feels connected to the desperate father who is doing everything, even putting his own life in danger, to get his fugitive son back home in order to get a chance to sort things out together.
Rodriguez open his introduction to the new 2005 edition of his book with the following statement: “WHAT HAPPENED IN THE more than ten years since Always Running first hit the book stands? My son, Ramiro, for whom I wrote this book, is serving a 28-year prison sentence for three counts of attempted murder.” He goes on describing how in the same timeframe, lives of people he once knew from the neighborhoods he lived in, or those of their children or other relatives, ended miserably in prison, or just ended, either in gang related dealings or because of drug and alcohol abuse. He describes a world of insanity that appears to have infested those homes as if rats had spread the plague. Precisely as if living in a plague infested town or village, people born in the unfortunate neighborhoods gangs reigned over, were living in quarantine for most of their life. Rodrigues keeps going though, as hard it is to image going though such hardships, regaining and keeping one’s sanity. He publishes a new edition of this book in 2005 and he informs his readers about his hope for the better. One of the worst things happening to the low-income population in the U.S., “violence” is currently fought against with much more success than back in those black decades in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and it keeps reducing in size and intensity, he points out.
A life under the influence of a gang has a great deal to do with deviant behavior. The mental health of a young generation is at stakes when the environment if infested with deviant behavior. As many have thought or said when it comes to violence, no one is born with the wish to become a drug dealer or a prostitute or a terrorist. Besides his own personal example, Rodriguez describes his painful experience of having abandoned his two children from his first marriage, at the age when they most needed guidance and protection. They became easy prey to alcoholic and abusive stepfathers and what followed is imbalance. At one point in their youth, they became cases for psychiatric institutions.
Rodriguez is always going back and forth between his personal experiences or to those of people he came in contact with and the state the whole nation was in at different times, in order to connect the personal with the society as a whole. The reader is starting to get a better understanding of how one’s personal life projects on the rest of the society and how society can influence one’s personal life. As Dalton Conley is pointing out when speaking about his text book, “You May Ask Yourself,” he focused on issues of health and “its role in reproducing social class.” Speaking about the interviews he introduced in his “not like the typical textbook,” he insists on his aim “to humanize this process” of a sociologists research. Sociologists use of statistics is undeniably necessary, but this in just one tool. As Conley introduces interviews with sociologists discussion their own research methods, some of whom have themselves been a case similar those they later introduced into their field of research.
“Gangs are the effect of ineffective communities,” sais a young man, a former member of a gang, Juan Pacheco, speaking on gangs at a March 12 forum at UCLA. Juan Pacheco insists on the reason why people who “rejected the American Dream of instant gratification” need a helping hand instead of a “hard hand.” As Rodriguez, Pacheco is unveiling the ugliness of lives imprisoned in their own neighborhoods because of lack of understanding on both sides. These young people, the most vulnerable of all, do not have the right tools to properly understand the world around them and start dealing with it in a healthy way that will insure a balance they most of all need. Society, outside their neighborhoods does not understand them and mostly labels them, sticks them in prisons or other correctional institutions and the two world continue to stay apart. As deviant behavior nurtured inside gang life flourishes, the two worlds will clash and negatively impact each other.
Moving from personal examples of children with no choice but to enroll in a gang to statistics, Rodriguez points out the obvious: “Prisons and war seem to be the only way out for most poor and abandoned communities” (Rodriguez, 2005). This is the “hard hand” Juan Pacheco was denouncing as not only ineffective, but destructive on its way to stop children from going on a path of self-destruction. The author is keen to emphasize that the inefficiency in eradicating gangs in the U.S. does not reside in the lack of means, but in the social organization itself.
As Rodriguez and most of his friends, those who were born in a poor neighborhood had limited to no chance of rising above the hardships their own parents or tutors were dealing with on a daily basis. He takes the example of his first wife, Camila, Ramiro’s mother, who was an A student in Garfield High school. That did not help her get a decent job after finishing high school, because of the poor education she got. Young people came ill prepared for life out of the schools of their unfortunate, gang-ridden neighborhoods. These state institutions were failing them, too, joining the cohort of the rest of the institutions that failed them so far.
The consequences were that society will rejected them because they are uneducated. In the best case scenario, if girls like her do not join a gang, they get stuck in menial jobs that earns them minimum wage, being forced to get more than one job. They become mothers from a young age, they cannot spend too much time with their children because they need those jobs to put food on the table. Their children, at their turn, will suffer from the absence and often, neglect of their parents. Deviant behavior is thus invited into these homes because children that lack what psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists say they should find home, will look for what thy are not finding here, but desperately need, elsewhere. Gangs will welcome them. They will thus learn that violence is the only way to get from life what they think they should: an identity along with means of survival.
Rodriguez points out that parents alone living in conditions of poverty and surrounded by violence will never be able to keep their children out of trouble on their own. “The thing is, no matter what one does individually, in this setting, the dangers keep lurking around every corner.” (Rodriguez, 2005) Children with poor backgrounds often deal with one or more of these: instability, abuse, neglect, disorder. Schools in their neighborhoods will not be able to provide them anything they are missing at home. They will find support and “education” form neighborhood gangs that will ask them violence in return. Growing up this way, they will develop deviant behaviors as a result of imbalance and often, mental illness. The abused will become abusers, as social sciences often prove.
The American dream is happening around them, but almost never to them. The American nation may be one of the most powerful in the world, but its complexity…