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Joliet Anti-Gang 4

Latino anti-gang efforts don't get lost in translation

by Paul Schott
Oct 22, 2009

Joliet Anti-Gang 3

 Paul Schott/MEDILL

 Joliet residents attended a meeting at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church this week to discuss the city's gang problem.

Paul Schott/MEDILL

Joliet resident Alicia Morales says that authorities there don't fully understand the causes of youth violence.

Paul Schott/MEDILL

The Rev. Jose Cilia, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, talks about why some Latino youths drift into gangs

Paul Schott/MEDILL

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow discusses the most effective ways to reach out to Latino youth in Joliet

Facing an increasing number of Latino gang members, one community is taking a new approach to educating parents about the threat.

In Will County the state’s attorney this week released a Spanish-language gang-prevention book to help parents understand and deal with the threat. James Glasgow’s book, “Gangs: Awareness, Prevention, Intervention,” is a translation of a book he issued in 2007. The book, developed and written by Glasgow and his colleagues in the state’s attorney office, aims to educate parents on the structure, iconography and behavior of local gangs and their members.

“We’ve got to get information out to the parents to alert them to these things, and educate them about the violence in the media culture and the gang intrusion that’s taking over kids’ lives,” Glasgow said.

The specter of gangs looms large for area Latinos. FBI Assistant Special Agent Thomas Trautmann estimates there are between 25,000 and 30,000 active Hispanic gang members in the Chicago area.

Glasgow unveiled the book at a town-hall style meeting in Joliet, conducted in both Spanish and English. The book, funded by drug forfeiture money, is available free of charge.

Reaction to the state’s attorney’s initiative was mixed. Although many attendees praised Glasgow for recognizing the city’s gang threat, others said that the book did not so much address as diagnose the problem.

“We as parents know if our kids are in a gang or not,” said Alicia Morales, vice president of the Parent Club at Joliet Central High School. “A booklet just confirms and reaffirms what we already know.”

Morales said student uniforms and conflict-management courses are more concrete ways to diffuse gang-fueled tensions in the schools. She also said law enforcement officials should take diversity training to understand the issues that affect Latinos.

Joliet Detective Moises Avila said the book will empower parents who do not speak English by giving them clear advice in Spanish on how to recognize danger signs of their children’s involvement in gangs. He added that a bilingual approach to anti-gang strategy is critical, citing a recent move by the Joliet police department to conduct community meetings in English and Spanish.

“Many things get lost in translation, so we want to make sure we paint a clear picture,” he said.

Thirty miles away from Joliet in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, efforts to deal with Latino gangs take other approaches.

Victor Hugo Andrave is a seminarian who runs a youth ministry at St. Agnes of Bohemia church. While he says the ministry reaches out to many young people in the neighborhood involved in Latino gangs, he does not favor an ethnic-centric approach to gang prevention.

“It’s best if we work together as one,” he said. “If we just focused on one group, and we excluded others, it would just be one perspective.”

Diana Rivera, an outreach worker supervisor with the Little Village grassroots group Enlace Chicago agrees with Andrave that effective anti-violence strategies, such as counseling, conflict mediation and domestic abuse awareness, transcend racial lines. Her concern is not that there are insufficient programs for Latino youth, but that there is not enough money for them.

“The outreach, it’s a necessity,” she said. “Families are in economic crisis. We would like to have more services.”
However, the message that resonates most from Chicago-area Latinos is the necessity for anti-youth violence efforts to be a communal effort, involving not least parents.

“It’s the parents’ responsibility to keep the kids educated, to keep the kids out of gangs,” Morales said.