I’m back!

I haven’t been on in a while, but I’ve been updating my blog with projects that I’ve been working on. Check out my menu tab to see two of them!

I’m in my last week of my college undergrad at Le Moyne College after taking classes on Mad Men, Fargo and the Film Noir genre (technically it’s a cycle). I went to the TriBeca Film Festival this year and saw Zach Quinto up close.  I worked on my second short film, Luddite, as head of the art department. I’m so happy with everything I’ve accomplished and all the things I’ve learned.


Julie Grossman and Phil Novak, my professors, and I

Los Zetas and The Beast

In class we are currently reading the book The Beast written by a journalist, Oscar Martinez. The book talks about the journey illegal migrants must make through Mexico in order to get to the United States. The migrants must travel over a thousands of miles of Mexico. There are many obstacles that the migrants must face including bandits, corrupt police

Trails through Mexico

Trails through Mexico

officers and the cartel, Los Zetas. Los Zetas is currently the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico and they only began in the 1990’s. Their extreme brutality and military structure makes them extremely lethal.

Los Zetas began in the 1999 when the leader of the Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, needed protection because of a major turf war. He recruited ex Mexican military special forces to be his personal body guards. These men are highly trained and organized. Los Zetas became a bigger part of the cartel taking care of extortion, kidnapping, and assassinations. They were the enforcers of cartel using brutality and intimidation to complete their tasks. They also

Map of Cartel Territories

Map of Cartel Territories (Los Zetas is in Red)

began trafficking cocaine for the cartel. As time went on, Los Zetas became more and more important to the cartel.

Los Zetas are now bigger than the Gulf Cartel and control the southern and western part of Mexico on their own. Their special forces training allows the members access to advanced technology. They are the biggest cartel in Mexico and have international connections most notably in America. They’re especially brutal and are known for massacres and decapitations of innocent civilians and migrants. Los Zetas are notorious and are considered the “most dangerous cartel in Mexico.”

Revolutions in Guatemala

Guatemala has long history of revolution and fighting for the rights of the people. Guatemalans believed in the people’s rights so much that they fought a 30 year civil war which resulted in extreme amounts of violence and bloodshed. This idea began with the Guatemalan revolution in 1944.

The indigenous Mayan people have long suffered abuse and hardship in Guatemala. In the early 20th century, the government took away their lands in order to cultivate the coffee industry which was in high demand. When Jorge Ubico became president he decreased the labor laws and wages by a significant amount. This created extremely bad working conditions for the lower class. Ubico also greatly strengthened the police force and gave incentive to crackdown on anyone who was ‘breaking’ the labor laws. This oppression was what caused the revolution in 1944.

The revolution caused a peace time called Ten Years of Spring (1944-1954) in which 2 presidents were elected who put

Jacobo Arbenz

Jacobo Arbenz

into effect major social reforms including one in literacy. The 2nd president Jacobo Arbenz implemented major reforms that compensated and returned the land to the Mayans that was taken from them in the early 1900s. Decree 900 redistributed land to around 500,000 people. The issue began when some of United Fruit Company’s land was seized. (United Fruit Company (UFC) was a major American company that traded in bananas). UFC went to the American government to fix their problems.

The American government ruled that Arbenz was a communist and that they had to remove him as leader. A covert CIA operation was put into place to replace Arbenz with Carlos Castillo Armas. The Coup of Guatemala began a series of military dictatorships.

Reflections on Always Running

In class we just finished the book Always Running by Luis Rodriguez. The book is the story of Rodriguez’ life in the Chicano gang lifestyle. It is an amazing memoir that opened my eyes to a different world. Today we watched the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America which focused on the Watts Riots and the creation of the rivalry between these 2 infamous gangs.

Always Running

The book Always Running

The film provided a similar point of view as the book. People from the same neighborhood, with common enemies in the police and society, are fighting one another for a little patch of land. Rodriguez sees this because he grew up in a time when social change was out in the open. This allowed him to recognize that there is more to life than gang against gang. Rodriguez grew up with the gang culture and discrimination. There were moments in the book (involving sex and drugs) where I thought he was 14 or 15 but he was 8 or 9. Rodriguez was discriminated against in elementary school and for the rest of his school career. Teachers are supposed to be mentors but they pushed their beliefs on a child. He was forced to live his life because he was different. I cannot imagine living like that at all. I am also Latina but I never experienced anything close to what Rodriguez lived. My whole life I have been treated like I am white because my father is white. I wonder how things would have changed had I been full Puerto Rican. I would hope that I would have been treated the same.

The History of the Watts Riots

In order to understand gangs, we have to understand history and how it plays into the racial issues of today.  In class we’ve been talking about riots that took in place in L.A.

The Watts Riots happened August 11- 17, 1965 as the result of police brutality. But these conditions had been building up since the Great Migration. The Great Migration caused a huge number of African Americans to move to L.A. from the south. Housing covenants restricted where they could live to 2 neighborhoods: Compton and Watts. As the population grew more and more people had to fit into this small space which is only 5% of the living space in L.A. (That means that white people had 95% of the living space).

Map of L.A.

Map of L.A. with Watts circled

Real estate agents made an attempt to push African Americans into the suburbs but these areas were seen as exclusively white. These suburbs were often the sites of hate crimes including bombings and cross burnings. This area had a lot of racial tension.

This small space for housing resulted in inadequate (and not enough) housing, inferior education and negligence of the peoples in these neighborhoods.

Another factor that led to the riots was the police brutality in South L.A. occurring at the time. In recent years, the police chief William Parker was given the power to separate the

Watts Riots photo

Image of the Watts Riots

police department from the rest of the government and act as an independent force. This gave the police the freedom to do what they want without any repercussions or questions. Police brutality ran rampant in the city and was the incident that began the Watts Riots.

Hagedorn and Sons of Anarchy

As a communications major I watch a lot of tv shows and films to increase my knowledge of pop culture and styles of film. Recently I started the show Sons of Anarchy because a friend of mine loves it and wanted me to get hooked. So I started expecting bikers and women and drugs but I got so much more than that.

Sons of Anarchy symbol

Sons of Anarchy insignia

Here’s a little background on the show. The show ran on FX from 2008 until 2014 with 7 seasons. The series follows a biker gang Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club in a fictional town Charming, California. Jax Teller, the son of an original member, is the main character and the vice president of the club. The show has a slight Shakespearean influence and brilliantly written. What struck me the most was how these (mostly) white biker guys can have anything to do with my class about gangs.

Surprisingly as I watched I saw more and more of the concepts I was learning in class echoed in the stories of this biker gang. In class we read a piece written by John Hagedorn entitled The Global Impact of Gangs. This piece has 6 why gangs are formed. The Sons of Anarchy fits 3.

  1. Resistance identities—identities formed in opposition to the dominant culture and the uncertainties of an unstable modernity.” The Sons have a very distinct look. They wear ‘cuts’ (leather vests with the club’s insignia on back), big brass rings, chains from their jeans (just like the zoot suiters) and have their motorcycles (of course!)

    Sons of Anarchy members

    Sons of Anarchy members in their ‘cuts’ with their motorcycles

  2. Marginalization of others has meant the flourishing of an underground economy for survival and as profitable.” The Sons of Anarchy illegally buy and sell guns to make a profit. The show makes it clear that this is a part of underground economy of the surrounding area. The guns are sold to several other gangs who use them to protect their turf and sell drugs. They have not explained why or how the club got into running guns yet but I’m curious to find out. The Sons of Anarchy are marginalized by the community. Majority of Charming are upper class white collar people while the Sons are heavily tattooed, lower class and they (usually) work as a motorcycle mechanic.
  3. “Some gangs institutionalize and become permanent social actors in communities, cities, and nations rather than fading away after a generation.” I mentioned earlier that the main character is a second generation Son. This is an establishment that is well know to Charming. The Sons are important part of the town. They are often called to keep the peace and protect the residents despite there being a police department. In one episode a little girl gets raped and the father turns to the club to find the rapist and get revenge. Even the police department understand the club’s position in the town.
SOA member

Sons of Anarchy member

There are many other aspects that match up with my class but I only could share a couple. Sons of Anarchy is available on Netflix so get to watching and let me know in the comments what you think!

The History of the Zoot Suit Riots

We have shifted our focus in class! My class has started talking about chicano culture and gang life in Los Angeles. To give historical background to our topic, we were tasked to find out more about the Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943.

So first we should define a zoot suit. The suit consists of big baggy pleated pants with a long chain and a big suit jacket and fancy shoes.

Zoot suiter

A zoot suiter

These suits were often worn by Mexican American youth (often called pachucos) and was a huge part of  subculture of Los Angeles. Because the suits were often worn by Mexicans or African Americans, they were often associated with crime and thus had a bad reputation. There were also female pachucas who were also a part of the subculture.

The riots were prefaced by an extreme increase of animosity towards Mexican Americans because of a trial that happened in 1942. The trial accused several members of a pachuco gang of murdering a man. The trial was highly publicized and the media was very racist often using slurs to refer to Mexicans. This created a bad reputation for zoot suiters and Mexican Americans.

America joined World War 2 and rationing was put into effect. The restrictions directly stated that zoot suits were no longer allowed because they wasted fabric. But the pachucos used bootleg tailors.

The riot was between servicemen, who believed that it was disrespectful and unpatriotic to wear zoot suit, and the Mexican and African American youth a part of the pachuco culture. Servicemen through the streets, movie theaters, and bars attacking zoot suiters and ripping off their clothes. Mexican Americans were brutally attacked and the actions of the servicemen were defended in

Male and female zoot suiters

A male and female pachuco as portrayed in film

newspapers. It is clear that these violent actions were racist. The riots lasted until the middle of June with substantial injuries on both sides.

A Huey P. Newton Story

This past week was my spring break but I wanted to continue posting. My professor wanted us to watch a movie, A Huey P. Newton Story, which gave a look into the mind of one of the founders of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton.

Actor playing Huey Newton

Roger Smith as Huey Newton

The movie was directed by Spike Lee and it depicts Huey by himself on a stage speaking about his life and his beliefs and the Panthers. Newton is played by Roger Guenveur Smith, who has an uncanny resemblance to his subject. The film began as a staged play and developed into a movie. The simplicity of the film really causes the viewer to listen to what Smith is saying and his portrayal of Newton.

The greatest part of the film is Newton’s run down of the 10 Point Program. He explains his ideology dynamically and captures the viewers attention. This part also gives insight into the beginnings of the Panthers and why they began. The racism and lack of assistance faced by the people of Oakland caused them to solve their own problems and create their own

Huey Newton

Huey P Newton

solutions- their original name of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Social programs like the free breakfast program and coat drives were ways that the Panthers gave back to their community. These programs threatened the government and thus created the discrimination faced by the Black Panthers by the federal government and J. Edgar Hoover. They provided better for the communities than the government could.

Although gangs have turned from the social aspect of their communities, we can still look to the Panthers as a guide for how to react to the situations of today.

How History Relates To Today: From the Panthers to Ferguson

The second half of the week we are talking about the The Black Panther Party. Recently (yesterday) a report on the Ferguson, Missouri justice system has come out. I have compared the two before but the similarity is uncanny right now.

Black Panther Party Badge

A Black Panther Party Badge

The Black Panther Party was created by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in order to combat the racism in the 1960s. Oakland had a predominantly white police force with 16 black officers out of 661. In Oakland especially, police violence was an issue that Newton and Seale agreed needed to be stopped. Much like Ferguson, the inciting incident was the death of an unarmed black man Matthew Johnson. Newton and Seale recognized the oppression being forced upon them as a race in the 10-Point Programs which explains the ideology of the Panthers. Among the 10 points is:

  • We want an end to the robbery by the white men of our Black Community.
  • We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

These men are aware of their history and their blackness. They demand compensation for America’s crimes against the black community much in the same way Germany compensated the Jews. They recognize the racism that is still being pushed upon them despite being citizens and free.

Now how does this all relate to the recent news about Ferguson. The NY Times released an article detailing the US Justice

Protestors in Ferguson

Protestors in Ferguson, Missouri

Department’s findings. They found that Ferguson was “a city where police officers singled out blacks for petty crimes, even while fixing tickets for their friends.” The city of Ferguson is about two thirds black yet majority of the tickets, arrests and traffic stops were almost entirely against blacks. The police department made no attempt to connect with community and instead targeted it for money. Similarly the Black Panthers dealt heavily with police violence and were created to patrol and monitor the police with loaded rifles. One of the residents of Ferguson said that she did not “trust them {the police} to do their jobs at all.”

The death of Michael Brown and this investigation of the Ferguson’s criminal justice system has caused an awareness of oppression and privilege not just for blacks but for all races.

Gangs in South Africa’s Western Cape

Map of South Africa

Map of South Africa with Western Cape highlighted

In class, we have been reading an article by John Hagedorn that outlines the reasons gangs exist. So my focus is on the institutionalization of gangs in a particular city. I found an article on the gangs in the province of Western Cape located in South Africa. Gang violence is especially prevalent in this areas because there are 130 gangs. The area is huge but there are many little suburbs where gangs exist.

Much like in America, the gangs started in the 1980’s because of the marginalization of minorities. The Cape Flats are the slums of Cape Town where the coloreds and black people were relocated during apartheid. This allowed gangs to be formed and to be institutionalized into the communities. Gangs in Western Cape often start because the boys are seeking protection from threats within their environment. Several suburbs have established gang structures that are decades old.  They have become a permanent part of their communities.

But this is where an issues begins. The kids who have grown up in this culture are highly influenced by it. The process to create a gang and become an active has become much faster. Kids as young as 12 are considered a part of a “gang.” Some of these gangs are not fully formed but have structures very similar and could have the potential to become very dangerous. These circumstances are very similar to the film City of God which depicted the start of gangs in Brazil’s favelas. The film shows children admiring their older peers and thus becoming gang leaders and committing acts of violence. In South Africa there has been an 86% increase in gang related murders from 2012 to 2013. I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that gangs exist in other places other than America.

Gang Tattoos

South African Gang Member’s tattoos