ABOUT THIS BOOK
Explores how Latino gang culture mirrors the most destructive aspects of the American Dream through a look at novels and memoirs.
"There's a place for us / Somewhere a place for us . . ." With the emergence of a rich body of literature chronicling the experiences of Latino and Latina gang members, popular understanding of this outlaw culture has advanced far beyond West Side Story. However, the diverse works discussed in this important book-ranging from the breakthrough 1967 memoir Down These Mean Streets and the crime novel Carlito's Way to the play Zoot Suit and the World War II-era historical novel Don't Spit on My Corner, to more recent works such as Always Running/La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. and Chicana gang narratives like Locas and Two Badges-all share with the award-winning musical a crucial discourse on nationality, citizenship, and belonging.
In Gang Nation, Monica Brown offers a sophisticated analysis of these narratives produced by former gang members and by "outside" observers writing within the Latino community. She examines the ubiquity of language and behavior within this literature that reveal the frustrated longings within gangs for greater participation in America's national culture and the desire of members to craft an alternative environment in which they are welcome. Through literature and memoirs written from within the culture, Brown illustrates how these youth mimic the rhetoric and rituals of American nationalism's most destructive aspects-intense territoriality, justification of violence, and cultural chauvinism-to assert their citizenship in an alternative nation.
Before now, studies of gang culture have centered on either the choices of individual members or the social forces that inspire their unfocused rage. But through Latino and Chicano gang literature, Brown provides a more nuanced portrait of that culture, one that raises broader concerns about dominant nationalism, civil rights, the criminalization of urban youth of color, and the often unfulfilled sense of communal identity and acceptance among American youth.
Monica Brown is assistant professor of English at Northern Arizona University.