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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Latino Kids In Gangs...Are Parents To Blame?

In light of all the present gang activity in the Central Coast, many people ask themselves and those who might have an answer why is it that these, at times, very young kids are out and about with no parental supervision of their activities, their friends or the bad habits they might be picking up along the way. People have asked me as recently as last Sunday, when I was invited to talk about the Mexican/Latino cultural heritage, how is it possible to talk about the importance Latinos give to family, and at the same time completely ignore their children. Now, that’s not necessarily what happens, although I recognize why the perception is such.

Raising our children:
In order to start from the beginning I should say that the way children are raised here is, for the most part, foreign to us Latinos. Children here have a lot of more freedom, more privacy and more decision making opportunities. In our Latino culture one acquirLes those “privileges” with age. Kids are supposed to obey what mom and dad, and the grandparents, and the teachers say. Parents never leave it up to the kids whether they want to do something or not. They just tell their kids what to do, period. By the same token, a kid in the Latino culture is rarely allowed to lock their bedroom door not letting anyone – especially his/her parents – to come in. We feel that children’s activities need to be supervised to prevent them from getting into trouble. Why we think like that? The perfect example on this is the episode at Columbine HS where both assailants had an arsenal kept in their room, and the parents never knew about it.

The break-down.
When Latinos come to the US we find out, the hard way sometimes, that kids are treated differently here. The structure for kids is not as “rigid”. In fact, compared to the kind of structure we’re used to, we feel that there’s none here for us to rely on, and to make kids abide by the rules. I remember a time when I was at the beach with my then, 4 year old daughter. I was reprimanding her because she kept running into the water on her own, while I was busy with her sister. At some point, I held her hand preventing her from running off once more. She was yelling as only a kid with a tantrum can. A woman came out of nowhere, and proceeded to threaten me that if I didn’t stop my reprimand, and let “the poor little girl” go, she would call the police on me. Of course she backed off immediately when I told her that I would hold her responsible if that “poor little girl” drowned. Boy… was I confused with the whole incident! The lady wanted me to let my daughter do as she wished? Or did she think it was a good idea to leave my other daughter by herself on the beach while taking care of the first one in the water? I am strong-spirited, so people do not intimidate me easily, but others frankly don’t know how to react or what to do. They feel their authority has been taken out of their hands, and they have not been given an effective/viable alternative to deal with children or teens’ strong will. Now, if we’re talking about school, parents are rarely made aware of any discipline and/or academic problems until it is too late, and the bad behavior has, unfortunately, become a habit for kids. It is then when parents throw their hands in the air, helpless and not knowing what to do.

My concern...
It is concerning that the immediate assumption is that Latino parents don’t care about their children, or that they don’t try to solve the problem. This assumption generates a lack of trust (“…what kind of people is this that don’t care about their children?”), and ill feelings against a race as a whole. I work on a daily basis with these families, and I have yet to hear a parent tell me that they don’t care about what happens to their kids, or that they are not afraid, more so than the rest of the community, to see their kids die because of street violence.

The solution…As usual, it all comes down to education. Yes, parent education in this case. There are great programs for parents out there, which combine prevention techniques on how to set boundaries and discipline, with making parents aware on how the system works here, what is available to them, and what their rights are. Of course these programs/trainings cost money that in many cases families don’t have. It would cost around $6,500 to train 30 individuals who will hopefully be able, in the future, to train other parents. If you are interested in more details or if you want to sponsor a training, please contact me

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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