The death of two young people last weekend in youth gang brawls in Madrid has set off the alarms. Violent gangs – often called “Latinos” because of the cultural roots of many of their members – are a global phenomenon, crimped by social inequality, lack of roots and a not insignificant dose of “attractiveness” for vulnerable youth.
DDP, Trinidadians, Ñetas, Latin Kings…
In Spain, the leading role in recent days has fallen on the confrontation between the gangs of the Trinitarians and the Dominicans Don’t Play (DDP). “There is a kind of vendetta for the murders in January and August, and this rebound has occurred,” explains anthropologist Katia Núñez in an interview in La Hora de la 1. But they are not the only ones. The gang Blood has recently made headlines for the arrest of several of its members and other old acquaintances, such as the Ñetas and the latin kings, are still active. Also the Mara Salvatrucha, very violent, is already installed in the country, although it continues to be a minority.
They act mainly in Madrid and Barcelona, but some little by little have become strong also in Basque Country and are present in other cities such as Valencia, Zaragoza, Toledo or Guadalajara. All in all, they represent a small part of the overall criminality of a country, where there are no major citizen security problems.
According to Europa Press, the Ministry of the Interior counts 600 organized and violent youth groups in all Spain. Of those cataloged by the police as “reference groups” there are seven “latin” bands compared to nine from the extreme right, five from the extreme left and another related to areas such as sports.
More children, more women
According to experts, the risk is not that there are more gangs, but that they have more supporters among vulnerable youth. Thus, the gangs are more heterogeneous, with members of all nationalities. They may be the “second generation of young people who were born here of Latin American mothers and fathers”, but also children of Spanish families, of sub-Saharan origin… For the most part, “Spanish or nationalized”, points out Carles Feixa, Professor of Social Anthropology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.
This Thursday and for this same matter, the president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, and the spokeswoman for Vox, Rocío Monasterio, had a confrontation in the Madrid Assembly. Monastery insisted on linking insecurity with unaccompanied foreign minors and the ‘popular’ snapped at him: “They are youth bands that are Spanish”, and added that, in the case of “Latin” gangs, “They are second-generation immigrants, as Spanish as Abascal, as you or as me.”
In addition, gang members can join as just a few children. “They have been detected young people from 11 years of age, although the bulk is made up of gang members between 15 and 23 years old”, as highlighted by the 2020 Observatory of the Christian Help Center, a project of the Evangelical Church in Madrid that has an accompaniment and reintegration program for them.
From there, they have also been able to observe how the women, even with exclusively female bands, “particularly the Latin Queens.” What has not changed is the origin of its members, generally from lower-income neighborhoods and dysfunctional families.
liturgy and violence
Traditionally, each of these gangs has had its own signs of identity: clothing, colors, chains and beaded necklaces, certain regulations regarding tattoos… However, these traits are no longer displayed so much in public, to avoid being identified by rival gangs or the police. In private meetings, yes, they continue to be part of the liturgy. Also weapons:
“In the United States, unfortunately, there is more access to firearms, just like in the Dominican Republic. Here, a minor cannot buy a gun,” says Núñez to explain the use of machetes in the two deaths over the weekend in Madrid. After these events, the Ministry of the Interior announced this Thursday that it will review the regulation of the sale and use of knives.
But while discretion is imposed in some aspects, in others it has been blown up. The young gang members use the social networks to communicate, recruit, give instructions and even brag. In fact, on YouTube you can find videos of some members who show off rapping about weapons and drugs and show the symbols, slogans and colors of their band.
Cultural ties in Spain, the United States and Latin America
To understand the reason for this violent phenomenon, we must go to the origin. “Youth gangs they are not an imported phenomenon, but it already has antecedents from the 40s and 50s, from the migratory processes and the situation of young people in the urban peripheries”. Anthropologist Carlos Feixa has been studying and working with youth gangs in Spain for more than 30 years and recalls that in the 1980s the gangs were mainly linked to urban tribes, musical rivalries and nightlife, “with the exception of the so-called quinquis”.
The “Latin” bands, on the other hand, are born in the United States, into the immigrant community. “The Latin Kings originate in Chicago, the Ñetas in Puerto Rico, the Trinitarians in New York… The maras are not born in El Salvador, they are born in Los Angeles,” she stresses, encouraged “by the tragic deportation processes” that some governments carried out. Americans.
From generation 1.5 to young Spaniards
The arrival in Europe of these youth gangs occurs hand in hand with what Feixa calls “the 1.5 generation” from the year 2000. “It is basically produced by a process of family reunification. Mothers emigrate first, especially, and after a few years, their sons and daughters who were born and raised in their places of origin come: Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, but also in Colombia and other places…”. Upon arriving here, some reproduced the culture of the gangs, “in part, because it was the only space for sociability among them and welcome” that they found.
Later, when we talk about second generations and Spaniards as members of these gangs, behind it there is a network of poverty, despair, family problems and lack of “vital alternatives”. In this sense, the anthropologist Katia Núñez speaks of the “ghettoization” of some neighborhoods, because they are poorer, housing is cheaper and there is a higher percentage of immigrant population. Thus, during economic crises, such as the current pandemic, these young people “are forced into the shadow economy,” Feixa also points out.
However, gangs also have an emotional, identity, human dimension. “In studies we have seen how often they have been foster sororities for youth that otherwise were uprooted”, says the professor. “Youth is a stage in which ties with the family of origin are broken and new ones are sought. The groups of contemporaries, the bands, fulfill that function (…) For young people in a situation of exclusion, victims of racism or lack of opportunities, it is the only place where they can feel important”.
Enter, climb, exit…
These neighborhoodsghettoized” mark the areas of influence of the gangs. “They meet at parks, as a group of equals. This is how it happens”, warns the anthropologist Núñez on TVE. “They are not there with the machetes, they are having a good time. That is why the minors agree and that is the danger, because they do not know where they are going”. After the pandemic, the Christian Help Center warns of how this recruitment has spread to the vicinity of the illegal schools and partiesorganized in empty buildings.
Likewise, the researcher details in the interview that it is not usual “make merits” to enter the bands, although to “climb positions” and achieve a “position of relevance within the organization”. In addition, they assure from the evangelical organization, it is necessary to pay weekly installments and up to 3,000 euros to disengage, a “big business” to which is added criminal activity with robberies and drug sales.
Still, gang experts don’t think episodes like this weekend’s will drive others away. “The gang scenography, the culture gangsta and that there is a lot of talk about it, even if it is in a supposedly condemnatory way, many young people find it attractive”, Values Feixas.
More action than prevention
After the murder of two young people in the space of a few hours in Madrid, the Government delegate, Mercedes González, announced this Thursday a new ‘Action Plan against youth gangs’ with the aim of “neutralize the criminal escalation that we are detecting since the end of last year.”
But both González and the anthropologists who are experts on criminal gangs believe that this is only dealing with the consequences: it is necessary prevent the problem, with education and alternatives for vulnerable youth. From the TRANSGANG group, led by Feixa and of which Núñez is also a member, they are committed to persecuting the individuals who commit the crimes, but do not “break up” the bands.
“What we are trying to do is not eliminate the gangs, but rather to convey that way of feel important through other means such as music, creativity, art, education, cooking…. If the only way you have to feel important is to have a knife to face others, we are making a serious mistake, ”concludes the professor.