The Core Ideals of the Mexican American Gang Living the Presentation of Defiance Academic Article uri icon


  • Current approaches to designing antigang policies overemphasize the notion that criminality is the defining characteristic of gangs and that solutions require a get-tough approach. As an ex-gang member, I conducted a five-year ethnographic study and a fourteen-year informal study of Mexican American street gangs in two Southwestern states to understand the persistence of gangs. I found that the obstacles that have been imposed on low-income, ethnic minority neighborhoods have led to an adaptive strategy for survival in which gangs play a central, albeit destructive, role. Gangs maintain their cohesiveness and longevity through four core ideals: displaying loyalty, responding courageously to external threats, promoting and defending gang status, and maintaining a stoic attitude toward the negative consequences of gang life. State-sponsored opposition to gangs only further solidifies these ideals. Pragmatic solutions will require rechanneling the collective energy of current and former gang members toward community empowerment.

published proceedings

  • Aztln

author list (cited authors)

  • Duran, R. J.

publication date

  • January 1, 2009 11:11 AM

published in