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Gang Nation

Delinquent Citizens in Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Chicana Narratives

2002
Author:

Monica Brown

Gang Nation

Explores how Latino gang culture mirrors the most destructive aspects of the American Dream through a look at novels and memoirs

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, Monica 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.

Appealing and accessible, Gang Nation breaks crucial ground by engaging representations of Latina gangs and by pursuing an extended reading of the commodification of gang culture. This remarkable book shifts the study of gangs away from a focus on self-destructive pathologies and instead draws attention to the way these gangs mimic key aspects of U.S. national culture.

Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, author of Critical Race Narratives: A Study of Race, Rhetoric and Injury

"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.


Gang Nation

Monica Brown is assistant professor of English at Northern Arizona University.

Gang Nation

Appealing and accessible, Gang Nation breaks crucial ground by engaging representations of Latina gangs and by pursuing an extended reading of the commodification of gang culture. This remarkable book shifts the study of gangs away from a focus on self-destructive pathologies and instead draws attention to the way these gangs mimic key aspects of U.S. national culture.

Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, author of Critical Race Narratives: A Study of Race, Rhetoric and Injury

New ground is explored by Monica Brown in Gang Nation. Whereas gang membership itself might seem appropriate for a thematic investigation, Brown’s book is much more about formal and technical matters: specifically, how the orientation of gang membership and the ways such membership are perceived by the larger culture make for different ways of structuring reality and, most crucially, different ways of conveying that structure.

American Literary Scholarship

Brown closes her book with an exploration of several journalistic accounts of Latino gangs. Her study is an intelligent consideration of these important testimonies.

American Literature

With its focus on literature, Gang Nation offers an extraordinary perspective on Puerto Rican and Mexican American gangs.

American Quarterly