Hispanic gangs began forming in California during the early 1920s. They started as looseknit groups banding together for unity and socializing in the barrios (neighborhoods) where the same culture, customs, and language prevailed. Gang members were male youths ranging from 14- to 20-years-old. Property crimes such as burglary, strong-arm robbery, and vandalism were their crimes of choice.
These gangs had no formal structure nor leadership. They were very defensive of their barrio, and they would protect it with a vengeance. Gang fights occurred between rival gangs as a result of disputes, turf differences, or transgressions--whether real or imaginary. Often, their weapons included knives, zip guns, chains, clubs, rocks, and bottles.
The commission of a crime became a way of gaining status within the gang. Imprisonment in the California Youth Authority or the California Department of Corrections earned a gang member great stature with other gang members.
By the 1980s, these gangs began targeting their communities and surrounding neighborhoods for drive-by shootings, assaults, murders, and other felonious crimes. Violence became a way of life.
The gangs developed some organization and structure, and leaders emerged from the ranks of older gang members who had been stabbed or shot in gang fights or released from the youth authority or prison. Known as "veteranos," these gang leaders began to re cruit new members and train them in gang-related criminal activities. They continued to be turf oriented, and gang fights progressed to gang wars.
The age span for gang members widened, encompassing male youths ranging from 12- to 25-years-old who were willing to fight and die for the gang. Most of the gangs required new members to commit a crime, such as stealing a car or committing a burglary or robbery, before becoming a gang member.
Female associates had little claim to the gang. They assumed the role of traditional girlfriends but, at times, would challenge other females in rival gangs to fight. Because they were less likely to be arrested for gang activities, they were sometimes used by male gang members to carry weapons and narcotics.
As the Hispanic gang members evolved, they established unique trademarks such tattoos, hand signs, monikers, and graffiti. Elaborate tattoos depicting the initials or name of a gang symbolized loyalty to a particular gang. Hand signs formed the letters of the gang's initials. Monikers were names assumed by--or given to--gang members, and they were usually retained for life. Intricate graffiti--or placa--clearly marked the gang's territorial boundaries and served as a warning to rival gangs. Gang memb ers used these distinguishing characteristics to demonstrate gang allegiance, strengthen gang participation, and challenge rival gangs.