Alex Alonso, expert in the subject, has been very close to the phenomenon. From an early age Alonso became familiar with the violence that reigns in the streets of our neighborhoods, but New York in particular. This is where his special interest in studying the phenomenon of delinquency, which has led him to become one of the foremost experts on gangs in the United States.
“Seeing death so close at such a young age influenced me. Seeing someone you know dying after a shooting changes your life because you appreciate it more, gives it real meaning,” said the young man of Puerto Rican origin.
“On the other hand, I think that being so close to death makes you immune. Certainly my life changed. Today, years later, my main concern is to live for my children. I want to be there for them, I wake up every morning for them so they can help other young people,” said Alonso in his office in Los Angeles, California, where he’s lived for several years.
Despite having lived so closed to violent episodes, Alex admits to never having had that paralyzing fear. He’s dedicated the last 15 years to studying gangs, living with them and getting to know them from within.
His need to discover the truth behind the scourge of gangs has led him to be considered a historian, researcher and even reporter. He recognizes that there are many myths behind gangs which makes him proud to investigate and learn more about them.
“Knowing the reason for the phenomenon of gangs in our streets, what’s behind them, what’s their truth, their reality,” he explains.
On various occasions Alonso has been called to testify in court as an expert on the subject. His knowledge has helped to better understand what goes on through the mind of a young person who has chosen violence and delinquency as their path.
“Mistakes can be made which influence the life of a good young kid through bad judgement. Which is why I like to participate and make a difference,” he says.
This is why Alex Alonso took to the adventure of creating a website (www.streetgangs.com) through which he shares his knowledge with young people and anyone who wants to go deeper into the world of gangs.
A wrong choice
For Alex, lack of attention is what causes young people to become interested in joining criminal gangs, although he assures that only 15% of youth are integrated into them. He admits that, despite having grown up in a harsh environment, it was not difficult to choose an honest life. He is certain that his decision was made because he comes from a strong family and because he never had need or desire to try drugs.
“The problem,” he insists, “has its origin in the family. We can not change from where we are today. The challenge is to help parents who are raising children alone, and perhaps the answer lies in more after-school programs so that kids don’t return home to spend so much time alone. ”
In his opinion, “when you spend time alone, when no one looks after you, no one disciplines you. That’s when you start to think about doing bad things”. Currently, 85% of youth that are in jail come from families where there was only one parent at home, explains Alonso.
Being fortunate enough to have been raised with good values, Alex did not imagine that he would have the opportunity to go to college. His mom finished high school and then dedicated himself to photography while his father enlisted in the military. For those reasons, he never felt the pressure to take his studies to a higher level. But it was life that drove him: “I couldn’t find a job and, well, I said maybe what I should do is study”.
After taking the right steps, he’s now an adviser to young people. “I’m not sure if I’ve changed anyone’s life because when I’ve spoken with gang members I don’t see immediate results,” he recognizes.
Some time later, there are those that ask him what to do to get into college. Changing the life of a person is marvelous, but there’s still a lot left to do, you have to look for alternatives for them, so that they don’t spend time on the street not doing anything”, he insists.
Alonso doesn’t talk to his own children about his work, as he says they are still little. He writes articles for various publications so his kids know him as a writer. But what worries him more than the subject of gangs is talking to his kids about the drug use and sex. He says, “When you come from a well structured family, gangs don’t worry you as much as drugs which can enter into any home”.
He never thought that his interest in gangs would bring him so much satisfaction. Today, aside from being an adviser to politicians and authorities, he still feels that there’s a lot more he could be doing. “I would love to go to a prison, to live day to day with prisoners and gangs members when they’re out of the public eye, to learn more about them and their culture, in their environment”.
For Alonso, the authorities don’t really know what or who the gangs are, what they talk about when they get together, what they do when they’re at home.
“I believe there are very dangerous places. They’ve created maps of zones where I go to talk to or get to know gang members. Nothing has ever happened to me, the only thing is that sometimes gang members think that I’m a cop. But aside from that I’ve never had a problem, I like to do what I do. I go, I speak to them, I get to know them and that’s it”, shares Alonso.
His own heroes
Alonso admires Father Greg Boyle, one of the most important figures in East Los Angeles, considered one of the most dangerous zones in the city. Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps gang members learn skills to reintegrate themselves into society.
“I admire Father Boyle for his human qualities, because he never says no to anyone, because he listens to every youth and he gives attention to all that cross his path. Sometimes that’s the only thing that’s needed,” says Alex with a smile of satisfaction.
I’m sure that if there were more people like him all over Los Angeles there would be at least a 15-20% drop in crime. But he’s just one man making a difference”, he laments.
His other hero is Roberto Clemente, the baseball legend of Puerto Rican descent who died trying to help Nicaraguans after an earthquake. “He is a hero who died helping his people”, he remembers.
“I don’t consider myself a hero, but I hope that my kids and grandkids remember me as a honest and loving man, someone who had passion for his work. I want to teach them to have passion for their work, because part of what I do doesn’t pay, but it’s still rewarding”, he affirms.
“Today I had people call me and they wanted to give me money for what I do, so that I can produce programs for television and movies. For me each days is a new opportunity to learn and discover something”.
[Photo By GlacierTim]