We have friends going through a family crisis that reflects the social chaos created by the rapid Hispanization of our region in the past several decades. They are a Guatemalan family living in Moreno Valley. Their teenage children, born here, are caught up in the vicious gang warfare that afflicts schools and social life wherever young people congregate. Gangs disrupt the schools. Teachers are numb from constant conflict inside and outside the classroom and have difficulty fending off cynicism. In the malls and movie theaters, gang clashes are common. Shopping centers and theaters must hire armed private, security guards and impose evening curfews on minors to make their stores and restaurants safe for patrons. Territorial warfare between gangs rage throughout nights, with tagging, over-tagging\*, car window smashing, drive-by shooting, and other acts of vandalism marking boundaries. The struggle between Hispanic gangs and Black gangs, as Hispanic gangs try to cleanse neighborhoods, is as violent as sectarian warfare in the Middle East. The murder rate is so high that police refer to Moreno Valley as "Murder Valley". Our friends do not allow their children to play outside the house. Family crises are the norm, not the exception.
The family disorder that exists among the labor and rural classes in Mexico and central America has been brought to Southern California by immigrants. Here, stresses on family cohesion are exacerbated by the difficulties of assimilation and employment. Family dissolution, out of wedlock pregnancy, female-headed households living in poverty and welfare, and drug abuse are endemic. Legions of single men, working at casual labor, live in shacks, seek employment by harassing customers at Home Depot and entertain themselves on the streets by harassing women. Alcoholism is pervasive and inflicts its deadly consequences on everybody on the roads, because Hispanic men assume it is their right to drive when drunk. Residential streets are flooded with intoxicated drivers. Few persons can testify they have never had near-death collisions with drunk Hispanic drivers. All these swirling forces of social disintegration have penetrated into our friends' family.
Their bright, sixteen-year-old daughter, who is beautiful, adding to her woes, cannot find the ground in her life. Her dreams of becoming a veterinarian are under assault, because the schools are under assault. She cannot study and cannot get adequate academic counseling. Her family cannot afford to sell their Moreno Valley home to live in a better neighborhood. Other family problems have driven her to act out. In her vulnerable condition, a nineteen-year-old man, who is a drug addict and lives on the street, has taken advantage of her. She befriended him. Her attraction to him has divided her family, who see the young man as a threat to their dream of a better future for their children.
The family asked us to help them in anyway we could, and so we do. If we cannot help the family resolve the situation in the Moreno Valley, the daughter may come to live with us. She would be able to finish high school in Riverside. We could shelter her from the social storm now battering her family, at least until her family is in a better position to do so itself. We hope this step is not necessary; she would be removed from her close girl friends, whose comradeship has been an important support. She is not yet a victim of the social chaos into which Southern California has plunged. She struggles bravely like a swimmer trying not to drown; but the social forces pulling against her are very powerful.
* Update. June 2, 2007. Tagging and over-tagging, as well as murders, provide a measure of the gang problem in the Moreno Valley. The City of Moreno Valley employs three full-time maintenance workers to clean and paint graffiti. Graffiti markings are removed within 24 hours of being reported. Someone in the crew is working 24/7. In the first five months of this year, 2007, the city had 3,346 calls reporting graffiti and the workers removed 10,521 graffiti paintings. Realize that graffiti is one end of the gang problem, at which young boys (usually boys) are recruited, that ends up in murders over territory, drugs, and sex at the other end. (Dan Lee, "Team zeroes in on graffiti", The Press-Enterprise [Riverside], Sunday, June 3, 2007, B1.)
Update. June 13, 2007. The Press-Enterprise reports that, as of May 17, 2007, there were 11,877 documented gang members in 474 documented gangs in Riverside County, California. (Douglas Quan, "Injunction would ban gang activities," The Press-Enterprise [Riverside, California], Wednesday, June 13, 2007, B7.)
Update. June 27, 2007. I must be onto something, if a Harvard professor's research proves it.