|The Voice received an unexpected visit last week from a Mountain View Norteno who says he is trying to clean up his life for the sake of his child.
Although gang life has become too dangerous now that he has a family, he said, it is no longer a choice he is able to make.
The gang member, whose name is being withheld for his safety and his family's safety, wanted to shed light on the gang culture, and to discuss the failures of traditional schooling and traditional city gang prevention programs. He also said he wanted to help local youth who were headed down the same path.
The Norteno was wearing his gang color, red, and his body was covered in tattoos, including one with four dots that Nortenos receive for various acts of violence toward Surenos.
"There's no denying that if you are a gang member you have to do those things," he said. "When I started it was bad, we used to look for people to beat up."
Now in his early 20s, he attended elementary, middle and high school in Mountain View, but went to jail before graduating from high school. He has a sibling who attends a local high school. The sibling is a good student, he said, but is vulnerable to being labeled a gang member.
Although he moved back to Mountain View to raise his family, he was forced to leave when his rent increased by over $600 a month. It was difficult finding jobs with his gang history and tattoos, and before he found his current job, he said selling drugs was seductive because it was a steady supply of money.
"If I didn't have it, I could have a fresh start," he said of his past experiences and criminal gang records.
Although he grew up in a poor neighborhood in Mountain View, he had a normal upbringing, and his parents were well-respected in the Latino community. By fifth grade, however, he started associating with gang members, and there was no stopping him, he said. He was too attracted to the money and the violence.
His parents tried to distract him by giving him jobs to do, and by arranging meetings with older gang members who told their stories -- but he said this just inspired him to rebel even more.
"If kids are considered at-risk there is no way to stop them," he said. "I wanted the friends, the cars and the money you get as a gang member."
"People think all gang members are abused, but I wasn't," he added.
He grew up with Alex Fernandez, the youth who was killed in 2004 in "the first real gang shooting in Mountain View," he said. The two had been friends, but joined different gangs just before middle schools.
"We split up in fifth grade just because of our different colors," he said.
He is trying to keep his young child out of that scene, but it will be difficult. He said he hopes to get his child involved in soccer and boxing, which helped him to find a release for his own anger. But he worries these outlets may not be enough.
Gang violence, he said, is closely connected with poor neighborhoods, and the city needs to invest more money in improving the quality of life there to keep kids out of gangs.
"Just because I can't afford to live in a safe place, I have to be violent," he said.
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