Girls in gangs | June 8, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - June 8, 2007

Girls in gangs

Three young locals describe flirtation with gang life during AVID meeting

by Alexa Tondreau

For Los Altos High School senior "Paula," exposure to gangs started early, in middle school.

At the time, she was living in an apartment with her mother, who immigrated to the United States from Chile, while her father served a sentence in a county prison.

"My friends' older brothers and sisters would always wear colors and baggy clothes, but I didn't really know what that meant," Paula said.

"But then all of my friends started wearing red, and so I did too. I wore red every single day. I never wore blue, ever. To my friends it was like a sin. And I was talking to this guy, he always wore blue, and it was a big deal. All of my friends went crazy. And I still didn't get it. They wanted to beat the crap out of this guy. They wanted to do really bad things to him. And then I got that it was serious," she said.

Paula's description of gang hostility boiling down to the difference between a red and a blue shirt — red being a Nortenos gang color, and blue standing for the Surenos — is echoed by her friends and fellow seniors, "Angela" and "Theresa," who last week came to a classroom at Los Altos High School to tell a small group of educators about their experiences with gangs. (The names of the three girls have been changed to protect their identities.)

All three girls are weeks away from completing a four-year program called AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. The program serves underrepresented students in the school by helping to keep their grades up and to get them into college.

After being accepted to four-year colleges in and around the Bay Area, the girls were taking the moment to look back on the path that led them to AVID. All three said getting involved in a gang was a real possibility during their formative middle school and junior high years, due to the influence of siblings, friends and peer pressure.

Sister a Sureno

Theresa's older sister joined the Surenos gang when Theresa was in junior high, and she said she watched her sibling drastically change.

"My sister got really into it. Her friends came over to the house all the time. I got scared she'd do something wrong and they would take it out on me. I've been afraid I'd get jumped for wearing the wrong colors."

Theresa said that the time her sister spent with her so-called new family put a strain on her real family.

"We didn't have much of a relationship then. We barely talked. Just a hello and a good-bye and that was it. She wasn't coming home very much," Theresa said.

"A lot of it comes through the families with sisters and brothers and cousins, and then it stretches out to friends," said Officer Armando Espitia, who for eight years has worked on the Mountain View Police Department's Gang Suppression Team.

Espitia added that many of the young women he has seen who have become involved in gangs did so because of a boyfriend.

"I think they're attracted to that whole "bad boy" thing," he said. "They like these boys in junior high and later they become their boyfriends."

For Angela, any temptation to get into a gang came from school.

"I started hanging around with people I shouldn't have in seventh grade," she said. "But it was only at school. We'd talk at lunch. My mom was very strict with me, and I didn't go out. That part of my life just stayed at school."

For all three, violence, particularly as retribution, was seen, heard and talked about. And if the girls wanted to be official members of a gang, they had to be "jumped in" — assaulted, physically or sexually, by their own members.

None of the girls chose that course.

"I don't like to fight," Paula said. "Most of the time my friends were normal, but sometimes they'd get so upset. They'd be telling me they had beat up some guy."

Espitia said initiating female members into a gang can take on two forms. If the gang is an all-girl faction — which he has not seen in the Mountain View area — the girls will initiate the new girl by physically harming her. But if the girl wants to join a gang of both male and female members, sometimes the initiation can involve what Espitia refers to as being "sexed-in," where the female has sex with a variety of male members over the course of one night.

The practice, Espitia said, is also called "sex train" or "training."

Once gang members, the girls are often asked to participate as accomplices to crimes.

Espitia mentioned a case from early April, when a 22-year-old Hispanic man accepted a ride home from a man and a woman after they were in a car accident. The 18-year-old female driver, a Mountain View resident, drove him past his apartment complex to the 400 block of Tyrella Avenue, where the male companion got out of the car and began stabbing the man. Another male suspect, who was waiting in the parking lot with a group, joined the first suspect in the attack.

Girls and women, Espitia said, "help out with a lot of things. They are the drivers, and they'll hold the weapons for the gang."

He added that gangs have always been largely male-dominated and remain that way in this area. He also said he has not seen any increase in female membership in recent years.

Fernandez murder a turning point

For Theresa, the violence was always a turn-off. A pivotal moment for her in deciding against joining a gang was the murder of Los Altos High School student Alejandro "Alex" Fernandez, who was shot to death on Rengstorff Avenue in September 2004.

Fernandez was a member of the same Sureno faction as Theresa's sister, and was frequently at Theresa's home. She recalled the last time she saw him, when the two happened to walk home together. Fernandez had just been released from jail.

"We started talking and he told me he had just read an awesome book while he was in jail. I was pretty surprised; you don't think of a gang member as being really into a book. So I acted like I didn't believe him. I said, 'What book?' And he said, 'This book called "Shiloh."'

"That was so cool to me, because I had read that book too."

Not long after, Fernandez was killed in what police believe was a gang-related shooting. Theresa said the impact of his death was immediate.

"It was so sad to know he had died that way. My sister completely changed. It made her understand that you're risking your own life when you're in a gang. From there on out we started hanging out more."

Angela heard about Fernandez' death while at home.

"I just remember my mother's face. She felt a lot of pain," Angela said.

Paula also heard about Fernandez, but from her Norteno friends.

"I knew people who were happy about it. They said, 'One less scrapper on the street. He got what he deserves.' I couldn't believe that they have this hate in them for another person. I thought, that person was a son, he had a mother and brothers and sisters."

The girls' AVID teacher, Roma Hammel, said that though the girls associated with different gangs and in different ways, they followed a similar journey.

"I think there was a clear beginning, where they became interested in it and thought it was cool. But gradually, there is an awakening."

"Their story is how they found their way through their community, how they decide what their identity is and how they fit into society," Hammel said.

The girls say they are squarely college-bound, but still do know people in and around the gangs in their neighborhoods.

"I know a bunch of little kids that think they're in gangs," Paula said. "It's more younger kids now. They're coming from middle school where this all happens, and they think they're hard."

E-mail Alexa Tondreau at


Posted by *F*C*, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2007 at 1:38 am

I say we all pray for the kids everyday. I believe in Peace. We are all one. Jesus would want us all to have activities that are contructive to expressing Thy Father's Will of Harmony and Order on His Sacred Land.

All our young ones have special talents and gifts. The Young ones were given this world, they didn't make it. Until Christ comes back, we all have got to love this great land and all of it's Beautiful People. I Love All Yall. I Believe in White, Red and Blue Power. God Bless This Beautiful Country. The USA. It is a beautiful Place, Y'all have been very kind to me. I Love America. God Bless Green Power.

Posted by Someone who cares., a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2007 at 12:07 am

I've recently done some studies on juvenile crime. Among the research that I did on statistics of juvenile crime and "codes of the street," was a very special non-fiction book that described lives of incarcerated juveniles in East LA. Once given a voice through writing, these juveniles in the book discussed and shared stories of their lives when they were in the "outs," of the people in their gangs who were supposed to be their "brothers," and about the crimes they committed that lead them to the correctional facility. These juveniles also talked about kind of lives they wish they lead, and the paths they wish they took instead of the paths that took them to jail. It was quite an inspiring book, one that made me believe that most anyone can be rehabilitated to correct their course in life, and one that made me realize that the justice system nowadays is really about harsher punishments regardless of age. So, if you know of anyone who is thinking about or has already taken that long painful path and has second thoughts on it, please have them read "True Notebooks" by Mark Salzman and to reconsider their choices in life. You may be saving their life, and probably yours.

Posted by Post Highschool, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 13, 2007 at 6:03 pm

I went to school with Alex, before I was expelled I had talked to and hung out with him once. After being away from the area for a while I came back to hearing about his death. After talking to some friends they told me they knew through other people who the murderer was and that the police required them to tell what they knew. But they didn't, for whatever reason they didn't this made me mad. It makes sense looking for belonging and "respect" but these are the wrong ways to go about it. Since then I've met many other people in gangs or associated with people who have been in or still are in gangs and it makes me sad. Gangs don't bring anything good to our area, it makes it less pleasurable to live here and all in all it's a joke. Even originators of gangs "Stanley Tookie Williams" are doing what they can to abolish what they created, unfortunatly it's not that simple. It's "cool" it's "respect" it's something other than growing up. I compair the gang mentality with Peter Pan and Nevernever land. These people don't want to grow up, they think and say they are, but they're just keeping that school bully mentality and spreading it to a neighborhood, city level. Then people ask, what can you do about it, well the solution seems to be to join a gang. Either that or work hard at school and other things that seem to not be cool, important, and aren't easy. I am glad that mountain view police are participating in programs that involve teenagers doing interesting thing with the city that keep them out of trouble. But it's not easy when your world is surrounded by this disease. If it's not red, it's blue, if it's not blue it's red, and if you're neither your a victim. And what do these gangs bring to our areas, violence, death, drugs, prostitution, and in many cases teenagers having children (not only because of gangs, but more frequently in gangs) I only wish there was a better solution than just following the procedures and waiting for something to happen before the police do anything. Which is what they have to do because every person is innocent until they break the law. I've noticed as traveling up and down California newspapers in different cities reporting lower tolerance levels and even doing raids of potential and actual gang hangouts and houses of people involved and I wish we could bring that to this area. I wish they cracked down and instead of ticketing people for rollerblading in a downtown area or skating on a sidewalk that is posted not to be skated on I firmly believe that the police should be out looking for these people. It's sad because I witness and know of places that are gang hangouts and there is nothing that the police around here can or will do without some action to react to. They can watch, but they can't invade. Yet the way I see it is if they invaded and convicted these people of their crimes, or just confiscated their weapons and drugs and whatever they can find then watch these people more closely then they could prevent alot of what is happening. Now I don't want to portray this area as a bad environment because in comparison places like East Palo Alto and some parts of Sunnyvale and San Jose are alot worse, but why is it so hard to prevent much of this happening at all. I don't understand how alot of this stuff is still going on when police and the government are placed here for our protection and to prevent these things from happening. Now I am just a citizen and resident of this area, I do my bese to keep my life in check and be a caring human being but there really isn't much i can do other than report what i see and cross my fingers hoping that something will change. Something will prevent the graffiti of marking territory, something will happent to get rid of the violence, something will happen other than these people killing themselves off. It's all to sad that it has to be this way.

A book i recomend is Autobiography of an LA Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur aka Killer Kody or Monster. One of my highschool teachers had me read it and do a report for him as a special assignment because he could tell that it was the type of thing i care about. Maybe one day we as humans will realize there is a higher reasoning other than fighting and all come to agree on it. But until then we can only do our best to influence those around ourselves.