Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Cause

Last year while having a conversation over a couple of beers with my roommate he mentioned to me, that an old friend of his had just been released from prison and had gotten in touch with him. That friend contacted my roommate to harangue him about "the cause" he had left behind. You see, my roommate and his friend used to be a in gang together. What "cause," you might wonder.

Well, the farmworker and raza cause of course. You see the red gang has based some of their ideology and symbolism around the farmwoker and United Farm Workers struggle. Years ago, I remember walking past my brother's bedroom, and I saw the UFW flag on his wall. Although I wasn't super familiar with the interconnectedness between the red gang and the labor union, I knew a big reason it was on his wall wasn't because he necessarily sympathized with the farmworker struggle, was a union member/volunteer, let alone a farmworker, I knew he had the flag on his wall because it was red.

[Mexican American Red flag with Eagle]
United Farm Workers are not a gang.

My mother was a UFW volunteer and activist. Therefore she had amassed quite a collection of UFW memorabilia in the form of buttons and flags. When my brothers began to get caught up in the red gang ideology, they began wearing UFW buttons. They would talk about being down for "the cause," just not around me, because they knew I didn't play that bullshit. But my mother had heard them talking to friends and telling them how their mother had been down for "the cause." My mom was upset about this and explained to them, that she was never a chola, and the UFW had nothing to do with gangs. But my brothers in turn tried to explain the red gang's history and affiliation to the union, to which my mother just shook her head, as in, "Estan pendejos."

This is UFW memorabilia, NOT gang paraphernalia 
I personally did not know how the red gang had twisted the UFW mythology to accommodate their own agenda. Seeing the red union flag in the bedroom, I knew it had nothing to do with allegiance to the union. It was all about the colors. And I also understood that the red gang saw themselves as the Mexicanos in the northern California who were embattled with southern California Mexicanos. According to them they felt looked down upon because the Mexicanos from the south like LA, would look down upon them for working in agriculture. That was where my knowledge of the decades long "war" between raza began and ended.

I recently read, Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California's Nuestra Familia Gang (2014) by Julia Reynolds. Through her book I learned how much the red gang tied their own ideology or more specifically agenda to the United Farm Workers and the labor movement since the gang's beginnings. It was more than just about the colors and the symbolism. It's not to say that the gang was a natural extension of the UFW and consisted of people who tried to steer toward the UFW's cause. Not at all. It was just something they sympathized with being that many of the young Mexican Americans in Salinas, actually were farm laborers. Later, the Mexican American laborers evolved from being a group of Mexican American laborer friends and into a gang, it became convenient to associate their cause with the UFW's symbolism and "raza" rhetoric when brainwashing other Xican@ youth. But really that's where the affiliation with "the cause" ended. Some of the men Reynolds interviewed in the book seemed conflicted, believing in "the cause" but not knowing where "the cause" for the raza began, and "the cause" for gang profiteering began, because that's how blurred the lines were. They were both one and the same. And who was the enemy? Well Mexican@s from southern California of course!

Some of the older men and men who had left the gang, interviewed by Reynolds, were able to disentangle the web of deception, and admitted that the true "cause" for the gang was basically making money through criminal activities. It had nothing to do with Cesar Chavez's ideology of non-violence. Again, the red gang's association with the UFW and raza speak, is just a convenient way to persuade Xican@ youth toward their "cause."

What is truly insane for me, is that growing up, the first thing I knew about Mexican agricultural laborers (besides my parents being farm laborers themselves), was the UFW and their struggle. I had friends in the red gang, but I had never heard or seen much about the UFW or anything else pertaining to labor struggles. It was mainly just about making sure that you wore your red t-shirt or belt to let it be known who you were affiliated with. But I noticed that with my brothers and their friends, they have grown up learning about the UFW through the gang. That is they learn about the gang first, and then through the gang they begin to learn about their historical roots and how they tie to the UFW and farmworker struggles. This is mind blowing, because there are generations of Xican@s learning about the UFW "cause" and using their symbols based on what they hear from the red gang. Blurred like a motherfucker.

Did you know Cesar Chavez was member of the red gang? Well not in that he got jumped in or that he is the founder of the red gang, but because he's a Xicano from northern California! We need to go and tell Rodolfo Acun~na to update the next edition of Occupied America to make sure he highlights Chavez's time as a norte~no!



Either Chavez is spinning in his grave or if he were alive and did not adhere to his own ideology of non-violence, he would probably be bitch slapping quite a few Xican@s down with "the cause."

I really have no words for the whole rationale. All that comes to mind when I have family who are trying to explain the red gang's ties (or "the cause") to the UFW is for me to say, "Estas mas pendejo, que baboso."

But going back to my roommate who had moved on from gang life, and was now living far from Salinas; after he told me about the friend who had castigated him about forgetting "the cause," I asked him, "What was the cause? Terrorizing and killing your own people?" He looked dismayed and just said, "Yeah,"

Reynolds' book tells the history of the prison gang, Operation Black Widow, but also about those out on the street specifically focusing on Salinas, and Mando, a young man who killed a drug dealer, under the orders of a shot caller, who was working as an informant for the FBI. The informant gave the green light while under the FBI supervision, which takes Reynolds through some bureaucratic crap, where the FBI refuses to acknowledge that they allowed this to happen under their watch. You might be familiar with the case if you have watched the Gangland episode that focuses on the same subject. If you want to get the gist of the book, the Youtube video below is a documentary about the same topic. Reynolds wrote the documentary and released it through PBS in 2006.

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