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UTSA's Michael Tapia documents lives of 1950s gangs of San Antonio

Michael Tapia
former gang members

UTSA Assistant Professor Michael Tapia and former gang members he interviewed for oral history project

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(Sept. 4, 2013) -- Michael Tapia, an assistant professor of criminology in the UTSA Department of Criminal Justice, recently embarked on a mission to document the histories and stories of gangs of a bygone era. Through a start-up funded by UTSA, Tapia has begun an oral history project, "San Antonio Barrio Gangs of the 1950s," dedicated to capturing a moment in time that he feels is often overlooked.

The 1950s in San Antonio were a turbulent time for many Mexican-American youths. In response to rampant poverty and ethnic discrimination, the barrios of the city's West Side saw an increase in the formation of street-level delinquent groups. These were the barrio gangs of San Antonio, formed to protect their turf from outside influence, and they have become social legend among the large working class population who inhabit those neighborhoods in present day.

"San Antonio has a rich history of Chicano street gang activity that dates back at least as far back as the 1940s, perhaps further," said Tapia. "Yet, there's been so little documentation of these important aspects of Mexican-American social history in San Antonio. I feel it's important that we not ignore these crucial stories from our city's past."

Since he began his project, Tapia has identified members from approximately 50 gangs that existed during that time. He has already collected first-hand oral and written accounts, names and photographs from many members of the gangs still alive today. The surviving former gang members are in their late 70s and 80s today. Every day, Tapia fears that he will lose another anchor to this part of history.

"As the surviving participants and first-hand observers age, the opportunity to study the barrio gang elements in the 1950s will soon be lost," said Tapia. "My hope is that I can record accounts from surviving members of most, if not all, the barrio gangs that existed in San Antonio during that period of time."

The project was selected to represent UTSA as its entry for the National Endowment for the Arts in the Humanities category. The accounts that Tapia collects will be archived at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures for access to the public.

"We don't seek to glorify the gang life," said Tapia. "However, the formation of these gangs in response to the poverty and discrimination that many of these youths faced is a worthy human adaptation topic to explore, more than 50 years later."

In the meantime, Tapia and his community partners, Jose Gallegos and Juan Mendoza, have begun planning a community event in an effort to raise awareness about the effort. The proposed event will bring together former gang members to share their experiences in 1950s San Antonio while also allowing them to advise visitors about how they ultimately grew beyond the gang life.

"We believe it's important not only to preserve this cultural phenomenon, but to document the many success stories that have come from former gang members," said Gallegos. "Hopefully, these personal stories can prevent youths from engaging in this behavior in the future."

To learn more, contact Michael Tapia at 210-458-2628.

 

 

Events
Feb. 13, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

29th annual Asian Festival - Year of the Monkey

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Feb. 13, 1 p.m.

2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium

Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016  Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium.  The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 15, 6 - 8 p.m.

Veterans' Networking Mixer

The intent of this event is to connect student veterans with employers who are seeking to provide advice and potentially recruit driven, skilled and equipped candidates for their organizations. This is an exciting opportunity to network and meet with seasoned professionals who will assist and guide you in transitioning into your next career move.
Wyndam Garden Riverwalk Hotel

Feb. 16, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.

S.T.E.M. Career Fair

Are you looking for career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math? Come to the SPRING 2015 STEM Career Fair. Recruiters from across the STEM fields will be present with full-time, part-time and/or internship opportunities. Professional dress is required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 16, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

Spring 2016 All Majors Career & Internship Fair

Come to the Spring 2016 All Majors and Internship Career Fair. Recruiters from across all industries will be present with full-time or internship opportunities. Professional Dress is Required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 17, 5:30 p.m.

CACP Speaker Series continues with Cesar Pelli

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning (CACP) welcomes renowned architect Cesar Pelli as part of the CACP’s 2015-16 Speaker Series. Pelli is founder and Senior Principal of the New Haven, Conn. firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. In his talk, “Becoming an Architect,” Pelli will present and discuss projects that were critical steps in his career.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Carlton-LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Presentation and Book Signing with Luis Carlos Montalvan

Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Feb. 25, 6 p.m.

12th Annual Black Heritage Gala

The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.

Cultural Contrasts in Latin America

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)


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