(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.
The UTSA community welcomes students to their on-campus home! Laurel Village, Chaparral Village and Alvarez Hall are home for 2,300 students during the academic year, and Move-In event kicks off the start of Roadrunner Days.
Laurel Village, Chaparral Village, Alvarez Hall, Main Campus
The College of Engineering hosts this seminar featuring Jeff Adams, Southwest Zone Quality Manager, Siemens Building Technologies Division. The event is free and open to the public.
Engineering Building (EB 3.04.30), Main Campus
This is a terrific opportunity for incoming transfer students to network with staff that serve our veteran, non-traditional, and transferring students, as well as meet transfer peer mentors who can help answer questions about UTSA.
Main Building ground floor lobby, Main Campus
After a day full of moving and getting settled into their new UTSA home, students and their families can have some refreshments and snacks at the Welcome Back Reception. The event tops off with the premiere performance of the Spirit of San Antonio, UTSA's Marching Band.
University Center Paseo, Main Campus
Can you survive the library wilderness? As a part of Roadrunner Days, UTSA Libraries is hosting a mobile adventure for you to play and find out more about the library!
John Peace Library, 2nd floor, Main Campus
Come meet your UTSA Volleyball Team as they gear up for the 2017 season! The game begins at 5 p.m. then the team will hold an autograph and photo session after the game.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
This engaging discussion pulls back the covers on hooking up, clarifying when it’s actually sexual violence and how bystanders can protect potential victims from predators.
University Center, Retama Auditorium (UC 2.02.02), Main Campus
Late Night at the Rec is an awesome UTSA tradition that transforms a standard information session into an exciting night of fun. At this annual event, you’ll be able to learn about our facilities, recreation programs, and wellness services offered at Main and Downtown Campuses.
Recreation and Wellness Center, Main Campus
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