(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 CACP 2016-2017 Speaker Series continues with architect and writer Jason Griffiths of the University of Arizona and Jason Griffiths Architecture. His practice is based on a multidisciplinary approach.
Buena Vista Building, Aula Canaria Auditorium (BVB 1.328), Downtown Campus
UTSA's Department of Music hosts Dr. David Huron from Ohio State University as part of the Donald Hodges lecture series. Huron is a Canadian arts and humanities distinguished professor at Ohio State University.
John Peace Library, UTSA Faculty Center, (JPL 4.04.22), Main Campus
The UTSA community is encouraged to donate blood and save a life. Donors will also receive a free t-shirt.
H-E-B University Center parking lot, Main Campus
Dr. Stephanie Westney (violin) presents a concert of Mozart compositions as performed by herself and other talented musicians from the university and surrounding area. This concert is free and open to the public.
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
The Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion annually hosts a Volunteer Opportunities Fair to allow students, faculty and staff to learn about volunteer and service-learning opportunities in the San Antonio area.
University Center, 1st floor corridor, Main Campus
Join the conversation about the experiences of military-connected families in transition. Free parking in the Cattleman Square (along Buena Vista Street). The event is free and open to the public.
Frio Street Building, Riklin Auditorium (FS 1.406), Downtown Campus
School district superintendents and other district leaders responsible for bilingual and ESL programs' administration and accountability learn about cultural literacy, language, and diversity in the community.
Recruiters from across the STEM fields will be present with full-time, part-time and/or internship opportunities. Dress professional and bring plenty of resumes.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
Recruiters from across all fields looking to hire students with all different majors will be present at this event looking to hire for their full-time and/or internship opportunities. Professional dress is required. Bring plenty of resumes.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
The Civic Engagement Summit is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase UTSA's commitment to civic engagement through a myriad of efforts by students, faculty and staff, highlighting the significant ways the university impacts the local community.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, (HUC 1.104), Main Campus
The Department of Demography presents Dr. Rodolfo Cruz Peñeiro of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. His presentation is titled "Changes in the Migratory Dynamics of the Northern Mexican Border." This event is free and open to the public.
Monterrey Bldg., (MNT 3.240), UTSA Downtown Campus
Grab your friends, family, kids and dog for this annual fun run on the UTSA Main Campus benefititng the UTSA Alumni Association.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
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