Wednesday, August 05, 2015

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

Share this Story

(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.

 

 

Did You Know?

For acclaimed UTSA writer, poetry rhymes with life

Robert Penn Warren said: “How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.” That is certainly true for Carmen Tafolla. An associate professor of practice with the UTSA College of Education and Human Development, Tafolla has authored more than 20 acclaimed books of poetry and prose, including "The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans." It won the Tom´s Rivera Children’s Book Award in 2009.

Tafolla is a San Antonio native who grew up on the West Side. Attending a private high school, she realized that the literature did not positively portray her community or the people who lived there. She determined to change that in her writing. In published works for both adults and children — more than 200 anthologies, magazines, journals, textbooks and readers in four languages — Tafolla reflects on the rich Mexican-American culture of San Antonio in which she grew up.

Did you know? Tafolla was San Antonio's first Poet Laureate, from 2012 to 2014, and currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Texas.

Read More »
Events
Aug. 4, 6 - 8 p.m.

Free Teacher Tuesday: Los Tejanos Workshop

Discover resources and strategies for teaching Tejano history and culture and get a special educator's tour of the new long-term exhibit, Los Tejanos.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

Aug. 6, 5 - 7 p.m.; 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

6th Annual Texas Higher Education Symposium

This annual symposium is an opportunity to discuss Texas higher education issues and trends with Texas higher education scholars, state and local government officials, students, and campus and local community members.
Downtown Campus

Aug. 9, 12 - 5 p.m.

Vaquerocation 2015

This cowboy-themed programming, offered in conjunction with Our Kids Magazine's Kidcation Week, gives families the opportunity to visit with cowboy docents, enjoy readings and visit activity tables.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

Aug. 17, 11:30 p.m.

Midnight Light

Join President Ricardo Romo, The Spirit of San Antonio Marching Band, students, faculty and staff to light the monument at the Main Campus entrance at the stroke of midnight.
John Peace Boulevard Entrance, Main Campus

Aug. 18, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

President's BBQ on the Plaza

Join university President Ricardo Romo on the Bill Miller Plaza for his annual free BBQ lunch.
Bill Miller Plaza, Downtown Campus

Aug. 18, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

President's BBQ on the Lawn

Join university President Ricardo Romo on the Convocation Center lawn for his annual free BBQ lunch.
Convocation Center East Lawn, Main Campus

Aug. 22, 6 p.m.

UTSA Alumni Gala

The UTSA Alumni Association hosts this annual gala honoring the Alumna of the Year, Alumnus of the Year and the Alumnus of the Year Lifetime Achievement award winners.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, 9800 Hyatt Resort Dr.


Other Calendars
» UTSA Events | » Academic | » Institute of Texan Cultures

Submit an Event


Meet a Roadrunner

Ernest Bromley '78, '80 one of UTSA's first students, takes on the world

Shrugging off retirement, the Bromley founder plans to earn a PhD and complete a 375-mile race

UTSA's Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA's Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA's Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

Connect with UTSA News

       


Related Links

Back to Top