Sight: Social Justice
(Where you come from)
A Conversation with
At age 12 Victor Gonzalez was a
member of a Los Angeles gang. When he was almost killed by
rival gang members he knew it was time to change his address
and his plans for the future. At his new school in Northern
California he chose not to get involved with gangs. Instead
he spends some of his time volunteering at Youth Advocates,
an organization that does sex education and anti-gang
The InSite: How did you get involved in community
Victor: I am from El Salvador. And when I was over
there I never heard about
STD's [Sexually Transmitted Diseases]
or all these things. When I came to the United States, Youth
Advocates came to give a presentation at my school, and I
learned a little bit about this stuff. I wanted to learn a
little bit more so I came to the clinic to get more
information. And I met a guy who told me they had some
vacancies so I could work. He told me to fill out this
application and he said, "Oh, you speak Spanish too." And
that's an advantage. Then I got in. Sometimes we do street
outreach. Go talk to young people and give out
TI: So you're talking to them about
safe sex and how to protect
abstinence too. You know, not to have
...you don't have to be in a gang to be
TI: What kind of response do you get?
Victor: Well, sometimes they say, "Yeah, well I'm
not going to get that. I don't do those things." And I say,
"That's great. But someday, if you do have sex, you've gotta
know what's out there. 'Cause if you make a mistake it's
going to effect your life."
TI: Could be a deadly mistake.
TI: About how many hours a week do you put in at Youth
Victor: About 16 hours a week. Tuesdays and
Fridays. Because on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday I go to
TI: What do you do there?
Victor: It's like an after school program for
middle school kids. There are about 27 kids. We help them do
their homework. There are some kids who don't know how to
speak English so I teach them and how to write it too. Then
on Mondays and Wednesdays we have a group at Canal Ministry.
Me and one other guy from Youth Advocates. We talk to the
kids about drugs and
peer pressure. We teach them about
conflict resolution. We help them out
and just keep them off the streets, not to be wandering
around and getting into trouble. We just talk about gangs
and how you can not be in a gang. And we tell them our
experiences. All the things that we've been through but
we're still here and we're doing positive things now. They
get it. And they're like, "That's cool!" And I tell them
that you don't have to be in a gang to be cool. Because I'm
not in a gang...
TI: ...and you're cool!
TI: What was your experience with gangs?
Victor: When I got to the United States I was 12.
I lived in L.A. I saw these kids hanging around corners. And
I was in a gang. But I got in a fight with this other kid
and his cousin was looking for me. Then after school I was
just walking home and there was a drive-by shooting. And one
of my friends got shot in the chest. Like five or seven
times. And he died! I was seven feet away from him. Then two
weeks later one of my friends said that the shots were not
meant to hit him, they were meant to hit me! So I told my
mom that I wanted to move because I was in big trouble. My
aunt was here, and then I came here to San Rafael [Northern
California]. When I got to San Rafael High I used to see
these kids trying to be in gangs and I was going to go that
way too, but I was like, "No. I don't want to be there in a
gang. Be in all this trouble for nothing. It's not worth
it." So then some of my friends told me about some group
called Raza Studies. And I met this guy named Miguel and he
was the mentor for the group. So I used to go every Thursday
and we used to talk about Prop 187 [an anti-immigrant law
passed by California voters in Nov. '96] and what we can do
about it and how we can get people involved. And how to get
young people not to be in gangs.
...one of my friends got shot in the
the shots were ... meant to hit me!
TI: Why do you think kids join gangs?
Victor: Because they don't get attention at home.
And they go outside and see other kids with money or they
have more friends. And they want to be part of the group.
They want to be known as "somebody." Not anybody like a nerd
who just goes to school or whatever.
TI: Being part of a group is a good thing, so when you
tell young people not to be part of gangs you've got to give
them something to replace it with. What have you got for
Victor: Well, I tell them what I've been through.
And you know if they want to get out of the gang, or if they
have problems I give them Miguel's phone number for the Raza
Studies. I tell them "Just call Miguel up and come to the
group only once to check it out. To see that you can have
power some other way, not physical power. You can show your
abilities in positive ways. And then you can be a positive
role model for your little brothers and little sisters."
TI: How long have you been involved in Raza?
Victor: For two years.
TI: And have you noticed some changes in that
Victor: Yeah. If it wouldn't have been for the
group I would have been in the streets and everything. We do
presentations to church groups, to other groups and before
we were 7 and now we are 22! Most everybody in the Canal
knows the group and they tell us to come do presentations
for them. And we did a presentation for San Rafael High
School teachers. We told them about how we felt and how some
other people in the school felt. And they liked it. I think
we're doing some positive things. We're letting other people
know how the youth feels these days.
TI: All young people feel that pull, that peer
pressure to be part of a group in whatever community they
live in. And maybe the leaders of those groups are not
making good choices about the way they live their lives and
they pull in other kids who are just not sure but they
really want to belong. What would you say to them?
Victor: If you really love yourself and respect
yourself you don't need to go through all those problems.
You can really do something for your community. Work. Get
involved with groups. Help people out. Because even though
nobody was there for you, you can break that cycle. You can
help somebody else. So those kids won't go through the same
things that we've been through.
TI: Are you in school?
Victor: Yeah. I'm 18 and I'm a junior.
TI: You have another year of high school, but what do
you think you're going to do when you're finished?
Victor: I want to go to college. I want to be a
counselor. Like Miguel.
nobody was there for you,
you can break that cycle.
Check Out More "Solutions in Sight"