The Projects: Gang and Non-Gang Families in East Los Angeles

The Projects: Gang and Non-Gang Families in East Los Angeles

The Projects: Gang and Non-Gang Families in East Los Angeles

The Projects: Gang and Non-Gang Families in East Los Angeles


The Pico Gardens housing development in East Los Angeles has a high percentage of resident families with a history of persistent poverty, gang involvement, and crime. In some families, members of three generations have belonged to gangs. Many other Pico Gardens families, however, have managed to avoid the cycle of gang involvement.

In this work, Vigil adds to the tradition of poverty research and elaborates on the association of family dynamics and gang membership. The main objective of his research was to discover what factors make some families more vulnerable to gang membership, and why gang resistance was evidenced in similarly situated non-gang-involved families. Providing rich, in-depth interviews and observations, Vigil examines the wide variations in income and social capital that exist among the ostensibly poor, mostly Mexican American residents. Vigil documents how families connect and interact with social agencies in greater East Los Angeles to help chart the routines and rhythms of the lives of public housing residents. He presents family life histories to augment and provide texture to the quantitative information.

By studying life in Pico Gardens, Vigil feels we can better understand how human agency interacts with structural factors to produce the reality that families living in all public housing developments must contend with daily.


The next time you read about gang violence, or proposals to do something about gangs and the neighborhoods they inhabit, you will bring an enriched frame of mind and understanding to the topic after reading Diego Vigil's book. The Projects brings gangs and families to life; it is a holistic study in the best sense. You will think of gang members not simply as individuals in isolation, but as struggling families and children embedded in their sociocultural setting, with a sense of how they think, feel, and experience their world. The Projects provides evidence across levels of analysis, from structural conditions in the United States and in Los Angeles, to neighborhood and housing project circumstances, to family and school contexts, and— last but not least—to the everyday practices of families and gang members themselves.

The topics covered in Vigil's book move from the physical settings, to local history, to local gang and family subcultures, to a case study of one gang member and his family, to the stories of girls and young mothers in this world (the research team identifes three types of female gangs and gang members, and describes the very frequent sexual abuse and drug/alcohol abuse in their early experience), to important descriptions of the lives of non-gang families, along with a comparison of families embedded in the gang world. the book ofers a conceptual overview of the factors pushing and pulling youth, a history of prevention/intervention efforts, and a concluding set of policy recommendations.

Vigil offers many compelling examples of everyday activities and routines of gang members and their families. Whatever the structural and neighborhood circumstances that beset these youth and their families, the . . .

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