Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America

Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America

Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America

Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America

Synopsis

Why would a gun-wielding, tattoo-bearing "homie" trade in la vida loca for a Bible and the buttoned-down lifestyle of an evangelical hermano (brother in Christ)? To answer this question, Robert Brenneman interviewed sixty-three former gang members from the "Northern Triangle" of Central America--Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras--most of whom left their gang for evangelicalism. Unlike in the United States, membership in a Central American gang is hasta la morgue. But the most common exception to the "morgue rule" is that of conversion or regular participation in an evangelical church. Do gang members who weary of their dangerous lifestyle simply make a rational choice to opt for evangelical religion? Brenneman finds this is only partly the case, for many others report emotional conversions that came unexpectedly, when they found themselves overwhelmed by a sermon, a conversation, or a prayer service. An extensively researched and gritty account, Homies and Hermanos sheds light on the nature of youth violence, of religious conversion, and of evangelical churches in Central America.

Excerpt

To get out of the gang alive is hard, hard. Our leader, a ranflero [gang
lord] once told me, “Here, there is only one way to get out, and that’s in
your pine-box suit.”

Neftalí, former member of Guatemalan White Fence

Tattooed in bold cursive script across the shoulders of Juan José Tobar are the words, “Why should I fall in love with life when I’m already married to death?” Juan José, or “JJ” as his friends today call him, spent sixteen years as a member and then leader of a violent Guatemala City cell of the transnational gang called the “White Fence.” the twentyeight-year-old Guatemalan has spent years of his life in Guatemala City’s juvenile detention centers, prisons, and hospitals and has survived three gunshots, nine stabbings, and the complete failure of one lung due to substance abuse. He candidly admits, though without any pride or pleasure, to having killed or ordered the deaths of multiple individuals, mostly rival gang members. These killings are symbolically represented by three tattooed tears underneath his right eye—the gang equivalent of a “stripe” for eliminating a rival. Tattooed on his eyelids are the letters “W” and “F.” Beneath the slogan on his shoulders, a mural of tattoos on his torso and arms depict the gang’s ethos, a visual creed composed of female genitalia, gang “homies” dressed in the “cholo” style, and marijuana leaves, as well as the skulls, graves, and flames that represent his gang “matrimony.” But now JJ’s tattoos speak differently than they used to. Today they speak of a former life—one that ended three years ago when jj took the dangerous step of leaving the gang for good. jj is an ex-gang member.

When I first met jj it was at his new place of employment, a computer hardware wholesaler located on a main thoroughfare of Guatemala’s . . .

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