About “An Urban Renewal”, Interview of Luis Rodriguez (April, 2000)

“An Urban Renewal” appeared in April 2000 edition of The Sun where journalist Derrick Jansen gives a telling interview with Luis Rodriguez, ex-convict and gang member turned author and activist. Rodriguez talks about young individuals growing up in bleak economic conditions turning to gangs for self-identity. This identity is fraught with uncertainty and self-destruction. He argues that American Capitalism creates webs and traps for poor youth that keep them marginalized within American mainstream society. He points to the loss of factories due to deindustrialization as compounding issues for working class youth growing up in these areas. The dire circumstances faced by these individuals lead to a feeling of “expendability” pushing them to “internalize that feeling of worthlessness, instead of connecting their personal experience to a larger economic and social issues”. Rodriguez further looks at his personal experience with a poor educational system – what he calls “dumb classes” – as perpetuating these feelings of alienation. As he explains “We were to work with our hands. They were preparing us to be factory workers”.

Rodriguez discusses how gang members target and discriminate against each other even though they suffer from a similar deprived upbringing. He talks of a certain self-inflicted hatred that prevails in these communities. It creates a do or die lifestyle where violence is a prevalent way to handle differences. As he points out “Society encourages these kids to turn their hatred inward because otherwise there’s a strong possibility they would turn their rage against the system”.

Rodriguez main understanding of gangs is that they are a by-product of unemployment or poor employment opportunities starting in the Industrial Age. The focus in a Capitalist society is largely around individual progress which leaves out communal responses to alleviate poverty. He ends the article with a promising idea of marginalized, many times ethnic youth to embrace their indigenous roots, communal values and to understand that “we all have an ancestral pool of knowledge and experience that we’ve somehow forgotten about”.

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