Survival of the youngest
Portland State University
(The) My survival story of a first generation Mexican-American family from Southern California is discussed within this paper. Two specific family members were interviewed on how they viewed the family’s survival in their neighborhood during the early and late 1990s. The environment surrounding the family consisted of poverty and gang violence, an analysis of both interviews conducted demonstrates the perceptions of reality both family members have about surviving the hardships of growing up in a low-income community.
Keywords: Survival, family, gang
Growing up in Southern California in the early and late 1990’s was a very unique time, specifically, in the city of Santa Ana where I grew up. I remember as a child witnessing violence on a regular basis. The families in the community were majority low-income first generation Mexican-American families with little to no higher education. Young men were heavily involved with neighborhood gangs and young women were seen becoming mothers by the age of 15 or 16. These common behaviors became a part of my immediate family, demonstrated by how my older brother became a gang member at the age of 14 and my sister became a mother at the age of 15. My brother is 13 years older than I and my sister is 11 years older than me which demonstrates their ability to provide me with their views, perceptions and insight on how our family survived childhood in a low-income community that involved gang violence.
The first person I choose to interview was my brother Jr, he is currently 39 years old and lived in our neighborhood until the age of 25. Jr began his story once we took a seat outside on the porch of our mother’s home, “growing up in Santa Ana during the 90’s was a trip.” You were just a little baby when we moved into our house on Elder street. I was 12 when I got introduce to the gang life, you were like two years old still in diapers. I didn’t become an active gang member until I was 14 years old. In Santa Ana during that time everybody wanted to be from a hood so much so that for the following 20 years of my life, I was an active gang member. Running the streets with my homies. Mom couldn’t control me and dad lost all hope in me. Our neighborhood was filled with drugs and gangs which made it easy for me to become involved. Going in and out of prison is what moms says helped me survive. If it wasn’t for me going to prison every few months, I would probably be dead right now and I wouldn’t be here telling this story of how our family survived the 90’s in Santa Ana. There were good days and they were bad days in the hood, on the bad days mom would make sure we didn’t go outside at night even when I tried my best to leave. Our parents knew how to survive coming from Mexico, they had already seen a lot there so they had a routine here on how to handle all the bullshit we lived around. Like when police helicopters and police cars were on a chase after someone, mom and dad would lock up the house and we stayed inside. As much as I was involved in the gang life there were times I feared for my own life. Staying close to mom and dad or in prison was my only way of staying alive. You were just a kid when everything was happening which was a good thing. Mom and dad moved out the hood and into Portland, which turned out to be one of the best decisions they could have made because we didn’t become a family without a child or sibling. We became a family with a first-generation college student which is you. I was happy we made it out of Santa Ana Claudia, we survived and I know a lot of people who didn’t.
The second person I choose to interview was my sister Mercy, she is currently 37 years old and lived in our neighborhood until the age of 23. “I was so young, I was a kid having a kid” my sister recalls as we spoke over the phone about our family survival in Santa Ana. She continues, there was always some shit going down in the hood, we learned how to deal with all the bullshit by not becoming involved. Yet, with Jr being an active gang member we always had to be on the lookout beside the times he would be in jail or actually listening to mom and dad because he didn’t want to die like some of his friends. Mom and dad always made sure the house was a safe zone if some shit was going down like gunshots they made sure we were nowhere near the windows and if there was a drive by shooting they would rush us into the back room farthest from the front door. There were also nights we stayed the night at grandma’s since our neighborhood gangs were being super active in the streets. Mom and dad did their best to protect us from the violence happening around us but it got to be too much so that is when they decided to move to Portland. I already had a life of my own with my own daughter so that’s why I choose to stay in California. If mom and dad wouldn’t have moved to Portland we would still be surrounded by the same shit in Santa Ana. I’m thankful they move out of the hood, it was truly the best thing for our family.
Hearing my brother and sister tell their stories of our family survived in Santa Ana during the 1990’s was interesting, I never knew how much effort my parents put into keeping us safe while living in a low-income community. Listening to my siblings, made me understand how I coped with certain things in the world such as not being afraid to stand up and defend myself. I learned how to protect myself from harm. Having the courage to stand up for myself came from living in Santa Ana because my brother and sister taught me to be strong when difficult times came along. One more thing that helped me cope with the world by hearing my family’s survival story was knowing that life isn’t going to be easy. There will be good and bad days and how I choose to deal with these days all depends on me and my perceptions on life. Learning that there will be good and bad days helped me to understand, that no matter what happens that day a new day always follow. These family stories helped me cope with the world by making me a stronger individual mentally and emotionally while reminding me there will always be better days ahead.
During the interviews I conducted with my siblings it became clear to me who was the “enemy” and who were the “good guys” in our family story. It was clear that the enemy was the gang violence happening all around us during the 1990’s in Santa Ana. The gang violence became our enemy given it was a consistent battle of remaining safe and out of harm’s ways. The streets that the gang violence took over were also a part of the enemy because they were no longer safe to walk. The gang violence that consisted of shootings, drive bys, robberies, and murders were all my family’s enemy because they filled my home with fear. My parents and siblings lived in constant fear while I just seen the enemy as a norm in our neighborhood during that time.
My parents fought hard against the violence in order to protect our family as much as possible. Clearly, they were the “good guys” trying to provide their family with a life they didn’t have themselves going up in Mexico. However, as a low-income family their choices for a healthier and safer neighborhood for their children was limited. The neighborhood gang violence I was raised in made my parents work even harder towards providing a better life for our family. They kept us safe and protected from the violence they best way they knew how.
The dignity and self-respect my family fought so hard for did not come easy. My parents had a lot of self-discipline, they didn’t show much weakness towards the gang violence, they weren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. My mother held onto her dignity even when the violence was standing at our front door given my brother was a gang member. My father was a well-known, well respected man in the neighborhood. I could tell by the way others approached him with greetings. He took protecting his home and family serious which meant my dad had built relationship with other neighbors who were also victims of the violence. My parents kept their dignity and self-respect by not allowing their children to continue growing up in an unsafe environment.
For my parents, I learned it came naturally from them to protect their children, coming from small cities in Mexico where poverty levels were high, my parents learned how to survive in the streets themselves at an early age. The survival habits they learned in Mexico followed them to Santa Ana and become a way of life for the next 20 years while they raised my siblings and I. Protecting us was a priority for my parents which taught me how hard they worked to keep us safe, I learned to appreciate their characters as parents. My brother and sister described my parents as individuals that did anything and everything they could to protect us from the gang violence we were surround by almost on a everyday basis.
The lessons learned from surviving helped connect every generation that followed. Although there is a two-generation gap between my siblings and I, they both were born in the late 1970’s and I was born in 1990. With such a big generational gap in between children allowed for there to be a connection made because as the little sister I connected with everyone in my family in various ways. I had a special bond with everyone. As my role of the little sister, hearing my brother and sister tell the survival of our family helped me connect with moments in the past that I was not be mentally aware of during that time since I was a child. I felt as if I was in a time machine returning to the early 1990’s and connecting with my family in that moment in time during the gang violence in our neighborhood.
Yerby (1998) describes a theoretical approach on family communication; roles which focuses on individuals within a family who behave the way they do because of the role they occupy. An example of this theory is my role as the little sister in the family, which is a lot different than the role my older siblings hold because as the older siblings they were at an age where they had a better understanding of what was going on in our neighborhood. They knew the people who were in the gangs and knew the type of violence that was being committed. Jr and Mercy were both strong individuals.
I’ve went on to discover and learn so much about my family from conducting interviews with my siblings. Learning that my parents never lost hope in providing our family with a better life is motivating and inspiring. I learned that my family had a rough start however they never lost hope of overcoming the challenges of growing up in a low-income community. The morals, beliefs, and values of our family survival story has a greater meaning to it from learning more about where my family comes from. Our roots are deep within Santa Ana and without that survival story in our family we probably wouldn’t be the same people we are today. I learned that my parents did their best to raise us in a healthy home regardless of what we faced outside our front doors. The violence around us did not stop my parents from providing us with a positive childhood. We still had family dinners from time to time, trips to the park and vacations to Mexico. My parents didn’t allow the violence that was occurring in our neighborhood to stop us from having a childhood. Learning about the countless effort that was put into surviving the streets of Santa Ana as a family helped me understand why my family made the choice to move to Portland. As a first-generation college student, I’m proud to say my family made it through the struggle of living in Santa Ana during the 1990’s. Without this survival story my path towards a higher education may have not been possible.
Campuzano, M. (2017, May 22). Phone Interview.
Claudio, F. (2017, May 22). Personal Interview.
Yerby, J., Bochner, A.P., & Buerkel-Rothfuss, N. (1998). Family Communication. Custom Edition for Portland State University. Chapter 3.