Robert J. Duran, The Gang Paradox: Inequalities and Miracles on the US-Mexico Border.

AuthorMartinez, Amy A.

Robert J. Duran, The Gang Paradox: Inequalities and Miracles on the US-Mexico Border (Columbia University Press, 2018)

THE OPENING OF ROBERT J. DURAN'S BOOK THE GANG PARADOX: Inequalities and Miracles on the US-Mexico Border immediately takes the reader to a community center in NewMexico, where an audience of nearly 50 individuals (many of whom are elderly) are gathered patiently to listen to a presentation given by David, a middle-aged Latino man who runs a faith-based organization focused on gangs and has asserted himself in the community as a gang expert. His presentation for this gathering is focused on the subject of helping parents and/or caretakers learn how to decipher whether or not their children are involved in "Hispanic youth gangs" (1). However, at the onset of his presentation, David begins with a clarification as to why he is only focusing on Latino gangs. He reminds his audience that it only makes sense because the majority of individuals residing in Chaparral (an unincorporated small community in the Dona Ana and Otero counties in New Mexico) are of Mexican descent. He then goes on to say, "We have a lot of kids who believe that we owe them something. I don't owe them a darn thing" (2). David explains his disappointment in the lack of morals and absent work ethic, focus, and ganas (will) among the young people in their community. He insists that if young people involved in gang life had embraced the values and virtues of US meritocracy instead of succumbing to a sense of entitlement, then they would have avoided becoming involved in their local gangs in the first place.

Duran's recounting of his initial dismay at hearing a Latino faith-based gang expert vilify gang-affiliated young people and attribute their involvement to personal failings and bad parenting skills serves as a point of departure for the book's inquiry into how and why borderland communities like those in New Mexico have traditionally framed the issue of borderland Latino gangs as a moral panic. More specifically, he offers a close examination of the role of Latino law enforcement officers' perpetuation of the hypercriminalization of individuals involved in gangs and the legacy of settler colonialism in shaping the structural conditions that Latino young people must navigate in their communities. By doing so, he (1) offers a nuanced understanding of why community members like David are not an anomaly in how they approach the issue of gangs, as he represents the attitudes to which the majority of people in borderland communities adhere, and (2) demonstrates how these conservative worldviews ultimately shape punitive institutional responses from the community toward these gangs. Unlike most gang studies that focus solely on highlighting gang activity and violence, Duran underlines the contradictions embedded in what he refers to as the "gang paradox." Duran accomplishes this goal by counterbalancing dominant narratives in Latino borderland communities that suggest high levels of gang activity and violence (in turn justifying the need for zero-tolerance policies and antigang suppression tactics) with empirical evidence (i.e., "miracles") he encounters in the US-Mexico borderlands that contradicts these claims. Here, Duran provides examples of young Latino people attending and graduating college and lower rates of gang involvement, gang violence, and homicide that demonstrate the grit and resilience embodied by the...

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