Hard cases show soft side

October 6, 2006

A Spanish academic has helped transform a fledgling gang in Barcelona into an organisation working for social integration.

Carles Feixa, lecturer in anthropology at Lleida University, began work with the Latin Kings, a group of mainly Ecuadorean young people, in early 2005. In mid-September this year, the association made its public debut under the new name of the Cultural Organisation of Latin Kings and Queens of Catalonia.

In 2004, media coverage contributed to a growing sense of public unease about Latino gangs in Barcelona. The city authorities asked Dr Feixa to investigate who joined the groups and why. "What concerned the council was whether images of gang violence were based on reality or were media inventions," he said.

Dr Feixa found that in Barcelona only a minority of young Latinos joined the groups. He said they shared a common experience, which he defined as a threefold crisis: the experience of migration and reunion with families combined with the upheavals of adolescence and the difficulty of being accepted in a new country. The Latin Kings offered "a refuge in a time of solitude", he said.

The idea of becoming a recognised organisation came from the Latin Kings themselves. The association plans to help the homeless, organise sports events and make a record.

Dr Feixa is now working with the %etas, supposed rivals of the Latin Kings.

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