I’m a big fan of David Gonzales’ Homies toys and art. I first started running into them when I lived in Washington DC in the late 90s, and for a while there was no escaping the little posers.
I was never a homie as depicted by Gonzales, though I now resemble an unkempt cousin to El Profe. But I recognized them all. They lived in my neighborhood, went to my school, cruised down our city streets. They–mostly affectionately–called me Schoolboy. Some of them are my relatives. Most of them are now perfectly normal grown-ups, and some of them started their brilliant careers at elite colleges, thank you very much. (Shout out to Mija!) Yes, a few are in prison, on drugs, or muttering conspiracy theories in their parents’ basements. A few of your classmates probably are too.
Ten years after graduating high school, it was a hoot to run into these little plastic vatos and chavas. I had some sitting in my office cubicle in downtown San Francisco, and they were always good for a double take from passerby.
“Articles in national and regional newspapers often focus on what some call the ‘debate’ surrounding the Homies: do they represent and glorify gangsters, perpetuate stereotypes of Latinos, or represent authentic images of regular people from barrio life” (Wortham et al. 2011, p. 11)? You can guess which side the LAPD came down on:
In a well-publicized move in 1999, the Los Angeles Police Department attempted to have [the Homies] banned from stores, arguing that they glamorize gang life and encourage young people to be gang members. National newspaper stories carried quotes from law enforcement officials who described “unmistakable signs of gang life” in the figurines: a black tear on one character’s face that “represents the loss of a fellow gang member ‘in the line of duty’” and “white T-shirts and baggy pants with a shirt or jacket buttoned only at the top button, which…is typical gang attire” (Larrubia 1999). An L.A. detective was quoted as saying: “I saw the ramifications and the impact of these toys on small children. I was fighting against gang crime in the area, and [Homies] were counterproductive….It was a bad influence for the youth because of the underlying atmosphere of gangs…in the figurines” (Gowen 2002). One district attorney said that the figurines and their style of dress could even be used as a means of identifying gang members in court: “We’re thinking of putting them up in court and saying, ‘If you’re dressed like these guys, you’re violating probation’” (Larrubia 1999). (Quoted from Wortham et al., pp. 1-2,)
Sorry, I don’t buy it. Kids turn to gangs because they are poor, lonely, and desperate. If you live in a gang-infested barrio, you are up against larger forces than a collection of plastic figures. Kids like the Homies because…they are funny. And they are toys. And they celebrate the comedy and community of the barrio without the violence and fear.
Larrubia, Evelyn. 1999. “‘Homies’ Toy Angers Anti-Gang Forces.” The Los Angeles Times, May 24.
Gowen, Annie. 2002. “Latino toys criticized as stereotypes; ‘Homies’ spark uproar over impact on children.” The Washington Post, June 18.
Wortham, S., Mortimer, K. Allard, E. (2011). Homies in the New Latino Diaspora. Language & Communication, 31, 191-202. Accessed at http://repository.upenn.edu/gse_pubs/230 on January 10, 2012. Page numbers are from this downloaded version.