Gang Talk is Hemispheric Localism

Updated April 30, 2011

Mendoza describes hemispheric localism as a member's concept of the mission and purpose of the gang as a social organization which "responds to broader contextual pressures that include members’ knowledge of Latino migration dynamics, their own gangs’ internationalization, as well as their understandings of worldwide political relations . . . Young people interpret, animate, take sides in, and make sense of global realities around them through the scope of Norte/Sur gang affi liations".

The term “gang-talk is hemispheric localism” describes both Nortenos and Surenos who are territorialized based on their customs of race, language, class, and national identity. As Mendoza mentions, the gang members’ concepts of the mission and purpose of the gang as a social union respond to broader contextual pressures that include a members’ familiarity of Latin migration dynamics and their own gangs’ internationalization, as well as their understandings of worldwide political relations. Therefore, hemispheric localism refers to, in this particular situation, the “North” and “South” and their “webs of signification”. These webs, or rather the dynamic they share, tie together a gangs’ language and race and ethnic nationalism.

If we consider geography, the terms “core” and “periphery” come up when referring to gangs. Core and periphery in geography tends to refer to developing and underdeveloped countries and urbanized and industrial powerhouses like the United States and United Kingdom. When used in accordance with gang studies, the terms are used in parallel situations. Someone operating in the core or periphery (of prison), a researcher, or cop, a gang member, represents a person whom wants to escape these internal or external pressures. Therefore they ascribe to certain social groups who take up behaviors and actions and linguistic pressures, which often times, are the opposite of the global or hemispheric view.

Concepts of both Norteños and Surenos are intricately tied to language, as Junior mentions, “not just the language people use, but the language they don’t use” and the ideology prescribed about languages spoken by certain gangs. Oddly, however, the use of code-switching is common with these gangs, meaning there are cracks in the language when speakers try not to use the language their gang does not ascribe to.

In closing, the statement “gang-talk is hemispheric localism “ is a political ideology which gang members’ adopt based on racial debates, assimilation into the modern world, and especially the use of language. Language is a key principle to gang affiliated members who, in an instant, can be identified with certain sects after advertising their linguistic capabilities.


Homegirls: Language and Cultural Practice Among Latina Youth Gangs by Norma Mendoza-Denton. Wiley-Blackwell. 2008

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