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A West Side Story View of Street Gangs

Updated on April 14, 2011


   The movie West Side Story is set in the 1950s.  There are a variety of differences in the portrayal of the gangs in the film and those currently in today’s society.

   Even in the initial scene of the movie, the gang violence is created by racial divides. The Puerto Rican gang fights with the white kids.

   However, while that might have been true at the time, gangs are often now more integrated than the poor communities in which they flourish.  In Chicago, a 14-year-old girl was recently shot in a park while buying ice cream. The two gang members arrested, though from the same gang, were an African from Kenya, and a Mexican national.

   Another difference between the gangs shown in the movie and reality is the gang’s definition of a girl’s role.  In the movie, the one girl who wishes to be part of the gang is spurred, treated like a child and sent away. 

   Contemporary gangs either incorporate girls or allow girl auxiliaries capable of as much violence as their male counterparts.

    When gangs in the movie discussed arming themselves, the shied away from guns.  Even the mention of potential gun violence made them concerned. However, in today’s society, guns are commonplace among gang members and many established gangs have


armament equal to or more powerful than the police departments charged with controlling them.

   Additionally in the movie, gangs harassed one another and ran through the streets, but for the most part did nothing to disturb the citizens of their community. 

   Conversely, there are some similarities.  In the opening scenes of the movie, the Jets discuss the need to fight with their rival gang, remain in charge of their own turf.  The Jets discuss how they cannot stay out of the streets because “they own them.”  They acknowledge that the turf is small, but state it is all they have. This is similar to current gang disputes. In the above-mentioned shooting, the girl was caught in the crossfire between two rival gangs who were attempting to divide the park in half. 

   And during the song, In America, the male Puerto Rican gang members sing about many of the issues that are addressed in the cultural causes for delinquency.  While girls sing about the advantages of America, male gang members counter with complaints of racism and lack of educational and economic opportunities.  Male gang members used these reasons for an excuse for their need to clash with those they viewed as having an unfair advantage in society.

   And, of course, real gangs rarely sing and dance.


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      Heidi 3 years ago

      That really cauretps the spirit of it. Thanks for posting.