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FACTORS LEADING HMONG YOUTH TO JOIN GANG By
Kevin C. Lor A Research Paper
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Master of Education Degree
With a Major in
Guidance and Counseling-Mental Health & K-12
Approved: Two Semester Credits ___________________
Investigation Advisor The Graduate College
University of Wisconsin-Stout
September, 2003 The Graduate College
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Menomonie, Wisconsin 54751
Abstract Factors Leading Youth To Gang 2 Lor
(Last Name) Kevin
(Initial) Factors Leading Hmong Youth to Join Gangs
(Title) Guidance and Counseling-Mental Health & K-12, Dr. Louis Milanesi, 9/03 , 52
(Research Advisor) (Date) (Page)
American Psychological Association
Manual Used in this Study
This paper examines some of the elements that lead youth to join gangs. A questionnaire
developed by the investigator was distributed to gang members and at-risk Hmong youth in two
northern states. This questionnaire was developed in an attempt to assess some of the factors
that have a high probability of leading youth to join gangs to compensate for what is lacking in
Hmong youths' life.
A 12-item questionnaire was developed and distributed to at-risk Hmong youths residing
in two northern states. The questions were examined by calculating the percentage of males and
females responding to different targeted areas. The questions were also examined to determine
the internal validity between male and female subjects in responding to the different targeted
areas. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Factors Leading Youth To Gang 3 I would like to thank all those people involved in helping me finish my research. First
and foremost, I would like to thank my research advisor, Dr. Louis Milanesi, for his patience and
dedication to helping me complete my thesis. Second, I would like to express my deep
appreciation to both Dave Schibline and Jeff Jenswold for their willingness to help. They both
were great mentors who were incredibly patient and understanding throughout the whole process
Third, I would like to thank my brother, Tou, for believing in me and always giving me positive
encouragement. He has remained a constant source of support and encouragement through thick
and thin. Fourth, I would like to thank my girlfriend for her tireless effort and dedication in
helping me during the data collection. All of your contributions, support, and encouragement
are greatly appreciated. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank the UW-Stout
Graduate College and Research Promotion Services for the student research grant. The grant
helped cover some of my travel expenses and the duplication costs for this study. TABLE OF CONTENTS Factors Leading Youth To Gang 4
Title Page 1 Abstract 2 Acknowledgements 3 Table of Contents 4 Chapter 1: Introduction 6 Statement of the Problem 11 Definition of Terms 12 Chapter II: Review of Literature 14 Definition of Gang 14 Gang Structure and Membership 16 Gang Initiation 19 Individual 19 Low Self-Esteem 20 Family 21 School 24 Neighborhood 24 Economy 25 Media and Politic 26 Intelligence 26 TABLE OF CONTENTS (Continued) Factors Leading Youth To Gang 5
Asian Gang 27 Chapter III: Methodology 32 Population and Subjects 32 Instrumentation 32 Data Collection 32 Data Analysis 34 Limitations 34 Chapter IV: Results 35 Findings 35 Tables 36-46 Chapter V: Conclusion 47 Recommendations 48 References 51 Chapter I Factors Leading Youth To Gang 6
A dramatic increase in gang activity during the past decade caught most everyone by
surprise and left many unprepared to speak in an informed way to the challenge it posed.
However, violence in America is nothing new. Even before the Nation declared its
independence, outlaw groups with names like "The Sons of Liberty" formed in several colonial
towns to express their opposition to the British rule (Brantley & DiRosa, 1994). As the nation
grew, gangs emerged in the large urban centers that developed in the mid-west and on the west
coast. Cities as diverse as Chicago and San Francisco have long histories of gang-related crimes
(Di Rosa, 1994).
European immigrants came to the United States in the early 1900s to seek a better life
and better future. These immigrants lacked the skills necessary to be productive in the
mainstream and were exploited in the labor force and faced poverty and discrimination. The
second generation of these immigrants were faced with cultural and identity crises. They then
formed their own gangs for support and protection because they did not fit into the mainstream
society (Wang, 1994). This is a pattern with every wave of immigrants who came to the United
States. They all faced similar experiences of poverty and discrimination. After a couple of
generations in America, most of the immigrants assimilated into the mainstream; and the
problems became less severe.
In the early 1900s, the United States government established immigration priority and
granted many Chinese naturalization in America when it received a flood of Chinese immigrants Factors Leading Youth To Gang 7
into the United States. The number of Chinese immigrants grew dramatically in the 1960s as a
result of this new law. Large cities where immigrants settled were not prepared to assist with the
problems these immigrants brought with them. Many of the Chinese youths experienced racial
tension in the form of unequal treatment and opportunity; therefore, crime and gang involvement
became a serious problem for the communities. Many of those Chinese youths started to form
social support groups but later became involved in prostitution, drug dealing, and other criminal
activities (Spergel, 1992).
Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the United States has received over a million
refugees from the Southeast Asian countries. These immigrants had very little education and
limited labor skills. These refugees found themselves in a strange society where they were not
accepted due to their unique physical characteristics and their lack of productive labor market
skills. One such group of refugee from one of those Southeast Asian countries is the Hmong.
The Hmong is an ethnic minority group that helped the United States fight the spread of
communism during the Vietnam War. In 1975, the communists won the war in Vietnam.
The Hmong were persecuted in Laos because of their involvement with the United States
Central Intelligent Agency (CIA). Many fled to neighboring Thailand to avoid being persecuted.
As the years went by, many Hmong decided to settle in different countries, such as the United
States, France, Australia, and many other western countries. The largest group of Hmong settled
in the United States. The three states that received the most number of Hmong refugees are
California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Factors Leading Youth To Gang 8
Historically, the Hmong people lived in a society where there was very restricted
educational opportunity for Hmong children. For many Hmong boys to have opportunities to
learn to read and write, they had to go to far away educational settings. While boys were
encouraged by parents to pursue high levels of education, the Hmong girls were expected to
forego their education to take care of the family and the farms.
As Hmong re-settled in the United States and other countries, educational opportunities
improved for Hmong children. Hmong parents continued to have high expectations for their
children. However, some Hmong children were not prepared to start school, because the family
did not speak English in the home. Many children struggled in school, because many Hmong
parents simply did not have the necessary skills to prepare their children for school.
Many Hmong children also struggled in learning how to balance the two very different
cultures and values on a daily basis. Those Hmong children who had supportive parents who
understood what they were going through seemed to be better off educationally than the rest.
Hmong children who had supportive parents with a good social support system also seemed to
have a better footing toward pursuing their dreams.
Hmong people consider love, respect, and helping each other to be the highest values in
their society. Traditionally, Hmong children are taught from an early age to respect their elders
and authority figures. Those not following the norms and expectation are viewed as unwise and
are regarded as self-centered individuals. The decisions of an individual are to be reflected on
the well being of the whole group rather than an individual interest. Factors Leading Youth To Gang 9
As Hmong children worked their way into the U.S. educational system, they learned that
the mainstream culture has a different value system than that was taught to them by their parents.
Many Hmong children were lost in the shuffle between the two different belief systems.
Like most immigrants, the Hmong feel conflict between new and traditional values in the
U.S. At school, children are American; but at home, Hmong children are in another totally
different world. Many Hmong parents worry about their children losing their traditional family
values. At the same time, they know that they must encourage their children to go to school and
adapt to the new culture in order to be successful. More and more Hmong children are rebelling
against their parents. This is partly due to the pressure to do well in school and the pressure from
parents to maintain their traditional values.
The younger Hmong generations found themselves caught between two starkly different
cultures. They struggle to honor their heritage and traditions while taking advantage of rights to
independence and choice in the United States. Consequently, they sought love and support from
gangs who understood and accepted them for who they were. At the same time, the older
Hmong refugees found themselves distanced from their own children. These older refugees felt
disrespected and not valued by their children due to their cultural differences.
This research will describe several possible causal factors that put Southeast Asian
(Hmong) youths in such a high-risk group to join gangs. This researcher hopes that by becoming
more aware and understanding of the characteristics that most likely influence youth to join Factors Leading Youth To Gang 10
gangs will help social services personnel and other professionals forge effective prevention and
intervention programs that will help Southeast Asian youth become law abiding citizens.
There is very little research investigating Southeast Asian youth posing a serious problem
to the community. This is, in part, due to the fact that professionals know very little about
assessing these kids and how to deal with them effectively. In order for the community and the
professionals to help solve the problems, they must have some knowledge of the core issues.
Since there was very little research on this group of youth, professionals and other community
agencies may not know how to best utilize their resources to help these youth and prevent them
from becoming criminals.
A review of the literature shows that youth who are from families that have adequate
incomes generally possess an ability to adopt a future-time perspective, have access to good role
models, receive love and support from parents, and feel welcome by their communities.
Consequently, these youth are less likely to join gangs.
Research also shows that the majority of Hmong youth are not from well-to-do family
households. They are less likely to adopt a future-time perspective, because they are caught
between two very different cultures. They have very few good role models and feel
unappreciated by their parents and their communities. Therefore, the research hypothesis for this
study is that the responses for the majority of the Hmong-American youth will support the theory
that most youth identify positively to characteristics that lead to gang involvement.
Statement of Problem Factors Leading Youth To Gang 11
The purpose of this study is to examine some of the social factors that are more likely to
influence Hmong youth to join gangs as measured by individual reports obtained through field
surveys in two northern states. This study will focus on the following objectives:
1. To determine and describe the motives that influence youth to join gang.
2. To determine and describe the opinions of Hmong youth toward gang and sex.
3. To determine and describe whether Hmong youth view illegal activities as an
essential part of the gang culture.
4. To determine and describe how Hmong youth perceive the love and affection their
parents give to them compared to the love and affection their siblings receive from
5. To determine and describe whether Hmong youth want their siblings to join a gang.
6. To determine and describe whether Hmong youth gang members use active
7. To determine and describe whether Hmong youth gang members are required to
recruit new members. Definition of Terms Factors Leading Youth To Gang 12
Evolution: The development, process, or change of form through time.
Gang: Group of people with a common purpose who join for various reasons, including
illegal activities and tend to display anti-social behavior against the rest of society. "1: A group
of persons working together. 2: A group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends"
(Webster 9th New Collegiate Dictionary).
Hmong: An ethnic group from Southeast Asian (primarily Laos) who had many members
flee Laos as refugees during and following the Vietnam War.
Racism: The belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities
and that racial difference produces an inherent superiority of a particular race.
Prejudice: 1. a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without
knowledge or examination of the fact. b. A preconceived preference or idea; bias. 2. The fact act
or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions. 3. Irrational suspicion
or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion. 4. Detriment or injury caused to a person by the
preconceived and unfavorable conviction of another or others (Webster's 9th New Collegiate
Discrimination: 1. The act of discriminating. 2. The ability or power to see or make fine
distinctions; discernment. 3. An act based on prejudice (Webster's 9th New Collegiate
Laib: 1. A habitual criminal. 2. A disobedient or disrespectful person. 3. A person who
commits unlawful action that violates the rights of others. Factors Leading Youth To Gang 13 Chapter II Factors Leading Youth To Gang 14
Review of Literature
This section will discuss some issues and the possible causal factors that lead youth into
gang. Research shows that antisocial behavior evolves over the course of childhood, often
beginning in the preschool and elementary school years and peaking in late adolescent/early
adulthood. Research also shows that memberships of gangs were drawn from a fairly broad
spectrum of ages, and the size and age profile of gang changes over time. According to
Cummings, most gangs are composed of persons of the same race or nationality (Cummings &
Definition of Gang
There appear to be no single definition for gang due to the fact that they come in a variety
of forms. Here are some of the definitions research scholars attempted to use to define gang:
Thrasher (1936) defined gang as, "An interstitial group originally formed spontaneously and
then integrated through conflict, and characterized by meeting face to face, milling, movement
through space as a unit, conflict and planning. The behavior develops a tradition, unreflective
internal structure, esprit de corps, solidarity, group awareness, and attachment to a local
territory." (Thrasher, 1936). However, the definition of gang has changed over the years. For
instance, Klein defined gang as any notable adolescent group of youngsters who are:
1. Generally perceived as a distinct aggregation by others in their neighborhood.
2. Recognize themselves as a notable group (almost invariably with a group name). Factors Leading Youth To Gang 15
3. Have been involved in a sufficient number of delinquent incidents to call forth a
consistent negative response from neighborhood residents and/or law enforcement agencies (Klein, 1971).
Walter B. Miller defined a gang as "a self-formed association of peers bound together by
mutual interests. A gang has an identifiable leadership, well-developed lines of authority, and
other organizational features who act in concert to achieve a specific purpose or purposes which
generally include the conduct of illegal activity and control over a particular territory, facility, or
type of enterprise (Miller, 1980). Yet, some of the current definitions of gang seem to reflect the
description given by C. Ronald Huff. He stated that what separates a gang from other adolescent
1. The gang regular routines involve in illegal activities.
2. More deliberate quality of these illegal activities by the group. 3. A greater tendency to claim some forms of "turf" (although for more recent gang,
this "turf" is not necessarily neighborhood based).
4. They have generally, better-developed leadership within the group (Huff, 1990).
Other scholars, as well as educators, define gang as any group of people who
engage in socially disruptive or criminal behavior. They are usually territorial, often but
not always of the same gender, and operate by creating an atmosphere of fear and
intimidation in a community. The gang may choose a name, logo, specific color, or
method of dress used for purposes of identification for their own members and their Factors Leading Youth To Gang 16
counterparts. They will have some form of leadership and a method of operation and
recruitment. Schools have become a breeding ground for gang, and this can have a
tremendous negative impact on the learning environment. Gang should be taken seriously
and dealt with swiftly ( ).
Gang Structure and Membership
There are different types of gangs existing in many countries in the world. The structure
of a particular gang is based on the needs for group maintenance or development. Some gangs
are viewed as loose knit, and others are well organized. According to Thrasher (1936), it is possible that the loosely knit characterization refers to process, while the well-organized
characterization refers to gang structure, form, or longevity of the gang (Thrasher, 1936).
Within each type of gang, there are certain roles required to be performed by each
member according to the position within the gang. For example, the core members may be
regarded as an inner clique that is actively engaged in everyday functioning of the gang. Also,
core members may make key decisions, set standards, and provide support and sanction for the
action of leaders. They may also be the key recruiters for the gang (Reiss, 1987). It is important
to recognize that there are, however, many groups of people, such as core members, wannabes,
and non-members, who are also involved in a particular gang. The peripheral members are those
who do not recognize or are not recognized by others as members of the gang but may enjoy
having some type of association, such as attending gang events or gathering with the gang. The
"wannabes" are generally younger in age and are potential members of the gang. The potential Factors Leading Youth To Gang 17
new members of the gang are the targets or efforts by core or regular members to increase the
size of the gang (Collins, 1979). Joining a gang may vary from one gang to the next. In most
cases, once a "wannabe" joins the gang, he/she usually goes through some kind of gang
initiations, which will be elucidated later. The youth may graduate from a lower status to a
higher status as they mature into the gang culture. However, they may also shift from core to
peripheral roles and bac...
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