The majority of my supernatural suspense novel, The Poe Consequence, takes place in modern day Los Angeles, and prominently features two fictional Latino gangs – The Alvarado Street Diablos and The North Rampart Lobos. For over 30 years while working in the landscape industry, I spent hundreds of hours in low income housing projects and neighborhoods throughout much of Southern California observing situations which helped formulate plot lines in the novel. The following is a brief history of the origin of Latino gangs in Los Angeles.
As early as the 1920s, Latino youth formed “boy gangs” patterned after earlier social groups of Latino and Chicano men. These gangs were mostly made up of Mexican immigrants who faced discrimination upon settling in Los Angeles. During the 1940s, two historical events would unify the Latino population and turn a much higher number of young men into gang members – the Sleepy Lagoon Murder, and the Zoot Suit Riots.
On August 2, 1942, a young Latino named José Gallardo Díaz was discovered unconscious and dying on a road near a popular swimming hole called Sleepy Lagoon. He was taken to a hospital, but died. Despite insufficient evidence, the police arrested 17 Latino youths who were members of the 38th Street Mexican gang. Charged with murder, they went on trial but many in the Latino community were angered by the judge’s clear prejudice against them. The accused were not permitted to change their clothes during the trial on the grounds that the jury should see the defendants in the zoot suits that were "obviously" only worn by "hoodlums.” Nine of the youths were convicted of second-degree murder and sent to prison. The rest were charged with lesser offenses and got locked up as well.
When the Zoot Suit riots occurred, it was in early 1943 as America was deeply engaged in World War II. People in Los Angeles felt vulnerable to an attack by Japan, and there were patrols throughout the city as well as anti-aircraft guns. Furthermore, tens of thousands of servicemen could be found in Los Angeles on any given weekend. After the Sleepy Lagoon trial, the authorities singled out zoot suiters and started to associate them with crime and violence. The local press didn’t help matters either as they continued to inform the public that zoot suiters and gangsters were one and the same.
Tension came to a head on June 3rd, 1943, when eleven white sailors reported that they were attacked by zoot suiters. In retaliation, military servicemen and citizen mobs targeted and beat up many of those wearing a zoot suit. After several days, more than 150 people had been injured and police arrested more than 500 Latinos on charges ranging from "rioting" to "vagrancy." The local press even praised the attacks by the military servicemen, describing the assaults as having a "cleansing effect" that was ridding Los Angeles of "miscreants" and "hoodlums." Although instances of nationwide public condemnation occurred as the riots subsided, many young Latinos in numerous neighborhoods believed that they needed to protect themselves by forming gangs as a deterrent to further attacks.
In The Poe Consequence, the attacks against the Alvarado Street Diablos and the North Rampart Lobos were perpetrated by one apparent unstoppable force – a supernatural entity intent on their mutual destruction. Why? Because when you’re murdered, life after death is the ultimate payback…