The Poetry Notebooks and Material Goods of Latina Gang Girls
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The Poetry Notebooks and Material Goods of Latina Gang Girls

Poetry notebooks, photographs, and other such material paraphernalia, are representative of social memories within each gang. These materials tie the gang members to specific moments in their lives, whether a break up, marriage, or getting into their first initiation fight.

Poetry notebooks, photographs, and other such material paraphernalia, are representative of social memories within each gang. These materials tie the gang members to specific moments in their lives, whether a break up, marriage, or getting into their first initiation fight.

Poetry notebooks are evidence of a clear linguistic capacity not shown by the gang members in their school assignments or towards their teachers. Notebooks contain poetry, often in the quatrain form, which offers commentary on love and its associated problems. The poems are never signed by the author as to divert punishment if the notebooks are ever confiscated by teachers. Poetry notebooks were quite similar to the aleluyas of the seventeenth century which served to educate the public on the “news of the day, personal advice, messages for children, and religious sayings”.

Smile Now Cry Later

Both materials are used to reach a broad audience and inform them of current events. Poetry notebooks, however, are mostly used as a non-threatening way to communicate embarrassing speech acts or just get advice. They also served as an escape route for direct confrontation, as we see in the “smile now cry later” drawing by a Norteño boy.

“The notebooks allowed heartbreak to be shared, advice to be given, and support to be felt under the pretense of anonymity”.

Tattoos served as a cover-up for true sadness one may have felt for their own family, deportment, or criminal history. This is termed the “economy of effect”, or how these processes or moments in one’s life links to the art form. An example being the teardrop tattoo which alludes to a recently deceased friend or relative and the pain of having lost this person.

Photographs are a form of social memory for Latina gang girls which documented a gang members’ social network. The gang girls use the forced school photographs to create “portable genealogical galleries”. The photos served as a mechanism for bracing oneself against societies’ treatment of them. Photos found their way into prisons, in what Mendoza describes as, a transactional network. The photographic circulation serves as a link to the inmates to their families on the outside.

Material practices of circulation such as poetry notebooks, drawings and photos are further resources for constructing a shared memory within each group. Mendoza-Denton claims that in addition to studying possessions and consumption, understanding memory of such objects renders language invisible.

Also check out:

The King's Speech: A Fascinating Glimpse At Linguistics and Speech Impediments

References

Image source

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

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Comments (5)

A topic which, coincidentally, as an anthropologist and linguist I know a bit about. A very interesting area of cultural study.

very interesting, I don\t know that much about poetry

Thanks James. It was truly an interesting book and topic.

Carol it's not so much poetry, but the message behind the writing in these notebooks. In fact, they were more like journals than actual poems.

Very interesting! I personally like the 'smile now, cry later'.

Fascinating subject and presented so well by you. Tweeted.

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