Academics, youth justice officials, prison officers, and others with personal experience of youth gang-membership joined the staff of UNU – GCM to explore notions of gang-membership in Barcelona and Madrid on 10th April 2013, in the art nouveau Sant Pau complex. The gathering of experts offered insights into a variety of issues around membership of ‘las bandas’ or ‘los pandilleros’.
Three key observations emerged. Firstly, emphasis was placed on the hierarchical structure of the gangs that exist in Barcelona and Madrid and their connection to gangs in the Latin American home countries of their members. Secondly, it was notable that gangs were described as surrogate families for young people, by providing caring environments. Indeed, one former gang member described this as ‘falling in love’ with a gang. Thirdly, it was noted that gangs often sought the attention of wider society, which led to the view that media responses to gangs which focus on the violence associated with them may in fact reinforce the need for violence in order to achieve recognition.
The event was much enriched by contributions from the personal experiences of individuals from a wide variety of perspectives. Accepted mainstream assumptions about gangs and gang-membership were challenged. A recording of the event is available on the UNU – GCM website. This discussion was the first in a series of ‘Open Forum’ events, in which UNU – GCM brings together a range of persons to discuss questions relating to migration, mobility and media.