Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture Copyright © 1994 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
All rights reserved.
ISSN 1070-8286


Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(2) (1994) 22-24


Violence By and Against Latinos

Director: NA
Producer: Marisa Leal, Cynthia Rios, and Linda Cuellar
Release Information: Films for the Humanities and Sciences, (1993) VHS 28 min.

Inquiries into the causes and consequences of violent behavior have generated a vast literature, yet there is a relative dearth of material exploring violence and the Latino community. Violence By and Against Latinos feebly attempts to fill this void by examining such exigent issues as: (1) the effects of the Los Angeles riots on the Latino community; (2) the emotional aftermath of a drive-by shooting; and (3) the violence directed at Latinas in the home. This video admirably attempts to inform the general public about the pressing concerns of the Latino culture; however, its execution does the Latino community an injustice.

The first of three segments, "Forgotten L.A.," focuses on the Los Angeles riots and their effect on a Latino community. The majority of this section is devoted to the monumental task of rebuilding L.A., highlighting the need to improve conditions and restore hope within the community. In a series of short interviews, various Latino leaders describe their efforts to increase community cohesion in the face of dwindling opportunities coupled with the massive influx of immigrants from Latin America who are in search of the "American Dream." Unfortunately, other important issues are introduced but are not adequately explored. For instance, an allusion is made in the opening scene of the video to the economic disenfranchisement of the Latino population and its possible role in the genesis of the riots. However, this line of thought is never developed. In addition, the degree of Latino immigrant involvement in the riots and the wanton destruction of economically marginal neighborhoods is mentioned, but similarly disregarded as an avenue for discussion.

In "The Aftermath of a Drive-By Shooting," the emotional despair of the survivors and victim's family is documented as well as the various attempts to alleviate the personal scars produced by the seemingly arbitrary act of violence that took the life of a young Latina. In particular, students and friends of the [End page 22] girl--who was shot and killed at a birthday party--were targeted for counseling by school officials. Interestingly, traditional therapeutic means (i.e., counseling) are bypassed by one survivor who utilizes instead a "curandera," or spiritualist, to help him understand why such a tragic incident would occur and to regain a sense of security and order after experiencing such a violent and chaotic event. Despite the inclusion of a Latino coping strategy, the viewer is left with little understanding of the deeper cultural meaning and significance of this intervention. Moreover, while this segment was successful in hinting at the devastation violence can cause, it could have explored more fully the dynamics of violent behavior among those living in America's urban environment.

The final segment entitled "Fear of Going Home" displays possibly the most insidious and often neglected form of violent behavior--domestic violence. Surprisingly, the etiology of domestic violence is more fully explored than other issues in this video. Essentially, the video asserts that spousal violence is a learned phenomenon and therefore may be extinguished through a process of "unlearning." This process includes the building of self-esteem for both the victim and perpetrator. Furthermore, an emphasis is placed on counseling and therapy that is culturally sensitive and designed to facilitate communication and the process of healing between the dyad. Multicultural concerns such as these are valid and important for us to understand; however, the exploration of these issues is juxtaposed with periodic depictions of some macabre dance, seemingly derived from the theatre of the absurd. While the performance art undoubtedly has some significance to the Latino culture, viewers, particularly those who turn to this video for cultural enlightenment, are left adrift to construct their own interpretation of this dance and its juxtaposition with domestic violence.

With scant attention devoted by scientists, media, and other image makers to the richness and depth of the Latino culture and the peculiar dilemmas facing its battle with the violence that is so endemic in America's urban areas, I was quite eager to see what this video had to offer. Much to my dismay, it offers very little. Violence By and Against Latinos had the potential to inform viewers about a group often [End page 23] neglected by the media, but has unfortunately failed to provide any insight. This is especially troubling since there is so much to learn about violence and the Latino culture. It is difficult to determine whether the general absence of material on this rapidly growing population and its culture or this material's apparent low-quality is more insulting. In either case, it is clear that this cultural chasm--and this video--is performing a great disservice to the Latino community. All in all, the video is inaptly named as it makes a futile and pathetic attempt at describing violence in the Latino culture. This foray into violence in the Latino culture fails miserably and should never have been attempted. Perhaps more could not be expected from a 28 minute video. For those who are interested in more than this production can possibly deliver, a look at Severino Albuquerque's (1991) book titled Violent Acts: A Study of Contemporary Latin American Theatre may be in order. For a more historical treatment of this subject, one might also consult The Hispanics in the United States: A History by L. H. Gann and Peter Duignan.

Cynthia Perez
University at Albany
School of Criminal Justice [End page 24]