Homies Unidos of El Salvador
On November 2, 1996 with the guidance of Magdaleno Rose-Avila and Save the Children, twenty-two youth from different gangs came together in El Salvador to discuss the methods and means of diminishing the violence that plagues too many of our communities. Out of this meeting the unique organization, Homies Unidos was born.
Homies Unidos of El Salvador is dedicated to the objective of obtaining the social reintegration of young people in maras (gangs) back into their communities and curtailing the cycle of violence created through the deportation of criminalized immigrants and the dispossession of basic human rights.
We believe that all youth should be given a just opportunity to lead a safe and healthy life. We believe in a world that believes in peace.
To understand Homies Unidos, one must understand the context from which we were created.
The twelve-year war in El Salvador caused millions to flee to the United States and approximately 75,000 deaths and disappearances. Upon their arrival into the U.S., Salvadoran parents worked two or more jobs, and their children were left to fend for themselves. In order to survive racism and alienation, children as young as eight or nine often turned to the streets, where they were recruited, sometimes forcibly, into gangs, which became their instant friends and family. With the end of the war and the adoption of the 1996 US Immigration Reform Act, many young Salvadorans were deported to their home country, and with them took the language, hairstyles, clothes, signs and discipline of the US gangs. This expulsion added more violent gang members into a less organized and violent local gang culture already in existence in El Salvador.
Presently, El Salvador is one of the most violent and vulnerable countries in the world. Left in the vacuum of war, our youth today face a grave state. With an average of 12 homicides a day, with the persistent violations of their rights, the marginalization and exclusion from social norms, the amount of violence and detention directed towards them without the offer of any real alternative opportunity, one could only define this situation as a “social cleansing.”
Our country has a population of 7 million people, with a majority age of under 35. Within this population 25% are considered poor while 23% are considered extremely poor. We have an unemployment rate of 49.7% coupled with a growing child labor market that places these youth into physical and emotional exploitative risks.
Within this environment of extreme poverty and unemployment, coupled with the disruption of U.S. deportations, we have seen a great rise in violence and gang participation.
Unfortunately, this situation has been aggravated by the activities and inefficiencies of our members of state, who have found in the growth of gang membership, a perfect scapegoat to our society’s problems. Members of State prefer to pass the blame of citizen insecurity and society’s failings onto “gang membership” rather than blame their own policies, which created this desperate atmosphere. Even worse, they have used this culture of fear to pass unconstitutional laws and declare war on their own children.
In spite of these obstacles, we, the social movement of Homies Unidos of El Salvador, move forward in accomplishing our aims of social justice for marginalized youth and the re-humanization of gang members.
We have developed a wide series of actions to overturn the policies of inequality that foster the violence in our communities. Our actions have ranged from concrete legal reform to the thematic actions of a peace march into the legislative assembly to denounce the findings of the human rights commission. We have presented our own reports to Amnesty International, the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, the Honorable Supreme Court Justice, in order to overturn the unconstitutional laws of super mano-dura (hard hand) and the penal code reforms, which deny basic judicial rights to our children. Penal codes which allow children to be imprisoned without the right to see a lawyer or possibly communicate with their families.
We facilitate safe spaces, which we call “The Permanent Table of Work and Gang Peace,” where young gang members meet with ex-gang members and concerned NGOs to discuss the construction of peace. This is in line with our belief that we must support gang members with opportunities to transition out of violence. And because of their unique experience of gang membership they will in turn provide expertise and leadership in curtailing the cycle of violence.
We believe that violence is a curable epidemic. We believe violence is the symptom of injustice and inequality and when those basic human rights are restored peace can prevail.