Despite the growing interest in female gang membership, there is a gap in the literature regarding the continual identity shifts that occur throughout Chicana female gang association, affiliation, and, especially during the disengagement process. This study seeks to understand the ways in which formerly gang-affiliated Chicanas negotiate their experiences and interactions and how these are implicated in their understanding of their own subjectivity. The research was conducted through twenty-four unstructured interviews with formerly gang-affiliated Chicanas involved with a prominent gang prevention/intervention organization in the Boyle Heights neighbourhood of East Los Angeles, and through observations conducted within the organization and within the neighbourhood. The results demonstrate that identity is in a constant state of flux. The homegirls in this study were able to describe the ways in which their subjectivities have been (co)constructed in ways that were temporally and spatially relevant and how their interactions with the social environment, their communities, families, and their homeboys and homegirls were also implicated. Homegirls explained how their identities changed through different periods in their lives. From “doing gang” in their hoods and among their homeboys and homegirls, to performing gender and sexuality in prison, and then (re)constructing their raced, classed, and gendered identities as they negotiated the process of disengaging from the gang, participants demonstrated how their experiences and interactions played a role in their worldviews, the ways in which they understood their own subjectivities, and how these perceptions inform(ed) their decisions, both past and present. Many of the findings support the extant literature describing the role of discursive and behavioral expression(s) in the (co)construction of identity, on an individual level and for “others.” Specifically, marginalized girls/women are subject to engaging in social practices in order to avoid rejection within their social milieu. The findings reveal that while gang-affiliated Chicanas do experience multiple forms of marginalization like many gang-affiliated girls/women, they have the added dimension of socio-cultural positioning. In other words, these women must actively negotiate the traditions, values, and expectations of two cultures: Mexican and American—a process that leads to a Chola identity and subculture.
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Thesis advisor: Palys, Ted
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