Gangs have been a point of concern for states and societies around the world for centuries. Youth gangs are not exempt from that same categorization and have operated for the same amount of time worldwide. Over the last century however, a proliferation of youth gangs has been witnessed, especially among Hispanic youths immigrating into the United States. Researchers and scholars have offered multiple theories as to why youths, and Hispanics youths in particular integrate themselves into gang organizations. Three schools of thought arise when conducting gang integration research. Rational Economics Theory1 proposes that youths, and all individuals, join gangs for financial and material benefit. Cultural Deviance Theory considers youth gang members as exposed to a lower class subculture that rationalizes and even promotes crime, delinquency and gang membership, contrasting to the “normal” set of prescribed values and culture in more civilized society. Acculturation Theory argues that youths join gangs as a means to be acculturated by ethnically or compositionally similar peers, whether as a response to ethnic marginalization by members of the host country or inability to acculturate to their new home.
Rational Economics Theory is a powerful argument for explaining the membership of some gang members. However, its methodology does not provide an adequate answer to the question of why Hispanic youths join gang because it fails to analyze ethnicity when asking its research questions. The theory provides the assumption that the lure of money is equal for all people, but some research provides contradictory evidence, especially in the case of Hispanics. CULTURAL DEVIANCE THEORY. Acculturation Theory provides the most reasonable explanation for Hispanic youth gang integration. Its proponents argue that reasonable ethnic marginalization, lack of or inability to acculturate, and especially identity struggles lead to susceptible and young individuals to find an identity among peers who will accept them. The theory is backed by considerable psychological research and is not only rooted in sociology and public policy.
Rational Economics Theory is utilized as an umbrella argument to explain why all individuals, including youths, become integrated into gang organizations. The theory is downright the same to microeconomic Rational Choice Theory and argues that individuals, in their desire for financial gain or more utility, utilize gangs and criminal organizations as a means to achieve their ends. Gangs are seen as nothing more than businesses or organizations that serve a primary economic function and act to provide financial sustainability for those without the ability to achieve it through other, more legitimate means.
Seymour M. Lipset2 contends that negative traits that plague the American landscape, such as “high crime and economic inequality”, are fundamental characteristics of and are inherently linked to a capitalistic and openly admirable...