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COUNTYWIDE : Latino Youths Get Break at Camp-Out

About 70 Ventura County Latino youths, many from poor neighborhoods, got away from it all last weekend.

At the same time, they brought it all--problems with family, school and street violence--with them.

The boys and girls, most 14 to 18 years old, attended one of the twice-yearly camp-outs sponsored by Lucha, a Ventura-based Latino community service organization, and El Concilio, an Oxnard Latino advocacy group.

The youngsters enjoyed the usual fare of swimming, barbecuing and goofing around at El Capitan Ranch Park in Santa Barbara County. They also took part in discussions and performed skits on such issues as gang violence.

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“We try to get them out of their routine setting and take them to a place where we can look back inside where they’re coming from,” Lucha Vice President Gabino Aguirre said.

On Sunday, the campers performed skits. In one, boys on a bus traveling through a neighboring city flash gang signs back and forth with boys on the street. The boys on the street shoot at the bus, and a child is killed.

The performance mirrored the potential outcome of an actual event, campers said. A bus picked up the campers from throughout Ventura County on Saturday. While the bus was passing through Ventura, some of the boys exchanged gang signs with youths on the street.

Throughout the weekend, camp-out organizers sought to defuse the issue of turf, or territory, Aguirre said. The campers were encouraged to widen their identification beyond their neighborhoods, to their mainly Mexican and American Indian heritages, he said.

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The weekend began with the American Indian tradition of gathering in a circle. But the adult organizers surprised the campers by asking them to tell about their parents and grandparents instead of themselves, Aguirre said.

“They say, ‘You’re not interested in where I’m from?’ ” Aguirre said. “I say, ‘No, because when you start claiming your community, when you look at youth-violence issues, that could get you killed.’ ”

During the weekend, campers made gifts for each other. The practice derives from a Mayan concept called Inlakech, said Lonnie Miramontes, El Concilio youth and family coordinator. The word means “If I love and respect you, I will love and respect myself.”

A 17-year-old from Fillmore said Sunday that he had learned to respect his fellow campers. But he put it differently.

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“You realize they’re pretty cool,” Emerio Monzano said.


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