Ventura County's Filipino-American community has begun to directly confront a problem that has become a subject of major embarrassment--Filipino gangs.
"The first thing I ask parents nowadays is, 'Do you know where your children a" said Tony Grey, a political leader in Oxnard's Filipino-American community who has been on a crusade to stamp out the gang problem.
"We've got to spend more time with our children."
In Oxnard, where about 60% of the county's Filipino-American population is located, police are tracking nearly 20 members of one active gang, the Satanas, said Sgt. Chuck Hookstra, who heads the city's gang tactical unit.
There are two other Filipino gangs--the Kanto Gang Boys and the newly created Luzon Visayas--but police said they are not active. The ages of gang members range from 14 to 30, with the majority between 14 and 20, he said.
Many Filipino social groups have been working with police to identify gang members to their parents and developing youth programs in which they could participate, although no such programs have been set up yet.
"There's a lot of denial in the community because nobody wants to believe their child's involved in that kind of stuff," Hookstra said. "They're intelligent kids and they just seem to be wasting their talent."
In a community where academic excellence is stressed by most families, many parents have been reluctant to address the gang problem, leaders said.
"Parents are in a state of denial and are trying to cover up for their kids," said Corazon Ortiguerra, president of the Filipino Community of Ventura County Inc. "We have to get the youth more involved with the community."
In 1991, the problem of Filipino gangs surfaced after several publicized shootings involving gang members. Community leaders say the problem seemed to lessen because of parental concerns at the time.
But they believe that the problem has worsened as initial concerns have faded.
Juan is the son of a Filipino leader in Oxnard who says he is a member of the Satanas. He estimates that there are 60 gang members.
"They're crazy," he said of his fellow gang members, who have been involved in various shoot-outs with Latino gangs. "Filipino gangs are more serious about things. When they say something, they're gonna do it. You get more respect from other people when you're in the gang."
Juan's father said he initially noticed that his son was involved with the gang when he saw marks on his hand symbolizing membership. But he also said he thinks his son is not a full-fledged gang member, but rather a wanna-be.
Cathy Cabran, a 20-year-old Oxnard resident and a senior at UC Santa Barbara, said she was shocked to see how many teen-agers were involved in gangs when she came back for summer vacation.
"Why can't they go beyond that and make things better for themselves?" Cabran asked. "I think they're just wasting their time. They don't realize the benefits of living in this country."
Grey recalled a comment from an Oxnard policeman at a forum intended to inform parents about Filipino gangs: "The guy said they always know a Filipino gang member because he's well-dressed, drives a nice car and he has the most expensive weapon."
"We want to talk to the gang members and find out why they joined," said Buddy Valencerina, who is in charge of organizing a youth group. "According to the Filipino culture, you raise a good, happy family. But you are looked down on by others in the community if you have a kid in the gang."