Ramon Juarez figured he would be doomed to a life of gangs, fear and violence until he joined Club Tecali three months ago.
“It hurts to see your friends die because of something as stupid as walking down the street in a certain gang’s colors,” said Ramon, 15, of Placentia. Joining Club Tecali, a quebradita dance group, he said, has kept him away from the influence of gangs and drugs.
The Fullerton High School sophomore spends his free time on the dance floor, swinging, stomping, and showing his moves.
Club Tecali boasts a membership of 65 youths from all over Orange County. Each member is required to follow strict rules regarding conduct, attire and association in order to remain in the club, which was formed in May as a deterrent to gangs.
Tecali’s founder, Rosa Maria Zepeda of Garden Grove, said she runs it similarly to more than 700 hundred other clubs in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
“I have a lot of rules,” said Zepeda, 34. “My members are not allowed to dress like cholos (in baggy pants and oversized T-shirts or clothing popularly worn by taggers and gang members). They are not allowed to miss weekly meetings and they are not allowed to join gangs or smoke or drink.”
No one violates the rules, she said, because they have too much fun with the club, which emphasizes respect and self-esteem.
Club members hold parties at rented dance halls or restaurants that provide banda music. The money they raise is donated to families of members who need it.
Last month, 15 clubs from throughout the county held a party that raised about $500. It was used to help pay for the funeral expenses of a Los Angeles club president who died.
Sixteen clubs belong to an alliance called Clubes Unidos , which recently was formed by Zepeda so that members can plan parties and get to know each other in an effort to promote friendship and become advocates of goodwill. It functions like a close-knit family, encouraging good deeds and accomplishments, she said.
“As soon as the schools start sending out report cards, my club members will bring them to me and whoever gets the highest grades will get a new cowboy hat and I’m going to start giving ‘member of the month awards’ for those who take part in the most community service,” Zepeda said.
Members said they have gained pride and a sense of responsibility.
No one has been able to wipe out gangs and taggers completely, said 18-year-old Rafael Zarazua, president of Club Idolos de Oro of Santa Ana.
“So it’s up to us. . . . The dancing we do is decent entertainment,” he added. “A lot of people are dropping out of gangs to join our clubs instead.”
Zarazua’s club, which has volunteered painting over graffiti, belongs to Clubes Unidos and has a growing membership of more than 50 people aged 14 to over 30.
More than 150 people aged 4 to 25--many of whom are former gang members--from throughout the county belong to the 2-year-old Anaheim-based Club Potrero, its President Gabriela Sanchez said. What lures youngsters and adults alike to the dance clubs, the 18-year-old said, is the feeling of acceptance, love, security and support.
“Kids join gangs because they think the gang members are their friends. But they realize that that’s not the case when they start killing and hurting other people,” said Sanchez. “Our club members love each other for real.”