Skip to main content.

"Not My Child": Filipino American Gangs in San Diego County. The Process...

"Not My Child": Filipino American Gangs in San Diego County. The Process...

Picture of Alicia DeLeon-Torres

The cultural hurdles were the hardest obstacle to overcome when writing the story Not My Child - Filipino American Gangs and Parental Involvement.

It's hard to talk to parents about "sensitive" youth issues like substance abuse, suicide, sexuality or gang involvement. It's even harder if the parents are immigrant Filipino Americans because most community service agencies lack the network and/or cultural competency to effectively outreach to and work with families. Most educational materials are written with a "cookie cutter approach" that don't apply to Filipino American families. More importantly and unfortunately, denial is part of the Filipino cultural coping mechanism. Talking about such issues requires patience, persistence, cultural competency, trusted relationship - and in some cases, luck.

I am from the same ethnic group. I live in the same community. See many of the same people at community events and private parties. I even grew up with some of them. One would think that would provide some ease into teasing a story out of the community. It wasn't. I still had to go through the cultural "bonding" dance of RE-TELLING my family lineage, education, ties in the community, etc. Then asked WHY was I doing "this" type of story? The process sometimes took days just to get a polite indirect "no, thank you. 'Not interested in being interviewed, but "come by our Christmas party later..and say 'hi' to your dad".

Those who opted to be interviewed were service providers, law enforcement or second generation parents who knew how to walk the cultural tight rope of WHAT to say and HOW to say it without being shunned by the community afterwards.

San Diego County's Filipino American community is approximately 150,000. It's a large number, but if someone says the "wrong" thing, it can get around the community QUICKLY! With internet, it will get around the international community faster than one can say 'salamat' (Tagalog for 'thank you') and 'walang anuman' (Tagalog for you're welcome -actually it's closer to the Spanish 'por nada' or 'de nada' - but that's another story.)

Even with the cultural tight ropes, barriers and balance of relationships, it was important to get the story out in a manner that was culturally sensitive, appropriate, palatable and accessible. Filipino American gangs aren't going away. They don't follow the "usual" norms of African American or Hispanic American gangs. Parental involvement and awareness is lacking. The Office of National Drug Control Policy's research show that parents from many Asian American ethnic groups are unaware or not as educated in sensitive topics - gang involvement being one of them. Law enforcement tend to agree and feel it's imperative that they be brought up to speed.

In the end, I found a way to convey the story in a culturally sensitive, appropriate, palatable and accessible manner. The story was three parts: 1) story of "someone else's child" as told by a Filipino American service provider, 2) educational "signs your child MAY be involved in gangs, and 3) where to find confidential culturally competent help.

See Center for Health Journalism Digital or Filipino for stories.


Picture of

very interesting article with very helpful information. thank you.

Leave A Comment


U.S. children and teens have struggled with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior for much of the past decade. Join us as we explore the systemic causes and policy failures that have accelerated the crisis and its inequitable impact, as well as promising community-driven approaches and evidence-based practices. The webinar will provide fresh ideas for reporting on the mental health of youth and investigating the systems and services. Sign-up here!

The USC Center for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is seeking two Engagement Editors and a social media consultant to join its team. Learn more about the positions and apply.


Follow Us



CHJ Icon