Group was formed in the 1960s to address Mexican-American issues
BY KIMBER SOLANA • firstname.lastname@example.org
March 24, 2009
About 20 Salinas young people, many of them students from Alisal High
School, gathered Monday at the Cesar E. Chavez Library to learn about
starting a chapter of an activist Mexican-American youth group.
Hoping to address their main concern gang violence in a more
organized manner, they heard about the prospect of opening an
autonomous chapter of the Brown Berets in Salinas.
In the 1960s, the Brown Berets similar to the Black Panthers was
created to address police harassment, inadequate public schools and
racial discrimination against Mexican Americans.
Those who attended the meeting agree many of the same issues remain,
but their main focus on Monday was to find ways to help their peers
avoid gangs through educational meetings and social events, including
peace rallies and concerts.
"I came because I am sick and tired of all the gangs," said Abigail
Ramirez, a senior at Alisal High School.
The idea for a Brown Beret chapter in Salinas came from organizers
William Medramo, 19, a student at California State University, East
Bay, and Angel Gonzalez, 19, of Salinas.
"We see the news about gangs and it's disturbing," Medramo said. "I
just said, 'Let's do something about it.' "
Jenn Laskin of the Watsonville Brown Berets chapter spoke about how
that group has helped reduce gang violence through peace marches and
rallies, and by providing a place for youth to hang out.
Laskin advised the Salinas group to focus on a certain area in the
city and create ways to raise awareness, such as building a garden as a start.
"Education, job training, events - these things stop gang violence,
not suppression," Laskin said.
Laskin pointed to the funding cuts in education and teacher layoffs,
while methods such as the Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force
continue to receive funding.
"Money is going from prevention to suppression," said Laskin, a high
school teacher in Watsonville.
But despite a certain distrust of authority, organizers, including
Laskin, said their main focus is educating themselves and others
about rights, government and equality.
"The true meaning of this movement is justice and it has to start
organically from the community," said Tomas Alejo, a Watsonville
Brown Beret member.
Salinas Police Cmdr. Kelly McMillin reacted to the idea of a Brown
Berets group setting up in town.
"I can say that any organization that seeks alternative things to do
for our youth is welcome," he said.
McMillin also refuted the notion that increased police patrols are
the problem. "Everyone would agree that the police is not the
solution [to gang problems], they are the symptom," he said.
Medramo said he hopes a Salinas chapter can flourish despite
depending on a commitment of 10 to 20 hours a week from members and
"We're just trying to be a positive alternative for our youth," Medramo said.
A second meeting is planned next week.