Kattya Núñez sat day after day on a bench in several parks in the Madrid neighborhood of Villaverde to observe those boys with baggy clothes and chains around their necks. They, little friends of the curious and strangers, looked at her suspiciously. In the end, the meeting took place on the courts. Núñez, a 53-year-old Dominican anthropologist, found the key that gave her access to the Trinitarios and the Dominican Don’t Play (DDP), two street gangs that arrived in Madrid in the early 2000s. In five years and countless talks, the A researcher managed to draw in her thesis a unique X-ray of the internal functioning of these groups in the city.
It was the one who organized the games in the parks who introduced him to the members. Very few are over 30 years old. In this way, he entered both organizations, although the leaders always showed a greater point of caution. On a walk through the Villaverde parks, it is easy to see groups of young people hanging out at tables. Not all are gang members. Originally, the members were distinguished by wearing the colors of the Dominican flag. “Now they almost never wear badges, because they know that it is easier for the police to stop and identify them. At first glance you don’t know who are members and who isn’t, ”he explains.
The first time that Núñez sat on one of these benches was 2015 and in this time, the expert has been able to see the evolution of these groups. “More and more young people come in and they don’t care about your nationality to accept you as a member,” says the anthropologist, who jokes that at first the gang members didn’t think she was Dominican, because “she was very white.” The Villaverde district was a few years ago a territory disputed by the DDP and the Trinitarios. “More or less this was the limit that separated them,” he says, pointing to the Avenida de Andalucía as the imaginary border between these two rival gangs. Now, he explains, most of the Trinitarians have settled in Usera.
The director of his thesis was Carles Feixa, leader of Transgang, a Pompeu Fabra University project that seeks to explore other ways to address gangs beyond police actions. “These organizations are the result of marginalization, lack of work, a feeling of identity,” sums up Feixa on the phone from Barcelona. Núñez is part of Transgang in the field research they are developing in Madrid.
The organization studies success stories such as Comuna 13 in Medellín (Colombia), the birthplace of Pablo Escobar, where a series of municipal and civil actions managed to turn one of the most dangerous neighborhoods into a must-see for tourists, where The kids themselves, who were once the pasture for criminality, now take guided tours to explain the neighborhood’s violent past and the hopeful future that now awaits them. Feixa himself took some steps in this direction, thanks to a project financed by the Barcelona City Council in 2005, under which the Latin King and the Ñetas formed two cultural associations. “The gangs are not going to disappear, so other approaches have to be tackled,” says the expert.
They love to feel that someone listens to them and takes them into account
During all this time, the researcher has maintained strict codes to work and not lose the trust of her interlocutors. One of the unwritten rules was not to talk to the members of one gang about the members of the rival. He also often showed them the transcripts of his conversations. “They love to feel that someone listens to them and takes them into account,” says the expert. The backpack of many of them is full of the same memories: they arrived in Spain in the early 2000s thanks to family reunification, suffered marginalization at school and sought refuge in the gangs. In five years he chatted for countless hours with these kids, eager to relate experiences that are rarely told.
The researcher gained so much the trust of the gang members that they call her “prof.” They explained the story behind the vendettas that the media usually collected with the little data provided by the police, the struggles for the territories, the stories of the leaders (who they call supreme) and how the heads of the chapters (neighborhoods) operate. The bosses have a Angel, a kind of right-hand man of his total confidence.
Within the hierarchy, they detailed that one of the members of the leadership whom they call “third” is in charge of administering the discipline, giving permission to the members to change neighborhoods and deciding the punishments. The youngest, or manitos, They tend to take responsibility for the most serious crimes, “because it is considered that, being minor, the sentences will be minor”, summarizes Núñez in his thesis. Women, who are generally irrelevant in these groups, were fundamental in the research, because “they speak much more, the boys had to be told the words.” In the DDP there is the figure of “the lady”, a girl who they trust, has access to information and is not necessarily a partner of a leader.
For his research, Núñez traveled to his native country, the Dominican Republic, and to New York, the city where these two bands were born. There he met with, Jey Ci, one of the founders of the Trinitarios who is currently in prison. This leader wrote a letter to the members of the band in Madrid through the researcher. “They are integrated into organizations with the notion that the other is the enemy, but they don’t even know why,” says Núñez. The germ of a confrontation between these gangs is usually the territory, although there are others, as he collects in his research: “Another reason for a fight may be because someone from a rival group falls in love with a leader’s girlfriend or partner.”
On the walk through the neighborhood and when the photographer takes some images of the anthopologist in front of some graffiti in which the name of a Santo Domingo neighborhood can be read, the glances of the neighbors are directed towards strangers. It is not strange to her, she knows that in this community it is difficult for them to trust, she herself had to go very little by little. “Once they met me and understood my work, they literally opened the doors of their homes for me. I did the interviews in them, they even allowed me to go to their birthday parties, “he says. With many of them he established relationships, helping them to write their resumes or teaching them how to look for a job.
Get out of the bands
He also learned about the lives of those who have already left these organizations, or at least the first line behind. Like Nina (not her real name), a Spanish girl who became involved with the DDP at the age of 13. This woman became the leader of a female group and the partner of one of the leaders of this band. Women are not full members of these groups. “For me they were a family, I felt supported, many of us look here for what we can’t find at home,” Nina confessed. This informant related that the girls also participated in fights with machetes. “It was an unconscious time, I would not do it again,” he also acknowledged.
Now, Nina is not an active part of the organization. “You can get out of the band, I know guys who have stopped to run (when they leave the first line) and nothing has happened to them. In a way, they understand that there is a time when you have family responsibilities or other reasons why you want to change your life, ”explains Núñez.
In Spain the bands are never going to be a problem as they have been in other countries
From her experience, the specialist tries to go beyond the violent incidents that make headlines: “In Spain gangs are never going to be a problem as they have been in other countries. They do not handle those amounts of drugs by far, nor are they so violent, nor do we have the poverty levels of a country like the Dominican Republic. There are resources here that they can turn to, ”says the expert.
On his way through the neighborhood, he passed by the basketball court where he began to relate to his objects of study. Of many of them now he speaks with real affection. “I’ve seen kids with a lot of potential …”, he admits. Now the courts are empty. Kattya Núñez collects a reflection that Nina, a former member of the DDP, made to her in an interview: “Social educators have a role, that the little ones do not become involved in violence, that they have other leisure and training options. With the elderly … it is almost impossible ”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.