A fifteen year old Chicago boy has just been taught that as a Latino an association with gang culture come with your name and where you live – even if that association exists in the mind of one slightly powerful person. Herbie Pulgar submitted a drawing to a citywide art contest for the design of the upcoming year’s vehicle registration sticker. The high schooler with special needs drew a picture of four hands (black, brown and white) reaching for the sky above the Chicago skyline that was placed inside of a heart. Above the reaching hands was three symbols of “Chicago’s Heroes,” a firefighter’s helmet, a police officer’s hat, and the EMT symbol.
It took the well trained eye of art connaisseur and the city of Chicago’s premier art critic, former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis to inform the world of the true nature of Herbie’s drawing. It was, according to Weis, laden with gang symbolism. The hands that I thought were reaching for the sky inhabited by Chicago’s Heroes were actually throwing the placas of the notorious gang Los Maniacs. Even the heart! is a gang symbol. Aye Dios mio!
Here’s Weis’s commenting in an NPR story about the picture’s true meaning:
“You’ve got the hands … configured in such a way that are very similar to a particular gang’s hand sign. So that’s one part,” Weis says. “If you look a little bit back — imagine yourself 10 feet away from this — you’ve got a couple of hands in a position that could be viewed as horns. That’s another symbol of this particular gang.”
The gang in question is the Maniac Latin Disciples, and Weis, now president of the Chicago Crime Commission, says even the large heart that forms the artwork’s centerpiece is a main symbol of that gang.
It’s interesting that Weiss is able to arrive at his conclusions the way he did. The boy had no prior history of being affiliated with gangs aside from some Facebook postings. Because of Weiss’s “expertise” identifying gang symbols the kid was robbed of a well deserved and probably much needed praise from his community – and a $1000 savings bond.
Young Herbie Pulgar was forced to learn a lesson.. no matter how much you may want to escape the gang culture that surrounds you and unavoidably influences your life, you can be dragged down by the myopic gaze of a person willing to crush your dreams of reaching for the sky.
I don’t see what Jody Wiess sees in Pulgar’s drawing, but I guess Weiss has a better ability to read the disassociated gang symbolism in what I see as hope and love. To me it is obvious that this is what Pulgar tried to express.
(Image from NPR via City of Chicago Clerk’s Office.)