Southeast Asian Gangs and Drugs

Principal Investigator: Daniel Waldorf
Co-Principal Investigator: Geoffrey Hunt
Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA 07530)

In the early 1980s, San Jose experienced a major influx of Southeast Asian immigrants fleeing from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. After their arrival in California, concerns grew among the police and the media in San Jose about the activities of Southeast Asian gangs, including alleged thefts and “home invasions” believed to committed under the influence of drugs, and as a source of money to support gang members’ drug use. This study was conducted to gather empirical information about these gangs and their activities.

Using a combination of ethnographic methods and social survey techniques, the study located and identified 91 South East Asian street gangs members between the ages of 14 and 38 in San Jose. (For the purposes of this study we defined S.E- Asian as people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.) Research staff conducted short term field observations to chronicle the drug sales activities of gang sellers in the streets. Contrary to police and media perceptions, the study found that Southeast Asian gang members were moderate drug users, rarely sold drugs, and were primarily involved in thefts and burglaries that had little to do with drug use or sales.

Papers from the SE Asian Gangs Project

  • Toy, C. (1992). “A short history of Asian gangs in San Francisco.” Justice Quarterly, 9 (4): 601-619.
  • Toy, C. (1992). “Coming out to play: Reasons to join and participate in Asian gangs.” The Gang Journal, 1 (1): 13-29.
  • Joe, K. (1993). “Issues in accessing and studying ethnic youth gangs.” The Gang Journal, 1 (2): 9-23.
  • Joe, K. (1994). “Myths and realities of Asian gangs on the West Coast.” Humanity and Society, 18 (2): 3-18.
  • Joe, K. (1994). “The new criminal conspiracy?: Asian gangs and organized crime in San Francisco.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31 (4): 390-415.
  • Hunt, G., Joe, K., and Waldorf, D. (1997). “Culture and ethnic identity among Southeast Asian gang members.” Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology, 25: 9-21.