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D.A.'s Office Protests Graphics on T-Shirts

Apparel: Deputy says a wearer who wandered into gang territory would be targeted. Maker defends art.

September 11, 1997|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — T-shirts with what some describe as gang images being sold by Miller's Outpost stores could be deadly to the wearers, according to a group of Orange County district attorneys who are writing a protest letter to corporate headquarters.

"I am appalled," said Diana Gomez, a deputy with the anti-gang unit of the Orange County district attorney's office, who is drafting the letter.

She said the Orange County Gang Investigators' Assn. met last month and voted to formally complain. If a customer unwittingly wore one of the shirts into a gang neighborhood, she said, "He's going to be beat up, he's going to be chased, he's going to be shot dead. . . . It's a safety concern."

A men's merchandising representative at Hub Distribution in Ontario, the corporate headquarters for Miller's Outpost, said the only person who was authorized to comment was not available late Wednesday.

Dan Gonzales, owner of Aztlan Graphics in Chico, which designed many of the T-shirts, said Gomez's interpretation was wrong, and possibly discriminatory.

"Our art is cultural art," Gonzales said. "We steer clear of all gang references. It's a misunderstanding of the art and the people who wear it."

Gomez said the T-shirts she saw widely displayed in Santa Ana and when she was on vacation in Sonoma County include gang sayings like "Mi Vida Loca," which means "My Crazy Life," smoking guns, happy-face skulls and sad-face skulls, and the number 13, symbolizing the letter M, the 13th letter of the alphabet. The letter is widely recognized as the symbol of La Eme, the powerful Mexican Mafia, she said.

Gomez said the sayings and symbols are used as epitaphs on gang members' headstones, in graffiti and in doodlings.

Gonzales said his company, "the leading producer of T-shirt graphics targeting Hispanic markets," would never use the number 13 precisely because it is a symbol of La Eme. Similarly, he said, "No guns, that's not us; that's some other company."

He said the saying "Mi Vida Loca" is "an old, established phrase" used by Spanish-speaking Southern Californians for decades. The shirts also bear an image of a young man with a shaved head and a bandanna. But Gonzales said that to assume such a young person was a gang member was a stereotype.

Aztlan designs T-shirts young people would want to wear, clothes that also meet the anti-gang standards that places like Miller's Outpost and other stores have, he said. He noted that every tag on an Aztlan shirts bears the slogan, "Whoever you are, wherever you are, wear our clothes in pride and peace."

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