PACOIMA — Dozens of pregnant women, mothers pushing strollers, mothers leading young children by the hand, and some fathers and sons, marched half a mile down Laurel Canyon Boulevard on Saturday to call for an end to gang violence in the community.
Dubbed the Mothers' March for Peace, more than 250 people were led to Ritchie Valens Park by William "Blinky" Rodriguez, who lost a teenage son to gang violence in 1990 and brokered a historic truce between Valley gang members in October 1993. He received the United Nation's Medaille d'Excellence in 1998 for his work with youth and gangs.
Saturday's march was the first part of a two-day event organized by Communities in Schools, a nonprofit group that works to eradicate the root causes of violence among youth. Today, a peace rally and concert will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hansen Dam Recreation Center in Lake View Terrace.
The inspiration for the mothers' peace event is a docudrama about Latino gangs that is scheduled for video release in June and will air on HBO a few months later.
Northridge filmmaker Rick Munoz shot the movie, "No Mother's Crying, No Babies Dying," based on stories from gang members. The film is interspersed with footage of actual interviews and reenactments of certain fights and events.
Munoz, who consulted with Rodriguez on the project and borrowed his slogan "no mother's crying, no babies dying," said when he started the project he discovered tiny, loosely organized groups of mothers across Los Angeles who had joined together to mourn their fallen sons and change their communities.
"I wanted to promote the idea of peace in our neighborhoods through the eyes and voices of our mothers," Munoz said.
Munoz, said it is mothers on both sides of gang violence--those whose sons are killed and those whose sons are shut away for life in prison for murder--that feel the effects of violence most keenly. And, he said, it is the mention of mothers that more than anything else gets through to toughened gang members.
"When I talked to them about their mothers, I could see I was looking into their hearts," he said of the gang members he interviewed for his film.
Steven Martinez, the associate director of Communities in Schools, said the first mothers' peace march was held now because violence typically escalates during the summer months.
Rodriguez said his group organized the event for this weekend rather than last so people could spend time with their families on Mother's Day.
The marchers gathered in the parking lot of Marcelo's Foods on Van Nuys Boulevard at noon. Half a dozen speakers--including state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas, Pastor David Martinez of Victory Outreach in North Hollywood and organizer Rodriguez--stood on the delivery dock of the truck entrance and passionately called for peace in both English and Spanish.
Then, waving placards and banners, the crowd walked to the park. Some mothers sang Christian songs in Spanish as they marched.
"I know a lot of gang members," said Yolanda Montes, a San Fernando mother of three children..
She said that since the 1993 peace treaty, gang members can come together and not fight; it is all right to come together and not claim territory.
"Things have improved, but there are still a lot of problems," she said. "They're our own race. We don't want to kill each other."