GRASP hosts Fruits of War screening and fundraiser for gang-tattoo removal

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The documentary Fruits of War tells the story of four former members of Mara Salvatrucha 13, who are all now part of the social justice organization Homies Unidos. GRASP, the Gang Rescue and Support Project, is hosting a screening of the documentary at Su Teatro on April 8 to raise funds for its gang tattoo removal program.

See also: Can refugees seek asylum from drug gangs?

GRASP is a Denver-based intervention program that helps youth leave gangs or avoid joining them. Homies Unidos, a similar organization in L.A., produced the documentary based on the lives of some its founders. "It's their road to finding redemption and social justice," explains GRASP program assistant Gerardo Lopez. "The reason it's called Fruits of War is because basically they're the fruits of the Civil War that happened in El Salvador. The war lasted from 1979 to 1992, and these kids were from the gang MS-13 and some of them were from 18th Street as well."

Lopez, who was once a gang member himself, says it's important to show the real story in order to understand why many kids joined MS-13 in the 1980s. "The biggest misconception is that people think that a lot of the people that got into MS-13 were militant people from the war, which actually was probably less than 5 percent," he explains.

As a kid in L.A. at the time, Lopez saw families from El Salvador seeking refuge in the United States. But many Salvadoran kids were bullied by other gangs because of their different accents and culture. They formed their own gang to protect themselves, and brought in the violence they had seen in the war. "Just imagine being five, six, seven years old and you come out of your house and you see dead bodies lying around the floor, people with their heads chopped off, limbs missing. You're simply on your way to go kick a soccer ball somewhere and you run into a dead body," Lopez says.

Mainly because of deportation, the gang quickly spread from L.A. to El Salvador and many countries in Central America, quickly becoming one of the largest and most dangerous gangs in the world.

Leaving a gang can be hard, Lopez explains, which is why organizations like Homies Unidos and GRASP are necessary. Fruits of War is designed to help the community understand why some young people join gangs, to help people identify the red flags of gang activity and to show kids and teenagers that there are alternatives to gang life.

The film will screen at 6 p.m. this Tuesday, April 8 at Su Teatro, followed by a panel discussion with Lopez, GRASP program director Francisco Gallardo and Homies Unidos founder and executive director Alex Sanchez. Tickets are $10 and the proceeds will go to GRASP's tattoo removal program, which funds the removal of gang tattoos for those who have left gangs and are willing to do fifteen hours of community service.

GRASP will also man a booth during the run of Placas, a play dealing with the subject of gangs, during the Neruda Poetry Festival at Su Teatro next week.

For more information, visit the Fruits of War Facebook page and the GRASP website.

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