Avoiding gang violence in Chicago

by Katherine Iorio

With her backpack slung across her shoulder, Mireya Coriano, 19, leans in to kiss her mother goodbye. Lydia Coriano whispers to her daughter, “Te quiero, mantente a salvo” (“I love you, stay safe”).

Coriano appears strong and unafraid. But deep down, she says she’s an anxious young Latina, fearful for her life. She doesn’t feel safe in her Brighton Park neighborhood, which has experienced four homicides in the last year. She, like too many of Chicago’s youth, fears stepping outside her home and being shot or even killed.

The streets of her Southwest Side neighborhood are marked with graffiti, indicating which gangs control the area. They battle over territory and women, who fluctuate between opposing crews.

“I usually walk to school with some of my friends in the morning. It’s safer to walk in a group than alone,” Coriano says as she kicks shards of glass on the sidewalk.

Coriano’s 10-block walk to Kelly High School usually takes about 20 minutes, but on a cold April morning, it takes almost half an hour in the searing wind. Like her older siblings, Carlos and Maria, Coriano makes the same journey to school they did years before, but hers is more dangerous.

Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s executive director believes murders and violence are up in Brighton Park, but he doesn’t think it’s up as much as other neighborhoods.

“They never catch anybody—they don’t even try. Go ask any of these kids why they don’t talk about these murders. It’s because they know nothing is going to happen,” Patrick Brosnan says.

“I always have to be on the lookout,” Coriano says. “I don’t want to be another victim of gang violence and the shootings in Chicago.”
Coriano feels these pressures from male Hispanic gang members in her community – and she sees firsthand the consequences for those who join gangs.

“I just don’t want to be like those girls,” Coriano says. “I want to make something more out of my life rather than getting knocked up by some gang member and having to become his baby mama.”

One of Coriano’s largest influences is her mother who works two jobs to support her three children. Coriano’s father left the family when she was younger. The little time she has with her mom when she is home, she cherishes.

“I would never be as strong as I am without my madre’s help and love,” Coriano says. “I walk to school and in my neighborhood with the strength and guidance my madre taught me—with that I know I can do anything.”

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This post is also available in: Spanish