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Children in a World of Gangs

Donna De Cesare has covered Central American gangs like a war correspondent. Her new book reveals the effects of the violence on youths. Watch a video and see a slideshow.

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Donna De Cesare‘s new book, “Unsettled/Desasosiego: Children in a World of Gangs/Los niños en un mundo de las pandillas,” is the culmination of 30 years of photographing gang members and their families. Through striking images De Cesare uncovers the effects of decades of war and gang violence on the lives of youths in Central America and in refugee communities in the United States.

A photojournalist and associate professor in the School of Journalism in the College of Communication, De Cesare began covering Central America during the civil wars of the 1980s, focusing on the disrupted lives of children and youths. She continued her photography project in Central American refugee communities in the United States in the 1990s and postwar Central America since 2000, documenting a history of repression, violence and trauma in which gangs trapped by social neglect are as much a symptom as a cause.

Listen to De Cesare talk about her experience photographing gang members in this video:

[Video by Mason Jones.]

More than a photographic documentation, the bilingual “Unsettled/Desasosiego,” published by the University of Texas Press, is a memoir of her decades as a war photojournalist, using photographs and personal narrative to trace the evolution and expansion of the notorious 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha gangs from the barrios of Los Angeles to the shanties of Central America. The images and accounts show how decades of war and violence as well as the illegal drug trade have created a culture that allows gangs to flourish. At the same time, her photographs portray the humanity of gang members and their families.

“Unsettled/Desasosiego” has received significant attention and acclaim from several media outlets, including NPR’s The Picture Show blog, The New York Times’s Lens blog, PRI’s The World, Mother Jones and Le Journal de la Photographie.

De Cesare (www.donnadecesare.com) is the recipient of numerous honors, including National Press Photographers Association awards, the Dorothea Lange Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Mother Jones Award for Social Documentary Photography and a Fulbright Fellowship.

An exhibition of photographs from the book is on view at the Benson Latin American Collection through July 15.