Kustoms for Peace, Saturday, January 26, 2013

It started off like any other January day in the Bay Area:  cold, damp, a slight wind chill and a hint of sunshine peaking through a cloud-patched sky. This wasn’t the typical day for a car show, but then again, it wasn’t a typical car show. Since Fall 2012, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) and the San Mateo County Youth Service Center (otherwise known as juvenile hall), have been working together to put on “Kustoms for Peace,” a car show held inside the institution

Juvenile halls differ from adult jails because they focus on rehabilitation.  However, an unintended outcome is the blending of young people from different neighborhoods and, at times, rival gangs or cliques where the gang mentality is bred and fed. While many take advantage of programs and services, little is done to help youth work together towards standing peace or a working truce. The purpose of Kustoms for Peace is to initiate a peace process, allowing youth to work together within the institution and hopefully inspire change in their lives.

Leading up to the event, a team of PCRC staff and volunteers met weekly with the Elm 7 unit.  PCRC guided youth through the process of working together, resolving conflicts with each other or within themselves and understanding the difference between being a peace builder instead of a peace lover. “Peace building is hard,” says Alejandro Vilchez, one of the principal organizers.  “It means you have to put away differences in order to reach a goal.  This car show demonstrates their willingness to make something work despite who’s standing next to them. They understand that the car show is about something bigger then them.”  Prior to the show, a US delegation monitoring the peace process between gangs in El Salvador spoke with the young men in Elm 7. After the talk, one young man said, “If they can do it there, we know we can do something here.”

The day of the show, Elm 7 led the event by welcoming the participating units, stressing the importance of keeping the peace and having a good time… and that they did.  Jimmy Gustamantes and members of Viejitos Car Club of Silicon Valley arrived with their “bombas” and lowrider bikes.  Impalas Car Club, of the East Bay, USO and San Jose’s Finest added to the positive atmosphere. Redeemed Car Club President, Mike Valladares demonstrated pin-striping while showing off his finished pedal car. Skoty Chops rolled through with a clean 1959 Impala.  Even the San Mateo Police Department contributed with their 1957 Plymouth Bonneville squad car.  Gustavo Lopez (aka DJ Aztlan), a PCRC staff member, played oldies, R&B and other crowd favorites.  Boys & Girls Club and JobTrain also participated, by offering information young people can use once released.

As the event wrapped up, the only thing missing were jackets and sweaters.  By 2PM the clouds began to cover the sun’s rays, offering a gloomy reminder of where the event was held. “Juvenile hall is not a place for fun,” adds Alejandro, “but we can use this event to get their attention and show them that there are other ways of getting respect, by being part of something positive.”

Initially, staff at juvenile hall was skeptical, but after Saturday they were asking for Kustoms for Peace II…  stay tuned.

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