Folk Gang Sign – Van Nuys, California

Anthony told me that him and his gang members used flashed this sign whenever they met each other. He also told me that they could show the same sign to strangers (about their age) who seemed to them that they were from some other gang. If that stranger showed a different gang sign from theirs, then a fight could either break up or he could be warned not to walk through their territory again. He told me that the Van Nuys West side gang had just been recently found and its members were mostly high school boys. To join the gang, you had to be physically strong. He said that fights with; either existing gang members or a random rival gang member tested a new members physical strength and mental toughness.


I have personally seen numerous gang signs including this west coast sign. However, I always saw this sign being used in another context. Most notably, Tupac Shakur in most of his videos continuously used it. Particularly, Tupac and his group “The Outlaws” used this sign several times in Tupac’s music video Hit ‘em up. The video was popular at the time when the “West coast vs. East coast” rap battle hit the top. In the battle, Tupac represented the West coast and Notorious BIG represented the East coast. The “West coast vs. East coast” battle ended with both rappers loosing their lives.

In the context of the “West coast vs. East coast” battle, the West Coast sign was used by Tupac to show his representation of the entire Western side of USA. Contrary, Simon told me that they use this sign for the Van Nuys west side gang. That reminds me of the problem of folklore ownership. If the West Coast sign were to appear in an advertisement, a movie or anything commercial, we would see various groups of people claiming its ownership. That is one of the biggest problems with folklore.  It is just too hard to trace it back to its roots. Nevertheless, folklore remains important. As Simon said, “If a stranger showed his gang members a different sign, then a fight breaks.” That shows the strength of folklore. Just a hand sign can be the difference between fighting and not fighting. It is because those kids feel that someone showing them a different gang sign is actually disrespecting their identity.  Their identity is built around that sign.

Annotation: Tupac Shakur. Hit ‘em up. Death Row records, 1996. Hit ‘em up. 4th June 1996.