PBS Documentary Examines Lives, Opinions of Generation Next

September 5, 2007 at 6:50 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty-three-year-old Leo Vasquez grew up in a tough, predominantly Hispanic section of inner-city Los Angeles.

LEO VAZQUEZ, Former Gang Member: I started hanging around gang members. That’s when I joined the gang, too. After that, I was just in trouble ever since.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You joined when were 8?

LEO VAZQUEZ: Yes, about 8, 9 years old. The cops don’t come down this alley. There’s one way in, one way out. Everybody’s gang members, so they’re always going to be around me. And even if I’m not from the gang, eventually everybody is going to think I’m from it because I’m always around them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what kind of things do you do as a gang member?

LEO VAZQUEZ: Beat up, partly shot people. I was shot at a lot of times, but never got hit. I’ve been in and out of jail.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How old were you when you first used a gun?

LEO VAZQUEZ: Like 10, 11 years old.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who taught you how to use it?




JUDY WOODRUFF: A sixth-grade dropout, Leo spent all but 15 days of his life from age 13 to 20 in some form of incarceration. Leo taught himself how to read while in jail but found there were limits to what he could do without a high school diploma, and he’s not alone. Only about half of all Hispanic males in the country graduate from high school. And in Los Angeles, the number is even less.

Do you think more school could lead to better jobs?

LEO VAZQUEZ: Yes, but I can’t go to school because I got bills to pay. So, meanwhile, if I’m going to school, I can’t pay my bills. So I’ve got to work.

JIM LEHRER: Judy’s documentary is called “Generation Next 2.0.” You can watch on most PBS stations tonight. Check your local listings for the time.