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Baggy-Pants Toys Spark Controversy

May 25, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Homies, tiny baggy-pants-clad plastic figures sold as 50-cent toys, have come under attack by authorities who say they glorify gang culture.

A million of the figures, with names like Droopy, Mr. Raza and Big Loco, have been sold since they went on the market four months ago.

``It’s scary that kids are playing with this,″ said Detective P.J. Morris, a member of the police gang detail in the San Fernando Valley. ``We’re trying to fight and teach kids to stay away from gangs, and we have to contend with this as well?″

Morris is trying to get merchants to stop offering Homies, which are sold as keychain figures and in gumball machines.

Their creator, David Gonzales, 39, says the figures are simply caricatures of people he knew growing up in a Mexican-American barrio near San Jose.

``That’s a big part of our culture: young, low rider Chicano kids wearing baggy clothes,″ said Gonzales. ``Most of them are based on people I met. A lot of them are my friends.″

Gonzales said he keeps the characters violence and drug free.

``I don’t push gangs,″ he said.

Homies first appeared as a cartoon strip in Low Rider magazine when Gonzales was a 17-year-old high school student in Richmond. He was a low rider himself, driving a lowered 1974 Chevy Caprice.

Since then, he has drawn or designed about 40 characters, including a priest, a chef, a police officer, a grandmother and children.

Six figures _ Droopy, Smiley, Sapo, Mr. Raza, Big Loco and Eight Ball _ are the first to become toys.

They are viewed negatively by Helen Hernandez, president and founder of the Imagen Foundation, which honors positive Hispanic images in entertainment and advertising.

``They perpetuate stereotypes,″ said Hernandez. ``Who is he kidding?″

Homies drew mixed reviews among San Fernando Valley children.

``They’re cool! They’re gangsters. Can I have one?″ asked Gino Johnson, 9.

``It’s not really a positive influence on little kids,″ said Eliana Cortes, 11. ``If little kids get them, they’ll want to play with them and then they’ll want to be like that.″

Homies are made in Taiwan by A&ACompany/Parkway Machine Corp.

Brian Kovens, owner of the Maryland-based company, said orders have come from California, Texas, New Mexico, Florida and New York, which have large Hispanic populations, and from Utah, North Carolina, Georgia and Iowa.

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