In poor neighbourhoods gang culture can be a substitute for the wider sense of identity which comes from belonging to and sharing the values of society at large ?? especially when you feel your own culture is rejected. The fact that the gangs in this movie ?? Hispanic, Black, Asian ?? are based on race makes them in a way a racist defence against racism ?? ironically the kind of racism represented by Walt??™s attitudes in the film. The Hmong gang rescue Tao from the Hispanics and then try to enlist him, offering him protection, identity and a sense of belonging ?? all things he??™s struggling to find. He reluctantly accepts and agrees to their initiation ?? to steal the Gran Torino. In these scenes various ways of belonging are represented: the language (ironically both the gangs speak a similar language), the clothes, the racist attitudes, as well as the way gang membership appears to meet the need for safety and security. Tao is having trouble finding a sense of identity and belonging with his family who reject him because he??™s not a man.
The car, like Walt himself, is a symbol of an America which no longer exists if it ever did: and Walt??™s efforts at keeping it in absolutely perfect condition while he himself drives around in a rusty pick up, show him standing against an inevitable tide of change. There??™s a conflict between what has given Walt his sense of identity and belonging ?? the America he fought Asians to preserve ?? and the present reality where the Asians have moved in to his neighbourhood and his own family have not only moved away but themselves reject the old values. Detroit ?? where he still lives ?? was the centre of the car industry (until it was challenged by the Japanese cars Walt hates and his son sells) and symbolises both America??™s past industrial strength, and its present industrial decline. Of no less