Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Surenos and the Mexican Mafia

From KnowGangs.com

The Mexican Mafia originated in the mid-1950s at the Duel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California. The prison, originally built to house young male offenders, soon became the home of many Mexican-American street gang members mostly from barrios, or neighborhoods, in East Lost Angeles.

During this time White inmates enjoyed control over most of the trustee positions which offered them many prison luxuries. But more importantly, the Whites controlled the prison underworld. The Mexican-American inmates wanted more freedom and more importantly, to control the prison drug trade.

A small group of Mexican-American inmates organized themselves into what would become to be known as the Mexican Mafia. They patterned their organization after the Italian Mafia, which was often discussed in the media during the 1950s. They even copied the Black Hand symbol used by the Italians. As the group recruited newly arriving Mexican-American inmates they soon took hold of the California prison system, however according to the Department of Justice, the group did not have a strong leadership structure until the 1960s. By this time they controlled the narcotic traffic throughout most of the California prisons.

Early requirements of the gang required prospective members to be Mexican. Members also had to have completed at least one ‘hit’ or stabbing and their status in the gang was then based on their seniority and dedication. Dedication was usually proven by how many assaults they had engaged in.

Other violations include practicing Christianity and "politicking"—creating dissension among members. Violation of these rules could result in a death sentence.

While in prison, members are expected to engage in drug trafficking, extortion and any activity to acquire money and control over other inmates.

Former Mexican Mafia members have complained that La Eme is set up in a manner that only the top leaders collect all the profits from the illegal activities of others. They describe that 99% of the gang works to serve the less than 1% of those who control it. Others describe being ordered to commit various crimes that have lengthened their time in prison, with no reward for their sacrifice.

Even after leaving prison, the leadership still leaches off its members. Paroled members must pay a portion of all the money they make back to the leaders. Paroled members are also instructed to organize cells and to tax street gangs selling drugs. Paroled members regularly meet together to discuss and vote on actions in furtherance of their illegal activities. Leaders communicates with its members by passing small notes known as “kites” or “wilas.” They are given to visitors or other inmates who are to be paroled or transferring to another prison. In a few cases dishonest lawyers have passed messages for Eme members and even arranged court sanctioned meetings.


In the late 1960s a division occurred among Mexican-American inmates with a new group forming, which would later be known as the Nuestra Familia. It so happened that the majority of the Nuestra Familia members were from Northern California and the majority of Mexican Mafia members were from Southern California. As the war between the two groups continued some members began distinguishing themselves as either Nortenos, a Spanish word for Northerner, or Sureno, Spanish word for Southerner.

As Eme members paroled to the streets, they were tasked with creating new cells to help facilitate more crime. In addition, paroled members explained the North versus South war occuring in prison to the young street gang members. The youngsters were told that when they did enter the prison system that they should align themselves with the other Surenos. The term Sureno was soon adopted by Hispanic street gang members throughout Southern California.

Although some might identify themselves as being a Sureno gang member, the original meaning of the term denotes an umbrella of gangs who fall under the control of the Mexican Mafia. Sureno sets may have conflict with each other Sureno gangs on the streets, yet in prison they will bond together for protection under the leadership of the Mexican Mafia.

Sureno gang members often identify themselves with the number ‘13’ to represent the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, the letter ‘M’. This is used to pay homage to the Mexican Mafia. Surenos will use the symbols Sur, XIII, X3, 13, and 3-dots in their graffiti and tattoos. In many parts of the country they will identify themselves with the color blue. Mexican Mafia members may have Sureno idenitifers as they were probably a Sureno gang member before being recruited into the Mexican Mafia. Other Mexican Mafia symbols include a black hand, the letters “MM” or the term La Eme.

It is import to reinforce that the Mexican Mafia and Surenos are two separate identities. Some have described the Mexican Mafia as being the father of Surenos. The majority of Sureno gang members have no direct contact with Mexican Mafia members, yet the Mexican Mafia is able exercise control and influence over Sureno gangs located in Southern California and a few scattered cities throughout the nation, without the knowledge of the majority of the street gangs’ members.

The number of actual documented Mexican Mafia members is relatively low. They continue to pool their membership from Sureno gang members who are willing to serve the Mexican Mafia leaders.

The Mexican Mafia is also documented in the 1992 Edward James Olmos film, "American Me." There are other street gangs who have used the Mexican Mafia name, but have no connection to the gang and little knowledge of the actual gang.

The Mexican Mafia has been identified in nearly every federal and state institution in the United States. Sureno street gangs have been identified in every state in the country, although few outside California have any connection to the Mexican Mafia. Members have being involved in all facets of criminal activity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A new book on the topic of the Mexican Mafia and the Surenos was just released.The book, titled:Urban Street Terrorism: The Mexican Mafia and the Surenos, was authored by Al Valdez PhD. and Rene Enriquez (former Mexican Mafia member). The book is a must read for anyone interested in the organization. Urban Street Terrorism is currently available from; www.amazon.com and www.hiredbypolice.com