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Murder Ink

If you know how to read them, gang tattoos can tell you the history of a suspect.

February 01, 2006  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The Mexican Mafia

The Mexican Mafia prison gang was organized in 1956 at the D.V.I. Youth Authority facility in Tracy, Calif. It was no accident that the members chose the letter "M" and its Spanish pronunciation "eme" to represent the gang since most members were from the Los Angeles area and were members of the Maravilla gangs.


The elaborate tattoo of the Aztec calendar on this inmate is a common symbol on many Hispanic prisoners. Much more significant is the "M" just below his throat, which marks him as a Sureño and a member of the "eme," the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

Mexican Mafia symbolism can be complex. Common tattoos include the black hand (a nod to the Sicilian-American gang the Black Hand), "M," "13," "213," the Aztec shield and its symbol of eternal war, and the Mayan-Aztec numerical symbol of two horizontal parallel lines topped by three dots (13).

For a long time, Hispanic street gang members in Southern California have been marked with "South Sider" and "Sureño" (sur is "south" in Spanish) tattoos to show their strong support of the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

Currently, there are more than 530 traditional turf-oriented Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles County with more than 53,000 members identified in the Cal-Gang system. All of these gangs are Sureño gangs. A small number of them are in rebellion against the Mexican Mafia.

I will mention the three largest and most widespread loyal Los Angeles Sureño gangs. They are super-gangs and can be found internationally. All three super-gangs are major traffickers in human beings, narcotics, and false identification.

  • The Florence ("Florencia" in Spanish) gang was organized in the 1950s in South Central Los Angeles around Florence Boulevard. The gang members identify themselves with tattoos of the words "Florencia," "Florence," and "F13."
  • The Eighteenth Street gang was formed from rejects of the Clanton 14th Street gang in the 1960s. Eighteenth Street took its name from the nearby 18th Street (Calle Diesiocho in Spanish). They use the tattoos "18," "XV3," "XVIII," "Diesiocho," and sometimes "666," which adds up to a total of 18.
  • Mara Salvatrucha was formed by Salvadorian immigrants who were living in the 18th Street neighborhood. Some criminally minded Salvadorians joined Eighteenth Street or other local gangs but, by the mid 1980s, they had formed their own gang and became rivals to 18th Street. "Mara" means gang in El Salvador but, in Los Angeles, it also stood for the Maravilla coalition of Los Angeles gangs. The MS combined it with "Salva" for Salvadorian and "trucha," a calo (Pachuco language) gang slang for "look out." So Mara Salvatrucha means "look out for the Salvadorian gang." Mara Salvatrucha members are often heavily tattooed with symbols, including "MS," "MS-13," the Satanic inverted pentagram, and the devil horns hand sign. You will sometimes find all of these symbols tattooed on the face of a hardcore MS-13 members.

The Nuestra Familia

By the mid 1960s, the Nuestra Familia ("Our Family") prison gang had formed in opposition to the Mexican Mafia. It was strongly influenced by Southern California defectors from the Mafia and Maravilla gangs and those who felt victimized by the "Eme." However, the majority of the NF membership came from Hispanic street gangs operating in Northern California.

"NF" members sometimes refer to the gang as the "Ene" based on the Spanish pronunciation of the letter "N." Common NF tattoos include the number "14" or "XIV" for the fourteenth letter of the alphabet, which is N. You will also see more intricate images such as a sombrero with a bloody machete. The roots of this symbol are easy to trace. Many of the original NF members were from California's small farming communities and rural towns. They identified with the struggle of the migrant workers and campesinos who were organized by Cesar Chavez. The gang even adopted the stylized eagle used by the strikers, the "huelga" (strike) bird, which is often tattooed on Nuestra Familia and Norteño gang members.

Note: California officers should know that the city of Bakersfield is the Mason-Dixon line dividing the Norteños and Sureños, and these two groups remain at war. The primary cause of the violence is the fact that Sureño gangs in huge numbers are invading Norteño turf. It is also Sureño gangs such as MS-13 that are spreading across the nation.

CONTINUED: Murder Ink «   Page 3 of 4   »

Tags: Tattoos, Nazi Low Riders, Mexican Mafia, MS-13, Bloods, Crips, Aryan Brotherhood, Nuestra Familia, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Black Guerrilla Family, Folk Nation Gangs, Gangster Disciples


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Gregóir @ 6/14/2012 2:50 PM

I understand that the AB were started by the Irish hence the Celtic symbology. There must be a disclaimer in Celtic Ink wearers. I met some AB guys in the states and they asked straight out what right had I to have Celtic ink. After explaining that my family and I have been in Ireland for over a thousand years. They backed off a bit. More to do with the fact I'm a 6'3, 350 lbs so other people of origin should be warned that these guys feel entitled to rob our culture even though they only originated in the early 60's. I drank with these guys and enjoyed their company but am still annoyed by this blatant hijack

bk.Indio @ 8/16/2013 8:50 AM

first of all u claim texas syndicate was in cali? lmfao! nope.. la eme was formed before that fake texas prison gang.. second u claim they used the m for the maravilla gang in east los and align it with the number 13? lmfao again! all maravilla gangs in l.a. county arent surenos therefore dont claim the number 13.. third maravilla and mara salvatrucha have nothn to do with each other.. they beef on las calles.. if you really did do your research then you wouldnt be spreading lies on the net.. soy bk.Indio ws18st~hvls1 pico union district los angeles..

Rune @ 9/25/2013 1:23 PM

I have HUGE respect for Richard Valdemar. I do not think heritage tattoos reflect hate thought, well unless its on a white guy right? So am I to beleive that every guy with brown pride, or the Aztec calendar is no good? Of course I wont. But if a white guy has Runes and Celtic Knot work he is bad news? I understand that gangster will also use symbolism, but just because one has some heritage tattoos on them it really doesnt automatically say hater or skinhead whatever.

moe @ 4/22/2014 8:52 PM

BGF and BLA is not and never was the same thing. Both spun off BPP. BGF is the prison group mentioned above. BLA was a paramilitary organization made up of BPP members, forced to go underground due to domestic state and police terrorism, and is no longer active.

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