In Los Angeles California alone, more than 50,000 Hispanic gang members are members over 500 separate street gangs, and although they are usually rivals on the streets, they are united in their alliance and support of the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

The Southern California region that includes the counties of Ventura, San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego also contribute to this Hispanic gang membership roll in the huge coalition called "SUR." These Southern California Hispanic gang members say that Sur (which is Spanish for south) is an acronym for Southern United Raza (raza means race).

Bakersfield, Calif., was once the "Mason-Dixon Line" dividing the Sureño south from the Hispanic gang members from Northern California, who call themselves Norteños (or Northerners). But since the 1980s, the Sureño gang members have multiplied like a plague of locusts and have spread north and east. Pockets of Sureño gangs, who were once sympathetic to the Norteño gangs, existed even in ELA-Maravilla, South Central, and San Diego. These Nuestra Familia sympathizers have almost all been wiped out.

The north-south line might now be drawn across California at San Jose, and Sureños can be found even in Northern California cities such as San Francisco and San Jose. Sureños can be found in every major city in the U.S. They can be found in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and South America. The big transnational super gangs such as Florence, 18th Street, and Mara Salvatrucha threaten the stability of some Central American nations.

Sureños can be classified into three major types:

Real Sureños are Southern California Hispanic gang members who have migrated from their breeding grounds in "Califas" and settled in a community near you. Individually, many of them are sophisticated hard-core gang thugs.

But many were only peripheral gangsters and nobody gang claimers. These "less than hard-core busters" can sometimes become big fish in a small pond by utilizing their "I'm from L.A." credentials.

Both the "hard-core" and "half-ass" gang member will boldly mark their new home with gang graffiti claiming their original Los Angeles Varrio such as "WF", "F-13", "XV3", and "MS-13." They might also write "So Cal," "213" or "310" (telephone prefix numbers), and sometimes the words "SUR 13," "South Side" or "Sureños."

The second type of Sureño is a gang member recruited and indoctrinated from your local community by the first type. Most of these "second-hand Sureños" have never been to Southern California.

Or they may also be a few ex-Southern California gang members from rival gangs who find themselves in a foreign environment, and therefore join together under the Sureño umbrella name to protect themselves. They may utilize local gang members to boost their numbers, calling themselves "Southsiders," "SS," "Sureno 13," "SX3" or some other reference to Southern California to tie them together.

The third kind of gang members calling themselves Sureños are the least connected to Southern California. They are Mexican Nationals, or natives of other Central American nations, who travel through the illegal immigration conduits controlled by the Sureño gangs. Street gangs such as Florence, 18th Street, and Mara Salvatrucha control major lines of human trafficking; they influence young men who utilize these routes and become indoctrinated in the Sureño gangster lifestyle.

When these men arrive in your community, they adopt the Sureño name and try to imitate the "American Hispanics" who helped bring them here. In reality, these Sureños have only a confused understanding of what it means to be a Sureño gangster. Untrained in American gang graffiti particulars, their "placasos" (plaques or badges in gang graffiti) are crude and less aesthetic than the U.S. gang placasos. Besides "Sur 13," these groups might mix in "Pandilla Sureño" (Sureño Gang), and "Sureños Mejicanos."

The thirteenth letter of the alphabet is "M," which in Sureño thinking stands for "EME," or the Mexican Mafia. Tattoos and graffiti depicting "13," "Xlll," "X3," "trece" (Spanish for 13) and "3ce," are all Sureño identifiers. Sureños and Norteños sometimes use the ancient Aztec language. The word "kanpol" is Nahuatl for Southerner, and "ixpol" is Northerner. The number 13 was drawn by depicting two parallel horizontal lines with three dots above them. Each line represents five and each dot is one.

As you can see, there are many types of people who call themselves "Sureños," with different types of graffiti you can use to identify them.


Richard Valdemar
Richard Valdemar

Sergeant (Ret.)

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio