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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.


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