Coast Mexican Gangs
by Sgt. Louis Savelli, Vice
East Coast Gang Investigators' Association
gangs have been forming in the United States for over 100
years. On the East
Coast, however, Mexican gangs are a recent phenomenon. In the
past several years, East Coast cities have experienced an
increase in the creation of gangs consisting of Mexican
many experts who believe the North American Free Trade
Agreement ( NAFTA), enacted in 1993, which promised an
increase in the national employment rate of Mexico, is partly
to blame for the influx of illegal Mexican immigrants into the
United States. The doubling of the unemployment rate during
1993 to 1995 and the drop in hourly wages to the lowest in
Mexico since 1980, resulting in an economic crash referred to
as the Peso Crisis during the 1990s. This lack of
economic opportunity in Mexico has greatly contributed to the
illegal exodus from Mexico to the U.S. in recent years.
Many of these Mexican gangs forming on the East Coast
maintain strong ties to Mexico and Mexican traditions, as well
as their relatives across the United States.
members throwing TVS handsigns at an amusement park.
gangs forming on the East Coast during the mid and late 1990s
have undergone a metamorphosis from unsophisticated loose knit
social cliques to violent street gangs with strengthening
gangs are largely Border Brothers gangs.
In Spanish, the Border Brothers are called “Hermanos
de la Frontera.” Border Brothers are usually illegal
immigrants from the same region in Mexico or those who have
illegally entered the United States at the same time.
These Border Brothers have formed together for social
functions and protection.
After a short time, they operate like any other gangs.
|This Border Brothers
symbol represents crossing the border into the
the late 1990s, Mexican street gangs have found themselves at
odds with many rival gangs of different ethnic backgrounds as
well as “Border Brothers” gangs made up of Mexican
nationals. As a result,
an alliance similar
to the People/Folk alliance in the Midwest was formed within
the Hispanic street gang culture in the Northeast. Two
‘umbrella’ nations were created: La Gran Raza
(The Great Race or Nation) and La
Gran Familia (The Great Family).
In the following chart, this alliance is illustrated.
Not all Hispanic street gangs are members of these two
alliances, and these alliances may vary from jurisdiction to
Hermandad De Pistoleros Latinos
(Diez y Ocho)
state that each nation is also affiliated with a powerful
Hispanic prison gang. La
Gran Raza is alleged to be affiliated with La Eme (The Mexican
Mafia) and La Gran Familia is alleged to be affiliated to
Mexican street gangs on the East Coast have taken on
similar traits to other street gangs. Initially, these gangs
were social in nature and seldom interacted with other groups
unless they were involved in drinking and partying. Their
structure was loose-knit. Today, these gangs are more like
their American counterparts. Leadership roles are usually
assumed by the most violent member of the gang. This leader
appoints a second in command and issues orders to the
soldiers. The leader is called "Mero Mero," which
means Chief or Godfather.
mark their turf at E.116th street in NY City.
gang graffiti is more simplistic and to the point than other
street gang graffiti. In
the picture above, Vagos is abbreviated by taking the first
letter of the gang name, the middle letter and last letter to
make up the gangs version of an acronym (VGS). This
abbreviation technique is extremely common to Mexican gangs on
the East Coast. Their graffiti seldom uses symbols and needs
almost no interpretation.
As is plainly stated in the picture, Vagos are
prominent around the area of West 116 Street.
Gangs like the Vagos (a.k.a. Los Vagos) and other
Mexican gangs will frequently insert
a reference to 100%, which means "100% gangster" or
"I am in this gang
gang graffiti may be less full of symbolism than that of other
gangs, but their tattoos are highly symbolic in nature.
Common to these gangsters is a picture of a pair of
praying hands. These
praying hands signify "praying to
lady of Guadalupe is the favorite patron saint of
many Mexicans and a common tattoo worn by gang
example of a praying hands tattoo on a Mexican gang
symbol (seen below), which signifies the struggle for
acceptance in America during the 1940’s, is frequently
tattooed on the bodies of Mexican gang members.
‘Choloization’ is the transition an individual makes away
from the surrounding culture into the American street gang
culture. During the
early 20th Century, Mexican-American youth
donned ‘Zoot Suits’ as an expression of their
individuality. The zoot-suiters were blamed for the Zoot Suit
Riots in 1943, an altercation between sailors and Zoot Suiters,
resulting in a ten-day riot in Los Angeles, California.
It is still unclear, today, which group was the real
blame for the 1943 riots.
|A simple cholo
the Mexican gang culture often contain phrases of great
significance to the gang member. These include phrases like
Mi Vida Loca (My
Crazy Life) and Perdoname Mi Madre (Forgive Me, Mother)
which are also symbolic of their awareness of their gangster
life and how it is unaccepted by their family and others.
These words or phrases are often tattooed in Old English style
Mexican gangsters on the East Coast will also tattoo the web
of their hands with drawings symbolic of their specialty
within the gang. These
hand tattoos are common among other Latino gangs present
throughout North America. In some hardcore cases, these
symbols will be burned into the hand.
gang turf during the middle 1990’s on the East Coast was
mostly temporary or non-existent.
These gangs, which consisted of illegal aliens, were
hesitant to remain in one neighborhood for any significant
length of time. They were very nomadic and fled to
neighborhoods miles away at the slightest hint of pressure
from the authorities.
They were careful to write graffiti and tags inside of
buildings rather than out.
During the late 1990s, Mexican gangs were claiming turf
in neighborhoods in the northeast U.S. and hanging out in
large groups without worry.
Graffiti, marking their turf, became bold and
graffiti tags with the gang’s name and membership roll call
were now commonplace. Common
turf for these gangs were neighborhoods with small apartments
near restaurants and stores where they were employed. Today,
these gang members will travel miles to work and stand on busy
street corners in ‘shape-up’ groups to obtain a day's work
from contractors seeking cheap labor.
Mexican gangs prefer the colors of the Mexican flag as their
gang’s representative colors. The
colors of the Mexican flag are green, white and red.
There are, however, several gangs which
|Mexico's flag is
green, red and white, colors which are favored by
many Mexican gangs in the Northeast.
the East Coast, many Mexican gangs have adopted beads with
their representative colors.
They were influenced by other Mexican gangs like the
Latin Kings, La Familia and Netas which were using beaded
necklaces since the 1980s.
Beads, bandanas and color-coordinated clothing are now
standard for Mexican gangs.
Many members are discreet about revealing them,
however, and may conceal these colors under a hat, on the
inside of a belt, inside a knapsack, or inside a pants pocket.
Mexican gang members are used to hiding their affiliation from
the larger, more violent gangs of the Northeast like the
Bloods and the Latin Kings. Because of the recent violence
connected to Mexican gangs, they also hide their affiliation
from the police.
gangs, which started with victimization of their own people
and other Hispanic gangs, have slowly developed in some cases
into drug dealing gangs.
During a debriefing, a member of Chidos
Picudos detailed the initiation rite of his gang
(translated from Spanish): “..they
take you to a street corner, usually near a subway or bus
stop. They give
you a gun and tell you to stick-up a person for their money.
After the stick-up, we meet at a park or schoolyard.
…we’ll buy a couple of forties
with the cash and drink until we get so messed up that we
start fighting with anyone around…!”
street gangs, until recently, have
been careful to claim turf in a neighborhood or at a local
immigration status, often as illegal aliens, made these gang
members too cautious to settle into one area for long.
In the past few years, with
their continued delving into the drug trade, these gang
members have been visibly claiming turf and regularly marking
Turf is not just a barrio anymore, it is a place of
business for these gangsters to sell drugs, extort money from
local businesses, and commit robberies on innocent bystanders.
These gangs now mark their turf through straightforward
graffiti, which provides evidence of their bold new style of
money is another use for the gang’s turf.
Street corner drug sales are becoming more popular with
the Mexican gangs. As
drug use increased, the high demand brought the gangs into the
new millennium where green (representing money) became the
true gang color. Gangs
claiming turf in highly traveled areas of some cities are
gaining quite a clientele of drug customers and are raking in
the profits. These
customers are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Most of the
violence in the Northeast involving Mexican gangs is directed
toward other Mexican gangs and their own countrymen.
Incidents of Mexican gang violence have frequently
occurred as a result of a disrespectful act (dis) by a rival
gang member precipitated from a "shout out" at a
nightclub, party or celebration.
When rival gangs are present at such functions, not
much impetus is required to start an altercation. Other acts
of violence have occurred when there is no other rival gang in
sight but members view an opportunity to show their machismo.
These acts often occur during baptism celebrations, weddings,
sweet sixteen parties and other family gatherings crashed by
Mexican gangsters who are friends with the DJ or one of the
attendees. Mexican gang members may crash the party and take
any opportunity as a chance to show their worth and gain
respect in the eyes of the vatos (homies).
The favorite holiday for
celebration among Mexican immigrants in the United States is
Cinco De Mayo, the Fifth of May, which is the observance of
the Battle of Puebla. The
Battle of Puebla, which was fought on May 5, 1862, was a
battle of freedom against the French Army’s attempt to take
over the town. A
Mexican army, consisting of Mexican soldiers and local
citizens armed with farm tools, totaling 2,000
an attack by 6,000 French Soldiers.
Other important dates in the Mexican culture are Mexican
Independence Day, September 16, and Revolution Day, November
20. Observance of these
holidays by Mexican American
citizens have been marred frequently on the East Coast by
conflicts between rival Hispanic gangs.
of disrespect leading to violence among Mexican gangs are seen
in graffiti cross-outs, written derogatory statements or
aggressive paintings, drawings and murals.
One such derogatory drawing (show below) was seized
from a member of the Chicano Nation (CN)
who shows himself tearing off the head of the leader of
their rival gang, La Escuadron (SDN). Also depicted is the
crossing out of Escuadron graffiti by Chicano Nation on the
side of a building. The
statement, “Carnalitos hasta la muerta!” means
brothers until death.
Maintaining close tabs on Mexican gangs is important.
As they are rapidly increasing in numbers, they are
also stepping up their acts of violence.
Many times, innocent people are victims of their
violent behavior, especially those who are celebrating a
family function when the gangsters decide to crash it.
There are several murders still under investigation
in New York that have not been solved with an arrest of a
gangs are spreading to all types of neighborhoods, cities
and towns. Rural
areas with farms to work, major cities with restaurants to
man and suburban areas with construction jobs to complete
are areas which are likely to see influxes of immigrants
from Mexico. The vast majority of these immigrants are
hard-working people who are simply looking for a better
life. A very small percentage, however, may bring
their gang affiliations with them.
terms of officer safety, Mexican gang members can be very
dangerous. This can be true for three reasons.
First, these members consider themselves Cholos
(gangsters) and may be involved in criminal activity.
Second, these gang members view law enforcement as their
enemy due to negative perceptions about police officers in
Mexico. As a result of increased drug activity in
Mexico, the DEA is now estimating that over 90% of Mexican
police officers have been corrupted by Mexican illegal drug
cartels/gangs. Thus, Mexican immigrants may have
little trust in the police, and may have been victimized by
police officers in their home country. Third, they may
be particularly worried about contact with officers due to
illegal immigrant status and their fear of being deported.
gangs have their own form of spoken and written
language that is evident in their graffiti and
Some of words, phrases, terms, gang name
translations or numbers to be aware of are listed
13 = Depicts
the letter M; refers to
14 = depicts the letter N; refers
Barrio = (Varrio) Neighborhood
Cacos = Local Thieves
Carcel = Jail
Carnal(es) = Brother(s)
Chaca = Indian Warrior
Chicano/a = Mexican American
Chola = Female gangster
Cholo = Gangster
Cuetes = Gun, explosive, firecracker
Salto; En salto = Jump in (initiation)
Ese = “Hey” or "What’s up?”
Ese’s = Chicanos
Guerrero = Warrior
Hasta La Muerte! = Until
Lou Savelli is the co-founder and Vice President of the East
Coast Gang Investigators Association, an 18 year veteran of
NYPD, a former member of the Broward County Sheriff’s
Department (FL) and Hollywood Police Department (FL)
and a published author.
© 2000 Louis Savelli. All rights