The Mexican Mafia gang got its start in Los Angeles in 1950 at the Deuel Vocational Institution when a dozen Latino kids decided they needed protection against other gangs established there. Also known as “La Eme,” the Mexican Mafia gang has hundreds of members and three times as many associates; however, they are not associated with the Italian Mafia, La Cosa Nostra. They are considered one of the most active gangs.
After formation, members of the Mexican Mafia gang were moved to San Quentin to teach them a lesson, but the change only solidified their violent tendencies.
In Arizona’s state prison in 1974, a similar group formed a separate Mexican Mafia organization that became known as the New Mexican Mafia. When housed in the same prisons, members of the California and Arizona groups fought for the rights to the name.
The Mexican Mafia gang controls an alliance called “Sureno” that involves more than a dozen gangs covering the southern California area. The dividing line between southern and northern California is around Bakersfield, and above that, the Nortenos are controlled by the rival gang Nuestra Familia.
The Mexican Mafia gang has associations with other non-Latin gangs such as Aryan Brotherhood, and the gang is arch-rivals with the Black Guerrilla Family. Journalists claim that the Mexican Mafia is at the pinnacle of all gangs running American prisons even maximum-security facilities.
The Mexican Mafia gang makes the majority of their money off drug dealing and strong-arming the small-time dealers into kickbacks of profits. The gang also offers paid protection to street-level dealers, so they won’t get beat up, face violent attacks or go to prison.
Ringleaders of the Mexican Mafia gang also buy off prison guards to help smuggle cell phones or other contraband into the facilities. These activities are the bases for federal charges that get the upper-level gang members moved to maximum security federal prisons for racketeering and conspiracy.
The Mexican Mafia gang has strict rules for members including initiation rites of violent assault or murder; they do not prohibit homosexual contact or sleeping with another member’s wife or girlfriend. The gang has a list of banned informants, and they require gang members to put the gang before all else, to respect other gang members' deals and to kill anyone who attempts to the leave the gang.
A sign of the Mexican Mafia gang is a tattoo of the letter “M” in old fashioned script along with a symbol of the black hand. The Black Hand is borrowed from the Italian Mafia and represents extortion, but the Mexican Mafia will often tattoo an actual black hand on their body. Other Mexican Mafia symbolic prison tattoos include cobwebs on the neck or elbow to signify doing time, teardrops near the eye to signify having killed someone (or an attempt), and acronyms across the knuckles that mean things like “Evil, Wicked, Mean, or Nasty.”