The Norteños are a group of Hispanic/Latin street gangs in Northern California that is loosely allied under the Nuestra Familia gang.
The Sureños of Southern California are allied under the Mexican Mafia or “La Eme,” and they are bitter rivals of Nuestra Familia. The Mexican Mafia is a much stronger and more widespread gang than Nuestra Familia/Norteños.
The dividing line for the two factions is around Bakersfield and Fresno.
The Norteños are known to be violent, drug sales and extortion-oriented Hispanic gangs. The Nuestra Familia gang was formed in San Quentin and other California prisons in the late 1960s as a response to the Mexican Mafia gang, also known as “La Eme.” The Mexican Mafia gang discriminated against Hispanics from Central and Northern California as rural sodbusters and considered them to be less sophisticated than their urban Los Angeles counterparts.
The Mexican Mafia, La Eme, formed the Surenos umbrella organization of Los Angeles and Southern California gangs to consolidate their power over drug trafficking in that part of the state. Through this organization, gang members were allowed to retain their local affiliation to a street gang yet be part of the Sureños network for additional access to drugs and protection, presumably. Nuestra Familia did the same in the north with gangs there, creating Norteños.
Norteños gang members often have two allegiances, one to his own local street gang and the Norteños, and he or she will have several tattoos.
Norteños gang tattoos include the number “14” for the fourteenth letter of the alphabet (members of the MS-13 gang often have the number “13” inscribed on their body).
Norteños gang members will sometimes have tattoos of their own gang name or acronym followed by a capital “N” or the word Norteños inscribed on their body.
Norteños gang color is red, whereas the Sureños gang color is blue. It can be dangerous to wear the wrong color in either group’s territory.
Graffiti tags that denote gang territory can include any of the tattoo designs and numeric representations as well as telephone area codes for Norteños or Sureños.
The Norteños and the Sureños called a truce for drive-by shootings in the1990s. However, an interview with a Mexican Mafia drug lord who was directing gang activity from his maximum-security prison cell called the effort a smokescreen. He revealed that it was done to divide up gang territory and better police the profits made by drug sellers so that the overlords weren’t cut out of the take.
The Sureños have allied with the ruthless Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico to make more money smuggling narcotics.
The Norteños have allied with similar “transnational” organizations for the same purposes.
Sources report that the stronger Sureños have pushed northward in search of more drug profits and are clashing with Norteños over turf.
State and federal officials are concerned that the cooperation among U.S. and Mexican gangs will introduce the kind of violence and bloodletting that has become commonplace in Mexico.
According to law enforcement, in 2009 the Norteños, through the Nuestra Familia, were importing 20 pounds of methamphetamines a week for distribution and that the homicide rate had doubled.
The Norteños took a big hit in 2015 when during “Operation Sol” more than 50 gang members were arrested; included was a Norteños shot caller, “Pistol Pete” Sanchez, who was a crucial figure in gang-related drug trafficking in the area.
The sweep was the culmination of months of cooperation among a variety of state and federal law enforcement officials including the Department of Justice.
A former Norteños gang member and felon-turned Ph.D., Jesse De La Cruz testifies as an expert witness in many gang cases, asserting that police and prosecutors unfairly categorize most Hispanic men as gang members.
In a New York Times Magazine article, Jesse De La Cruz tears apart the state Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act that links young men to gangs because of the clothes they wear or the people they grew up with. De La Cruz argues that the law prejudices police against Hispanics due to their culture.