- Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California.
- It has spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
- The majority of the gang is ethnically composed of Central Americans (mostly Salvadorans) and active in urban and suburban areas.
MS13 gang members are known to mark their territory with graffiti of the letters MS as well as slogans unique to the gang. New male members of MS13 go through an initiation in which they are “jumped in” by being beaten by other gang members as another member counts aloud to 13.
The MS13 gang is known as Mara Salvatrucha. A recent federal indictment describing the gang notes that the name is a combination of Spanish slang terms: “Mara” is a word used in El Salvador for gang. “Salvatrucha” is combination of words, “Salva” an abbreviation for El Salvador and “trucha” which means, heads up.
A family in 2014 walks by a wall covered by a symbol from the Mara Salvatrucha gang in Ilopango, El Salvador.
Their main rivals are the Barrio 18, or 18th Street Gang.
MS13 gang members once created fear and drew attention with wild, dark tattoos that covered nearly their entire faces. Gang members had since stepped away from such a look in order to avoid being detected by law enforcement. The new generation of gang members are known to have far fewer tattoos, sometimes only some ink inside their lips or somewhere on their bodies that can be covered with clothing.
An example of a tattoo of the gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). The Obama administration has labeled a violent Central American street gang as an international criminal organization subject to U.S. government sanctions, the first time this designation was given to such a group.
MS13 members are known to have three dots in their tattoos for the three destinations they expect to face in life – the hospital, death and jail.
Their main rivals are the Barrio 18, or 18th Street Gang. MS-13 is in a perpetual gang war with Barrio 18. The fighting between both groups has largely contributed to the extreme violence in El Salvador.
Members of the MS13 are known to display the gang’s colors – blue and white. Those are the same colors as the El Salvador flag.
The MS13 gang began in Los Angeles in the 1980s as a way for immigrants from El Salvador to protect themselves from predators in the immigrant community there.
The MS13 gang consists primarily of people who are from Central America or are descendants of people from Central America. Most members have lineage from El Salvador, but it includes members with family ties to several countries, including Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and others.
Members of the MS13 gang who are illegally in the United States are known to use machetes instead of guns, as carrying the long-bladed weapon does not bring the same potential for a criminal charge as carrying a gun. Federal and state laws prohibit undocumented immigrants from having guns.