Understanding East Coast Mexican gangs, Part 2

In Part 1 of this special series, I shared background on the early stages of Mexican gangs taking root on the East Coast and gave insight into some of their foundational principles and methods of operation.

In this second and final part, I’ll share information on their graffiti, tattoos, code language and their propensity for violence.


Mexican gang graffiti is more simplistic and to the point than other street gang graffiti. In one tattoo, Vagos is abbreviated by taking the first, middle and last letters of the gang name to create the gangs version of an acronym. (V.G.S.) This abbreviation technique is extremely common in Mexican gangs on the East Coast. Their graffiti seldom uses symbols and needs almost no interpretation. As is plainly stated in the picture above, Vagos are prominent around the area of West 116 Street in New York City. Gangs like the Vagos (aka 'Los Vagos') and other Mexican gangs will frequently insert a reference to 100% which means 100 percent gangster or “I am in to this gang life 100 percent.”


Although their graffiti is less symbolic than other gangs, their tattoos are highly symbolic in nature. Common to these gangsters is a picture of a pair of praying hands, which signify praying to God for forgiveness.

The Our Lady of Guadalupe icon is another favorite tattoo worn by gang members.

The Cholo (Gangster) symbol, which signifies the struggle for acceptance in America during the 1940s, is frequently tattooed on the bodies of Mexican Gang members. “Choloization” is the transition an individual makes away from the surrounding culture into a sub-culture. This is viewed by Mexican and Mexican American youth as their new socialization into a gang.

During the early 20th century Mexican American youth donned “Zoot Suits” as an expression of their individuality. The subculture of the Zoot Suiters was blamed for the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, an altercation between sailors and Zoot Suiters that resulted in a 10-day riot in Los Angeles. It is still unclear today which group was really responsible for the melee.

These tattoos are extremely meaningful to the Mexican gang banger. Phrases tattooed on their bodies like Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life) and Perdoname Mi Madre (Forgive Me Mother) are also symbolic of their awareness of their gangster life and how it is unaccepted by their family and others. These words or phrases will be tattooed in Old English style of printing.

Many Mexican gangsters will 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.


Mexican gang turf during the mid 90s on the East Coast was mostly temporary or non-existent. These gangs, consisting 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.

As the late 1990's rolled in, Mexican gangs were claiming turf and hanging out in large groups without worry. Graffiti marking their turf, became bold and superfluous. Large 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 contactors seeking cheap labor.

Making money is another use for the gang's turf and street corner drug sales are becoming a more popular way of doing so. As drug use increased among gang members and other Mexicans, the demand brought the gangs into the new millennium. Gangs claiming turf in highly traveled areas of some cities are gaining quite a clientele of drug customers, from a variety of ethnic background, and raking in profits.


Most Mexican gangs prefer the colors of the Mexican flag, green, white and red, as their gang's representative colors. There are, however, several gangs which have adopted other colors. On the East Coast, many Mexican gangs have adopted beads with their representative colors. They were influenced by other Hispanic gangs like the Latin Kings, La Familia and Netas which were using beaded necklaces since the 1980's.

Beads, bandanas and color-coordinated clothing are now standard alliance representations for Mexican gangs. When checking for a gang's colors or markings, look under a gangster's hat, on the rear of a belt, inside a knapsack or inside a pant's pocket. Mexican gang members are used to hiding their affiliation from the larger, more violent gangs like the Bloods and Latin Kings. And because of the recent violence connected to Mexican gangs, they will hide their affiliation from the police.

Tattoos like the one above are memorials to gang violence
Most violence involving Mexican gangs involves other Mexican gangs and their own countrymen, but external gang violence involving Mexican gang members is rapidly increasing. Incidents of Mexican gang violence will occur after 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, it doesn't require much of an incident to start an altercation.

Other acts of violence can occur when there is no other rival gang in sight but 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 gangsters will crash the party drunk and take any opportunity as a chance to show his worth and gain respect in the eyes of his vatos (homies).

Other forms of disrespect among Mexican gangs have been shown in graffiti cross-outs, written derogatory statements or aggressive paintings, drawings and murals. One such derogatory drawing 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).

Mexican gangs have their own form of spoken and written language that is evident in their graffiti and conversation. Some of words, phrases, terms, gang name translations or numbers to be aware of:

13 = Depicts the letter M; refers to southern California
14 = depicts the letter N; refers to northern California
Barrio = (Varrio) Neighborhood
Cacos = Local Thieves
Carcel = Jail
Carnal (es) = Brother (s)
Chaca = Indian Warrior
Chicano = Mexican American
Chola = Female gangster
Cholo = Gangster
Cuetes = Gun, explosive, firecracker
Salto; En salto = Jump in (initiation)
Ese = "Hey";" What's up?"
Ese's = Chicanos
Guerrero = Warrior
Hasta La Muerte! = Until death!
Hueros = Whites; Anglos (Caucasions)
= Police
= Boss
Jura = Police
La Eme = Mexican Mafia
La Mugre = Filthy ones
Maldito = Wicked One
MVL = Mi Vida Loca
NF or Ene Efe = Nuestra Familia
Norteno = A gangster from No. Cali.
Paca = Gang beating
Pachuco(a) = Gangster; Cholo
Pedo = Trouble
Pitufos = Smurfs
Placa = Tag or nickname
Playero = Beachgoer
PMV = Por Mi Vida
Por Mi Vida = For my life
Primo = Cousin
Puto Marks = Cross outs (graffiti)
Rata = Rat: Snitch
Raza = Race
Sombras = Shadows
Sureno= A gangster from So. Cali
Travieso = Misfit
Vago = Vagrant
Vato = Homie
VL = Vato Loco
XIII = 13
XIV = 14
XVIII = 18
Yerba = Marijuana

Maintaining close tabs on Mexican gangs is important. While they are rapidly increasing in numbers, they are 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. There are several murders still under investigation that have not been solved with an arrest of a perpetrator.

These gangsters 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 prone to these types of gangs forming.

These gang members will offer ID when approached by law enforcement, but mounting numbers of fraudulent alien cards, driver's licenses and social security cards are being confiscated from gang members. When dealing with them, analyze their documents carefully.

Most importantly, Mexican gang members can be very dangerous! This can be true for three reasons. First, they consider themselves Cholos (gangsters) and are probably involved in criminal activity, second, they view law enforcement as an enemy and third, they may be an illegal alien. Be careful!

  1. Tags
  2. Gangs

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