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Sureños tattoo
Founded1967; 56 years ago (1967)[1]
Founding locationSouthern California, United States[2]
Years active1967–present[3]
Territory35 U.S. states[4]
EthnicityMexican American[3][5]
ActivitiesDrug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, robbery, auto theft, fraud, homicide, assault[2][3][6][7]
Notable members

Sureños ([suˈɾe.ɲos]; Spanish for Southerners)‍, also known as Southern United Raza, Sur 13 or Sureños X3, are groups of loosely affiliated gangs[38] that pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia while in U.S. state and federal correctional facilities. Many Sureño gangs have rivalries with one another, and the only time this rivalry is set aside is when they enter the prison system.[6][31][39] Thus, fighting is common among different Sureño gangs even though they share the same common identity. Sureños have emerged as a national gang in the United States.[7]


Mexican American street gangs originated in Los Angeles in the early 1900s as a result of various factors, including economic conditions and racial prejudice. In 1957, the Mexican Mafia (or La Eme), California's first prison gang, was established by Luis "Huerro Buff" Flores and other East Los Angeles gang members, at the Deuel Vocational Institution. The Mexican Mafia was formed, in part, for protection from other groups in the prison population, and recruited its members from Mexican American street gangs. A rivalry subsequently developed between Mexican American inmates from Southern California and those from Northern California. The Southern gang members viewed Mexican Americans from rural, agricultural areas in Northern California with contempt and considered them to be unsophisticated and weak, while the Northerners considered those from Southern California to be overly Americanized.[2] By 1967, La Eme was attempting to unify all Mexican American gangs in California, and a concerted effort was made to end rivalries between various groups and amalgamate them into the state's largest prison gang. The rivalry between the Northerners and Southerners was solidified, however, by an incident in which a Mexican Mafia member in San Quentin State Prison stabbed his cellmate, a Mexican American from Northern California, to death in a dispute over a pair of shoes. The Northerners then formed the Nuestra Familia (NF) prison gang for protection from the Mexican Mafia, the Southern gang.[1]

In order to distinguish themselves from the agricultural workers from Northern California, Mexican Mafia members began to refer to the gang members who worked for them as Sureños, a Spanish term meaning "Southerners". Inmates from Northern California who were affiliated with the Nuestra Familia became known as Norteños, or "Northerners".[2] Even though Sureños were established in 1968, the term was not used until the 1970s as a result of the continued conflict between the Mexican Mafia and the Nuestra Familia in California's prison system.[6] When a Sureño is asked what being a Sureño means, members answer: "A Sureño is a foot soldier for the Mexican Mafia."[40] As a result of these prison wars, all Hispanic California street gangs align themselves with the Sureño or Norteño movements—with very few exceptions, such as the Fresno Bulldogs, and the Maravilla gangs of East Los Angeles.[3] Due to its membership size, the Fresno Bulldogs is the only Hispanic gang in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that is able to remain independent.[2]



The Sureños main stronghold is in southern California. They have a heavy presence in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Utah. They have a smaller presence in Illinois, Oklahoma, Georgia, Oregon and Washington. They have spread as far east as New York.[41] Sureños have been documented in the U.S. military, found in both U.S. and overseas bases.[42] They also can be found in some parts of Mexico. Sureños also maintain relationships with various drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico.[6][7][31] They have been confirmed in 35 different states in the U.S.[4] They are with the Gulf Cartel.[19]

The statewide north–south dividing line between Norteños and Sureños has roughly been accepted as the cities of Bakersfield and Delano.[43] Sureños' strongholds in Upstate California are usually in Santa Rosa and Modesto due to a high Mexican immigrant population in those cities. Sureños in Los Angeles refer to their members in Central California as "Central Sureños" and Sureños refer to their members in northern California as "Upstate Sureños".

Etymology and characteristics

While sur is the Spanish word for south, among Sureños "SUR" also stands for Southern United Raza.[44] Sureños use the number 13—which represents the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, the letter M—in order to mark their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.[4][6][45] Common Sureño gang markings and tattoos include, but are not limited to: Sur, XIII, X3, 13, Sur13, uno tres, trece and 3-dots.[45] Although there are many tattoos used by Sureños, there is only one tattoo that proves or validates membership. The X3 tag can also be commonly spotted in graffiti. The word Sureño or Sureña must be earned.[6] Most Sureños are of Mexican descent, but some Sureño gangs allow members from various other ethnic backgrounds to join their ranks, making Sureños multiethnic.[6] They also favor blue or grey sport clothing, such as Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Rams and sometimes Los Angeles Lakers. Upstate Sureños, however, wear Dallas Cowboys, San Jose Sharks and Oakland Raiders clothing.[citation needed]

Criminal activity

Graffiti, also known as tagging, is used to mark a specific set's territory

Sureño groups are involved in many aspects of criminal activity including homicide,[3][46] drug trafficking,[3][47] kidnapping, assaults,[48] carjackings, home invasions, and robbery.[2] They are also heavily engaged in human trafficking.[6] The primary sources of income for Sureño gang members are the retail-level distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, both within prison systems and in the community, and the extortion of drug dealers. Sureño members may also have direct associations with Mexican drug cartels, and broker deals on behalf of the Mexican Mafia and their own gangs.[2]

There have been many high-profile criminal cases involving Sureños in a variety of states. Police departments have a difficult time dealing with this gang because of its decentralized hierarchy at the street level. Law enforcement attempts to limit the influence of the Mexican Mafia over the various Sureño street gangs have been met with little success. By the late 1990s, a federal task force was set up in order to investigate the gang's involvement in the illegal drug trade; this resulted in the arrest of several of its members. The authorities confiscated thousands of dollars in drugs and money, as reported by the Los Angeles Times and local news channels. The group has historically quarreled with various rival gangs for placement and competition, which has resulted in many drive-by shootings and deaths. On August 24, 2004, a law enforcement preliminary injunction terminated the active members of the 38th Street gang, out of the streets,[clarification needed] banning them from using firearms, alcohol, graffiti and other dangerous materials in public.[49]

Sureños have a stronghold in San Francisco's Mission District, who feud with fellow Sureño factions and Nortenos. Surenos have had a history of beefing with other Sureño individuals, whether it be gang in-fighting, or different Sureno cliques fighting each other. For instance, two rival Sureño gangs fighting over territorial grounds of Southwest Community Park in Santa Rosa, California, lead to the shooting death of an 18-year-old man in 2008. The neighborhood South Park is home to a portion of the city's Angelo Heights Sureños, named after the Angelino Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles in which its original members came from. Sureños also have had territorial fighting in San Jose and Oakland.

In 2009, members of the Sureños were charged in the deaths of rival Norteño gang members Alvaro Garcia-Pena and Intiaz Ahmed, who were killed at Alvarado's Bar & Grill in Richmond, California. One member of the Sureños pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Other members from the Sureños gang received other sentences for their involvement in the shooting.[50]

In 2010, 51 Sureños were arrested in a California narcotics sting. The investigation identified eight Sureño gangs involved in various criminal activities, including the distribution of narcotics. The investigation also resulted in the seizure of more than 19 pounds of methamphetamine, a methamphetamine conversion laboratory, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, small amounts of crack cocaine, 25 pounds of marijuana, 35 firearms, and $800,000 in currency and property. The charges against the gang members were conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, street terrorism and firearms violations.[51]

See also


  1. ^ a b Valdez, A. (April 10, 2000). "Tracking Sureños". Police Law Enforcement Magazine. Archived March 31, 2023, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Criminal Street Gangs (May 12, 2015) Archived June 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c d e f Milkman, H. B., & Wanberg, K. W. (2012). Criminal conduct and substance abuse treatment for adolescents: Pathways to self-discovery and change. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc
  4. ^ a b c Barkan, S. E., & Bryjak, G. J. (2010). Fundamentals of Criminal Justice: A Sociological View. (2nd ed.). Sudbury, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
  5. ^ Gang Recognition Guide Everett Police Department Archived April 29, 2021, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Sureños" (PDF). Sampson County Sheriff's Office. 2005. Archived April 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center. (2011). 2011 national gang threat assessment – emerging trends. Retrieved from website:
  8. ^ "Barrio 18". 27 March 2017.
  9. ^ Speri, Alice (2014-03-05). "LA Gang 'Homies' Claim to Be Fighting in Syria". Vice. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
  10. ^[bare URL]
  11. ^ "LA Gang 'Homies' Claim to be Fighting in Syria". 5 March 2014.
  12. ^ Mallory, S., & Mallory, S. L. (2012). Understanding organized crime. (2nd ed., pp. 218-220). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Barlett Learning.
  13. ^ Bruneau, T., Dammert, L., & Skinner, E. (2011). Maras: Gang violence and security in central america. (st ed., p. 28-29, 32). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  14. ^ Abadinsky, H. (2010). Organized crime. (9th ed., p. 189-190). Belmont, CA: Wadesworth Publishing.
  15. ^ The fascinating history of the Sureño Mongol, Ruben Cavazos Andrew Eways, (February 20, 2015)
  16. ^ Oldie But Baddie: El Monte Flores Gang Richard Valdemar, (May 20, 2009)
  17. ^ "2011 National Gang Threat Assessment".
  18. ^ As those killed at Tequila KC are laid to rest, the suspects possible gang connections KCTV (October 10, 2019)
  19. ^ a b Gang-Drug Trafficking Organization Connections Affecting Suburban Areas (April 2008)
  20. ^ Mexican Mafia: Dangerous Gang
  21. ^ Outlaw motorcycle gangs United States Department of Justice (May 8, 2015)
  22. ^ People v. Contreras (November 28, 2016)
  23. ^ Playboy Sureno 13 gang member found guilty in assault case WREG-TV (July 21, 2016)
  24. ^ United States of America v. Michael Anthony Torres (September 6, 2017)
  25. ^ King of the Norf Jeff Weiss, (2019)
  26. ^ The monster of Atwater Village Andrew Eways, (February 8, 2013)
  27. ^ "The Vineland Boys Gang". 20 August 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  28. ^ Global Organized Crime: A 21st Century Approach Mitchel P. Roth (2017)
  29. ^ "Gang Reference Sheet". May 2011. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  30. ^ Hewitt, R. (Director) (2009). Gangland season 4, ep. 9 "Dog Fights" [Television series episode]. In Pearman, V. (Executive Producer), Gangland. Los Angeles, CA: A&E Television Networks.
  31. ^ a b c Womer, S.; Bunker, R. J. (2010). "Strategic threat: narcos and narcotics overview". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 21 (1): 81–92. doi:10.1080/09592310903561486. S2CID 143327189.
  32. ^ "Idyllic Half Moon Bay caught in war between Norteños and Sureños". The Mercury News. 4 September 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  33. ^ People v. Ramirez (January 23, 2017)
  34. ^ Los Angeles Gangs and Hate Crimes, Police Law Enforcement Magazine February 29, 2008
  35. ^ Hay, Jeremy (May 22, 2005). "A HARDER EDGE TO GANG VIOLENCE" (PDF). Press Democrat. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 15, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  36. ^ Moxley, R. Scott. "We Don't Care Gang Killer Begs Judges To Care About His Trial Complaint", OC Weekly, July 2013.
  37. ^ "We Don't Care Gang Killer Begs Judges to Care About His Trial Complaint – OC Weekly".
  38. ^ Morales, G. (2007). "Sureños". Archived from the original on October 6, 2011.
  39. ^ Larence, E. R. (2010). Combating gangs: Federal agencies have implemented a Central American gang. Washington, DC: United States Accountability Office.
  40. ^ Vinson, J.; Crame, J.; Von Seeburg, K. (2008). "Sureños" (PDF). Rocky Mountain Information Network.
  41. ^ "Gangs of North Carolina" (PDF). North Carolina Department of Justice (NCDOJ). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 23, 2015. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  42. ^ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. "Gangs Increasing in Military, FBI Says". Archived from the original on November 13, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  43. ^ Rocky Mountain Information Network (February 4, 2010). "Surenos 2008 Special Gang Report". Public Intelligence Regional information sharing systems.
  44. ^ "Sureño Tattoos and Symbols". 2 March 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  45. ^ a b Eways, A. (February 13, 2012). "Sureño gang graffiti: Understanding the art of war".
  46. ^ "Gang member's tattoo told story of 2004 murder | Local & Regional News | Bakersfield Now - News, Weather and Sports". 2011. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
  47. ^ Squires, J. (November 5, 2010). "Eight sureno gang members busted during operation groundhog in watsonville already convicted, four sent to state prison".
  48. ^ Stribling, L. (Writer) (2011). "Gang member charged after stabbing girlfriend (Television series episode). In ABC News. Wilmer Minnesota: ABC".
  49. ^ "Delgadillo, Bratton, Perry Announce Crackdown on South L.A.'s 38th Street Gang" (PDF). Office of Civil Attorney, L.A. August 24, 2006.
  50. ^ Brown, Julie (29 November 2012). "Sureño gang members stand trial for Norteño shooting".
  51. ^ "51 Surenos were arrested in California Narcotics Sting. Perris MaraVilla 13 is just one of the sureno Ganga In the South Side". 5 August 2010.

External links