The Mexican Mafia (Spanish: Mafia Mexicana), also known as La eMe (Spanish for “the M”), is a highly organized Mexican American criminal organization in the United States. Despite its name, the Mexican Mafia did not originate in Mexico, and is entirely a U.S. criminal prison organization. Sureños, including MS-13 and Florencia use the number 13 to show allegiance to the Mexican Mafia. M is the 13th letter of the alphabet. Law enforcement officials report that La eMe is the most powerful gang within the California prison system. Government officials state that there are currently 155–300 official members of the Mexican Mafia with around 990 associates who assist La eMe in carrying out its illegal activities in the hopes of becoming full members
The Mexican Mafia was formed in 1957 by Michael Cardiel and 13 Hispanic street gang members from different Los Angeles neighborhoods that were all incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution, a California Youth Authority facility, which is now an adult state prison in Tracy, California. They formed in order to protect themselves from other prison gangs at the time.The founder of La eMe is Luis “Huero Buff” Flores & Rae Dawn who was an active member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang in Hawaiian Gardens, California. Gang warfare between Hispanic neighborhoods was the norm during the 1950s and 60s so the fact that Luis Flores was able to get established enemies to set aside their rivalries upon entry into the prison system was something that was not thought possible. This requirement exists to the present day. Hispanic street gangs like White Fence, The Avenues, Clanton 14, San Fer, and Varrio Nuevo Estrada were already into their second decade and firmly established as self-sustaining entities.Luis Flores initially recruited violent members to the gang in an attempt to create a highly feared organization which could control the black market activities of the Deuel prison facilities. La eMe member Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza claims that in the beginning the overall goal was to terrorize the prison system and enjoy prison comforts while doing time. It is said that the name “Mexican Mafia” was to show respect towards a powerful criminal organization such as the American Mafia and to install fear in individuals
By 1961 violence got so bad at the Deuel Vocational Institution that administrators transferred a number of the charter La Eme members to San Quentin Penitentiary in the hopes of discouraging their violent behavior. This tactic failed. Cheyenne Cadena arrived on the lower yard of San Quentin and was met by a six-foot-five, 300-pound black inmate. Cadena returned a short time later, walked up to the unsuspecting predator, and stabbed him to death with a jailhouse knife, or shank. There were more than a thousand inmates on the yard and no witnesses stepped forward. A string of other slayings soon followed as La eMe members sought to establish a reputation among the inmates of San Quentin. The Mexican Mafia’s quest for complete control alienated many other Mexican-American inmates who were fed up with Mexican Mafia stabbing, killing, and stealing their watches, rings, cigarettes and anything else of value. Some of them secretly founded a new prison gang called La Nuestra Familia (NF) or “Our Family.” It was first established in the mid-1960s at the California Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. Some of the early members were from the Los Angeles area, but NF soon drew inmates primarily from rural communities in Northern California. The Mexican Mafia saw Nuestra Familia as inferior and “just a bunch of farmers”, or farmeros. However, in 1968 at San Quentin, a full-scale riot broke out after a Mexican Mafia soldier, or soldado, stole a pair of shoes from a Nuestra Familia sympathizer. Nineteen inmates were stabbed and one La eMe associate ended up dead. The battle became known as the “Shoe War” and it established Nuestra Familia as the major La eMe rival
Law enforcement believes that La eMe presently is not presided over by a single leader. Many Mexican Mafia members have the authority to order murders and oversee various other criminal activities. They have almost a thousand associates that help carry out those orders and have the theoretical control of all Sureño gang members. Members are expected to engage in tests of their loyalty to La eMe, which may include theft or murder. The penalty for refusing orders or failing to complete an assigned task is often death. According to the gang’s constitution, members may also be punished or murdered if they commit any of four major infractions. These include becoming an informant, acts of homosexuality, acts of cowardice, and showing disrespect against fellow gang members. According to gang policy, a member of the Mexican Mafia may not be murdered without prior approval by a vote of three members, yet the murder of non-members requires no formal approval.