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The Mexican Mafia (Spanish : Mafia Mexicana), also known as La Eme (Spanish for the letter M) is a Mexican American criminal organization, and is one of the oldest and most powerful prison gangs in the United States
Gang’s name tattooed on gang member’s abdomen.
The Mexican Mafia was formed in 1957 by Chicano street gang members incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution, a state prison located in Tracy, California.The founder of the gang was Luis “Huero Buff” Flores, who was previously a member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang. According to Tony Rafael,
By the time that Luis Flores got his brainstorm idea about creating La Mafia Mexicana, as it was first called, gang warfare between Hispanic neighborhoods had become an established fact. Rivalries were then set in stone; gangs like White Fence, San Fer, Avenues, Clanton, Varrio Nuevo Estrada, and Hoyo Maravilla were already into their second decade and firmly established as self sustaining entities… Given such deep street rivalries, it was a marvel that Luis Flores ever got so far as to suggest that inmates who were enemies on the streets should abandon their animosity when they hit the prisons. But he did and it worked.
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. According to Eme turncoat Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza,
“The goal in the beginning was to terrorize the prison system and enjoy prison comforts while doing time.”
According to Luis Flores,
“It was a kid’s trip then, just a bunch of homeboys from East L.A. If I felt like killing somebody, I would, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. We were just having fun then. The power was intoxicating.”
As new members of La Eme filtered out back into the streets, Anacleta “Annie” Ramirez, a well-known member of the East Los Angeles community, took many of them under her wing and paired them up with neighborhood youngsters who lacked direction. Ramirez a sharp, tough woman, taught the youngsters discipline, rules of street life, and, at first, petty crime. This later escalated to her role as a shot caller–as drugs became a major part of the trade–who would get rid of her enemies by ordering youth loyal to her on missions. After she had given the directive, many of her enemies were reportedly murdered on sight. 
According to Chris Blatchford,
“By 1961, administrators at DVI, alarmed by the escalating violence, had transferred a number of the charter Eme members to San Quentin, hoping to discourage their violent behavior by intermingling them with hardened adult convicts. It didn’t work. For example, the story goes that Cheyenne Cadena arrived on the lower yard and was met by a six-foot-five, 300-pound black inmate who planted a kiss on his face and announced this scrawny teenager would now be his ‘bitch.’ Chy 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. No witnesses stepped forward, and only one dead man entertained the idea that Cadena was anyone’s bitch.”
A string of other slayings soon followed as Eme members sought to establish a reputation among the inmates of San Quentin. According to Blatchford,
The Eme quest for complete control alienated many other Mexican-American inmates who were fed up with Mexican Mafia bullies 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 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 NF as lame and inferior, just a bunch of farmers, or farmeros. However, in 1968 at San Quentin, a full scale riot broke out after a Mexican Mafia soldier, orsoldado, stole shoes from an NF sympathizer. Nineteen inmates were stabbed, and one Eme associate ended up dead. The battle became known as the “Shoe War” and it established the Nuestra Familia as a major Eme rival.
The Mexican Mafia is an organization involved in extortion, drug trafficking, and murder, both inside and outside the prison system. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Mexican Mafia had arranged for contract killings to be carried out by the Aryan Brotherhood, a white prison gang. Both the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood are mutual enemies of the African-American gang Black Guerilla Family.
The first prison gang street execution in Los Angeles was committed by the Mexican Mafia in 1971. Responsible for the murder was Joe “Pegleg” Morgan – the notorious white godfather of La Eme who had ascended by then to become one of the highest-ranking bosses of the entire Eme organization, even with no “official” Mexican blood himself. His connections with cocaine and heroin suppliers in Mexico helped pave the foundation for the Mexican Mafia’s narcotics distribution throughout California. During the 1970s, while under the control of Morgan’s protégé Rodolfo Cadena, the Mexican Mafia often took control over various community groups. The gang was able to filter money from alcohol and drug prevention programs to finance their criminal activities. The Mexican Mafia and the Italian-American Los Angeles crime family collaborated in skimming money from Get Going, a taxpayer-funded drug treatment program. By 1977, Get Going founder Ellen Delia was determined to expose the infiltration of her beloved program. Shortly before an appointment with the California State Secretary of Health and Welfare Services, Delia was murdered. Her collection of evidence on Italian and Mexican Mafia infiltration of the Get Going program was never recovered.
In 1995, United States federal authorities indicted 22 members and associates of the Mexican Mafia, charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act with crimes which included extortion, murder and kidnapping. One of the arrested members, Benjamin “Topo” Peters, was allegedly the Mexican Mafia’s highest ranking member at the time, and was engaged in a power struggle with fellow member Ruben “Tupi” Hernandez. Another indicted member was accused of having plotted the death of an anti-gang activist who served as a consultant for the film American Me. The indictments marked a two-year investigation by federal, local and state law enforcement officials.
In 2006, a 36-count federal indictment was brought against members of the Mexican Mafia. The arrests were made for alleged acts of violence, drug dealing, and extortion against smaller Latino street gangs.According to the federal indictment, Mexican Mafia members exert their influence in both federal and state prison systems through either violence or the threat of violence.
Members and associates of the gang remain fiercely loyal to the criminal organization both in and outside of prison, particularly in Southern California cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego. The gang asserts its influence over Chicano gangs throughout Southern California by threatening violence against their members should they ever become incarcerated. Gangs and drug dealers who refuse to pay a protection “tax” to the Mexican Mafia are often murdered or threatened with murder. High-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia who are locked in private cells for 23 hours of each day are still able to communicate with their associates, through methods which range from tapping in code on prison plumbing pipes to smuggled letters.
While the Mexican Mafia is a highly-organized criminal entity, it is believed that the gang presently is not presided over by a single leader. Prison membership of the gang is believed to consist of hundreds of members with authority to order murders, and at least thousands of associates who can carry out those orders.
Members of the Mexican Mafia are expected to engage in tests of their loyalty to the gang, 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.
During the early 1960s at San Quentin Prison, Luis Flores and Rudy “Cheyenne” Cadena established a blood oath for members of the Mexican Mafia. Prior to the establishment of the oath, members of the Mexican Mafia were allowed to return to their street gangs after incarceration. The new oath stipulated that the only way for a member to leave the Mexican Mafia was to be killed. Flores and Cadena also established a set of gang commandments. These included policies such as: a new member must be sponsored by an existing member, unanimous approval from all existing members to join (no longer policy), prioritizing the gang over one’s family, denial of the existence of the Mexican Mafia to law enforcement or non-members, respect of other members, forgiving street conflicts which existed before incarceration. Execution of a member of the gang for policy violation must be committed by the gang member who sponsored him.
Allies and rivals
The Mexican Mafia is the controlling organization for almost every Chicano gang in Southern California. All members of Chicano gangs in Southern California are obligated under the threat of death to carry out any and all orders from made Mexican Mafia members. The Mexican Mafia also holds a loose alliance with the Aryan Brotherhood, mainly due to their common rivals within the prison system.
Mexican Mafia symbols include print of a black hand. and the Mayan number thirteen.
The new Arizona Mexican Mafia’s primary symbol, which is often used in tattoos by members, is the national symbol of Mexico (eagle and a snake) atop a flaming circle over crossed knives.
Street gangs that are aligned with the Mexican Mafia often use the number 13 as a gang identifier, as the letter “M” is the 13th letter of the modern Latin-derived alphabet.
In popular culture
The Mexican Mafia received mainstream notoriety after being featured in the 1992 movie American Me. The film was coproduced, directed and starred in by actor Edward James Olmos, who allegedly received death threats by members of the Mexican Mafia for what they considered an unflattering depiction of the gang. Three consultants for the film were murdered shortly after the film’s release. The Mexican Mafia was allegedly displeased with the portrayal of the murder of Rodolfo Cadena (who was the basis for Olmos’ character Santana) as being committed by his fellow gang members. Mexican Mafia Members were also allegedly offended by the portrayal of homosexually inspired sodomy committed by Olmos’ character in the film. Olmos subsequently applied for a concealed handgun permit, which was denied to him.
Joe Morgan, while serving a life sentence for murder at Pelican Bay State Prison, filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Olmos, Universal Studios and other producers of the film. Morgan claimed that one of the principal characters in the film was based on him without obtaining his permission.