Skip to main content

Mara Salvatrucha, La

Mara Salvatrucha, La

La Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS or MS-13), whose name roughly translates as "the gang of the clever Salvadorans," is a youth gang with more than 100,000 members organized in cliques or factions. It is active mainly in thirty-one U.S. states, Mexico, and Central America, and also has a presence in Spain and Canada. Academic, journalistic, and government studies of La Mara Salvatrucha are divided between those that focus on its origins and those that analyze the consequences of its activities.

La Mara Salvatrucha was created in around 1983 by the sons of Central American (mainly Salvadoran) political refugees in Los Angeles as a strategy for surviving in streets populated by traditional Mexican-American gangs and in an environment with scarce means of social integration. In 1989, when La Mara Salvatrucha had only 500 members, the Los Angeles police and some officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service considered them criminals, and deported many of them who had records for felonies ranging from murder to possession of stolen property. Some of the deportees quickly returned to the United States and extended the group's organization to other states; others stayed in their parents' country of origin, where they were culturally alienated. Those deportees recruited new members, too. Salvadoran sociologists calculate that for every member of La Mara Salvatrucha deported, twenty to twenty-five new members were recruited in their destination country.

Since the 1980s the public image of La Mara Salvatrucha has changed from an organization of excluded youth to a transnational criminal organization. The Salvadoran government claims that gangs are responsible for around 80 percent of the violent deaths in their nation, and that gangs have been the main national-security concern of Central American countries since the end of the civil war in 1992. In 2003 the government of El Salvador announced the toughening of legal punishments against gang members. In the United States enforcement agencies such as the FBI initiated raids against gangs in 2005.

See alsoCentral America; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; Mexico: Since 1910; Migration and Migrations; United States-Mexico Border.


Cordova, Carlos B. The Salvadorian Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Lara Klahr, Marco. Hoy te toca la muerte: El imperio de las maras visto desde adentro. México: Planeta, 2006.

                                           FroylÁn Enciso

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mara Salvatrucha, La." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 18 Jul. 2019 <>.

"Mara Salvatrucha, La." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (July 18, 2019).

"Mara Salvatrucha, La." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved July 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.