The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city's Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.
Originally, the gang's main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans.
Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported after being arrested. As a result of these deportations, members of MS have recruited more members in their home countries.The Los Angeles Times contends that deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America.According to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment, "The gang is estimated to have 30,000 to 50,000members and associate members worldwide, 8,000 to 10,000 of whom reside in the United States"
In recent years the gang has expanded into the Washington, D.C. area, in particular the areas of Langley Park and Takoma Park near theWashington border have become centers of MS gang activity.
Mara Salvatrucha (commonly abbreviated as MS, Mara, and MS-13) is a transnational criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles and has spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
The majority of the gang is ethnically composed of Central Americans and active in urban and suburban areas.
Members of MS distinguish themselves by tattoos covering the body and also often the face as well as the use of an own sign language. They are notorious for their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions.
This excessive cruelty of the distinguished members of the "Maras" or "Mareros" earned them a path to be recruited by the Sinaloa Cartelbattling against Los Zetas in an ongoing drug war south of the United States border.
Many Mara Salvatrucha members cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings include "MS", "Salvatrucha", the "Devil Horns", the name of their clique, and other symbols. A December 2007 CNN internet news article stated that the gang was moving away from the tattoos in an attempt to commit crimes without being noticed.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha, like members of most modern American gangs, utilize a system of hand signs for purposes of identification and communication. One of the most commonly displayed is the "devil's head" which forms an 'M' when displayed upside down.
This hand sign is similar to the same symbol commonly seen displayed by heavy metal musicians and their fans. Founders of Mara Salvatrucha borrowed the hand sign after attending concerts of heavy metal bands