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The Rise of Sur 13
By Andrew Eways, Aurora, Colorado Police Department
Published: 07/21/2008

Fist1 Editor’s Note: This story is being shared with us by Gangs Across America, an online source providing strategies to combat gangs across the nation.

For decades, law enforcement officers in Southern California have seen the transformation of independent Hispanic varrios into a more unified group collectively known as the Surenos. This collective, also known as South Siders or Southern Mexicans, and sometimes called Southern United Raza (SUR), was originally formed by the Mexican Mafia prison gang with the idea that a degree of order and cooperation could be introduced to neighborhood gangs that had been battling for generations. Together, the varrios were stronger and more powerful.

On the East Coast, Sureno gangs first received widespread attention in the late 1990s after a series of high profile crimes by members of Mara Salvatrucha in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. In the years since, law enforcement officers in that area have documented a growing population of Sureno gangs – the largest two being Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street.

Although East Coast Latino gangs often mirror the Sureno hierarchy on the West Coast, the East Coast has a unique and often misidentified stand alone, with independent Sureno gangs gaining strength from a distant third place. This gang is known only by the generic name Sur 13.

The Sureno identity emerged from the edicts and practices of La Eme, a group that formed in the late 1950s at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California. Eme offered members protection from existing African American and White Supremacist prison gangs.

La Eme used the number “13”, representing the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, as a symbol of their organization. Members also displayed their affiliation by wearing or carrying blue bandanas while incarcerated (Morales, 2006).

Eme recruited largely from the Southern California varrios – a distinction that came to define them in the late 1960s when a violent conflict emerged between Eme and gang members from Northern California who adopted the name Nuestra Familia (NF).

By the late 1970s, the Californian city of Bakersfield, was roughly the dividing line between the Nortenos and the Surenos. The varrios or gangs on each side of the line were expected to follow the edicts of Eme or NF.

To show their allegiance to Eme, Sureno gangs adopted the color blue and incorporated the number “13” into their names. Established varrios like Florencia, Tortilla Flats, and Frogtown began marking their territory with the identifiers F 13, CVTF 13, and FTR 13 signifying the birth of the Sureno gang identity. Terms such as Sureno, Trece and Sur 13 came to be generic representations of a gang or gang member’s affiliation with La Eme and that the gang member was from Southern California.

Since the emergence of Sureno gangs as a unified group, many members have left Southern California for other parts of the county in search of social change or other opportunities both legal and illegal (Egley and Ritz, 2006). With this migration, members of rival varrios have found themselves thrown together in small groups.

Their common bond drew former enemies closer: They were all Surenos. The perceived need for self-protection or to work together to commit crimes drove these groups to organize as gangs who identified themselves as Sur 13. This trend was first noticed by law enforcement officers in Texas and other parts of the southwestern United States and gradually spread across the county.

In the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area, Sur 13 operates as independent geographically based gangs with little or no hierarchy, rank structure, or regional interaction. Each Sur 13 set claims its own territory and commits its own criminal activities independent of other Sur 13 sets.

Young Sur 13 members who have been interviewed by capital area law enforcement officers seem to have little understanding of their Sureno roots and have no direct or indirect contact with Eme. Many have spent little or no time in L.A. Others have come to the United States from Mexico already claiming membership in Sur 13.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that despite being only loosely related to the West Coast Surenos, today Sur 13 is among the ten largest gangs in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. Sur 13 members are involved in crimes ranging from illegal drug sales to homicide and their numbers continue to swell. If Sur 13 remains under the radar of law enforcement officers, the gang will continue to grow unabated in the shadow of other nationally recognized Sureno gangs.


Morales, G. C. (2006) Varrio Warfare: Violence in the Latino Community. San Antonio: Munguia Printers, Inc.

Egley, Arlen Jr. and Ritz, Christina E. (2006). Highlights of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey (Report #01) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: U.S. Department of Justice.

Other articles by Eways:


  1. sur side chap killa :. on 11/06/2013:

    you dont know shit about the silent killers of the big sur 13

  2. Cynical Otto on 07/24/2008:

    This is a very true and informative article. As we see by the Los Angeles Gangs Details with corruption in the police department itself, A very close supervisory effort must be made. Civilians should be used to help on a volunteer basis along with proper delegation of police authority to actually control gangs. Unarmed law abiidng citizens are at the mercy of these gang members who all have access to weapons, Foreign gangs such as the Chinese Triads sell weapons thanks to Clinton's free trade agreement. The borders HAVE to closely scrutinized as America is the open door to crime with crime champions such as the ACLU to encourage gang perticipation.. Then there is the Russian Mafia who have gained a stronghold in America since the Wall in Germany came down. In areas where it is difficult to get a concealed weapons permits, the gangs are encouraged by the authorities to flourish with no resistance from the law abiidng citizens.

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