Super Subcultures

Echoes of the Mexican Mafia in the Bronx

A photographer gets up close and personal with the Sureños gang.

Echoes of the Mexican Mafia in the Bronx

In 2010 a coworker introduced me to Rene, a member of the “Sureños” gang in the Bronx. Made up of first and second generation Mexican-Americans, they claim “Sur 13” from the older, more established Chicano gangs in California and have adopted the cholo gangster style popular there. Sureños (sur means south in Spanish) are a loosely affiliated conglomeration of street gangs connected to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. In the Bronx, the group’s numbers are small. Although they are involved in small-scale crimes and gang warfare, at the time I met them they hadn’t risen to the level of organized criminality of their affiliates on the West Coast. They told me how Mexicans are often looked down upon in the cultural hierarchy here in New York, that street gangs target them because they are known to work for cash as laborers or in the service industry and don’t have the protection citizenship papers provide. They are looked at as easy targets with no community recourse. These guys wanted to change those dynamics.

A member of the crew rides down Sixth Avenue in the Mexican Day Parade. Cholo culture has successfully ingrained itself in the Chicano and Mexican-American identity.
A member of the crew rides down Sixth Avenue in the Mexican Day Parade. Cholo culture has successfully ingrained itself in the Chicano and Mexican-American identity.
Rene and his youngest daughter at the Mexican Day Parade in Manhattan. Rene, originally from Puebla, Mexico, has three kids who were born in New York.
Rene and his youngest daughter at the Mexican Day Parade in Manhattan. Rene, originally from Puebla, Mexico, has three kids who were born in New York.
A group of Sureños throw up their hand signs at the Mexican Day Parade. The majority of the members hold regular jobs, mostly in the labor and service industry.
A group of Sureños throw up their hand signs at the Mexican Day Parade. The majority of the members hold regular jobs, mostly in the labor and service industry.
A young member of the Sureños shows his belly tattoo in a backyard in the Bronx. Sureño is a distinction given to a variety of street gangs in Southern California.
A young member of the Sureños shows his belly tattoo in a backyard in the Bronx. Sureño is a distinction given to a variety of street gangs in Southern California.
Rene was born in Puebla, Mexico, and came to New York in the late 2000's. He is now back in Puebla.
Rene was born in Puebla, Mexico, and came to New York in the late 2000’s. He is now back in Puebla.
Lobo tattoos one of the members of the group.
Lobo tattoos one of the members of the group.
A tattoo of the Aztec calendar on Lobo's back. Lobo is a talented tattoo artist who does most of the group's work.
A tattoo of the Aztec calendar on Lobo’s back. Lobo is a talented tattoo artist who does most of the group’s work.
Angel and Rene joke around at the Mexican Day Parade.
Angel and Rene joke around at the Mexican Day Parade.
Rene hangs out while his eldest daughter plays in his backyard. Most of the younger members live with their families in the Bronx or Brooklyn.
Rene hangs out while his eldest daughter plays in his backyard. Most of the younger members live with their families in the Bronx or Brooklyn.
A young member of the Sureños shows the "13" tattoos on his eyelids, The 13 comes from the 13th letter in the alphabet, M, which refers to La Eme, or the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that originated in California prisons in the '60s.
A young member of the Sureños shows the “13” tattoos on his eyelids, The 13 comes from the 13th letter in the alphabet, M, which refers to La Eme, or the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that originated in California prisons in the ’60s.