Passengers of a local Honduras bus scream and duck as bullets rush from the barrel of a crazed man. Innocent women and children fall to their death as the gunner methodically shoots at will. Ruthlessly, the attacker fatally injures twenty eight people without warning or even a sign of reason before they must shut their eyes for the last time. This crime is one of many merciless slaughterings done by the infamous gang, Mara Salvatuchra, or otherwise known as MS-13. This crime stemmed from one man aboard the bus who had ties with the gang. According to the Seattle Times, “The suspected mastermind of the bus attack is Lester Rivera-Paz, who is tied to an original MS-13 cell in Los Angeles” (Kraul, Lopez, Connell). The gang is known for their heartless actions of violence and moral codes of revenge and cruel retributions. They have internal units specializing in recruitments, logistics, intelligence, murder, drug trafficking, and extortion (Wolf). Today, the gang has spread from Central America to the United States, originating in Los Angeles and evolving across 32 states. For this particular paper I will focus on the gang’s membership in the United States alone. I will take an ethnographic approach to attempt to understand why people join the gang and what they wish to accomplish by doing so. I will key in on the main goals of the gang, reasons for brutality, and how they have managed to spread with such popularity throughout America.
The Mara Salvatuchra are suitable for Cultural Anthropology because they have grouped to create a system of violence and corruption that has affected the safety and well-being of numerous people in the United States. In a sense, they are a culture; a culture that thrives on inducing fear into the souls helpless victims. As stated in the article by Sonja Wolf, “MS-13 is a highly structured transnational criminal organization whose propensity for extreme violence makes it an unprecedented threat.” I will be conducting my research primarily in Los Angeles, California. I have chosen to study here because “it is the area with the greatest concentration; with 20 different cliques and over 4,400 members and associates” (Walker). In previous years there have been several studies carried out in Los Angeles regarding the gang. Most notably, however, is the 2008 documentary, La vida loca, where the gang members shot the filmmaker to death while in the process of making the film (Wolf). On top of this, participant observation by Samuel Logan involved the case of a pregnant 16 year old female who was stabbed over a dozen times for speaking to law enforcement about the gang (Porter). These are only a couple shocking examples of how dangerous and heartless MS-13 really is. Many Ethnographers have found the journey not worth the risk and have aborted all attempts to learn about such a lethal group of people. Nevertheless, I believe proper research would help immensely towards hindering the gangs crime rate, immigration into the United States, drug trade, and population. By understanding their motives, I will help law enforcement tackle a gang that has caused merciless suffering and anguish amongst the people of America, and Los Angeles particularly.
To study the Mara Salvatuchra I will need to take into account my own safety, while still putting myself into a position where I can understand their system of methods to a great extent. Therefore, I will attempt to incorporate into my research the methods of: studying the polices attempts to take down the gang, interviews and surveys with people who have connections with the gang, and learning how things in the gangs environment may influence their behavior, motivations, and thoughts. Too much of any of these approaches can be detrimental to my gatherings, if not extremely dangerous. So instead, a balanced agenda will be my approach. I will not be using participant observation because engaging first hand with such a heartless gang is far too dangerous;...
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