The "Mexican Mafia", also known as "La eMe" (Spanish for the letter "M") or "Surenos" (Spanish for "Southern" - the area of L.A. where the gang is prevalent) is a Mexican American criminal organization, and one of the oldest prison gangs in the United States.
The Mexican Mafia was formed in the late 1950s by Chicano street gang members incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution, a state prison located in Tracy, California.
The foundation of the gang began with thirteen Mexican-Americans from East Los Angeles, several of whom where members of the Maravilla gang. These thirteen prisoners that layed the groundwork for the gang referred to themselves as Mexikanemi, which is translated from Nahuatl as "He Who walks with God in his heart.". The initial founding member of the gang was Luis "Huero Buff" Flores, who was previously a member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang.
While the Mexican Mafia was founded in part to show reverence to Aztec and Maya heritage, its primary focus was to protect members against other prison inmates as well as corrections officers. Deuel Vocational Institution was treated as an educational facility by convicts, where they would develop their skills in fighting, drug dealing, and creating weapons.
Luis Flores initially recruited violent members to the gang, in an attempt to create a highly-feared organization which could control the black market activities of the Deuel prison facilities,. As a response to the increase in violence, the California Department of Corrections transfered some members of the Mexican Mafia to other prison facilities, including San Quentin Prison. This action inadvertantly helped the Mexican Mafia in recruiting new members in both the prison and juvenile correctional facilities in California.
In the late 1960s, Mexican-American (Chicano) inmates of the California state prison began to form a rival group to the Mexican Mafia, known as Nuestra Familia. Membership was often determined according to the locations of their hometowns (the north-south dividing line generally accepted as Delano, California).
There was a perceived level of abuse by members of the Mexican Mafia towards the imprisoned Latinos from rural farming areas of Northern California. The spark that led to the ongoing war between Nuestra Familia and members of the Mexican Mafia involved a situation in which a member of La Eme allegedly stole a pair of shoes from a Northerner. This event put into motion the longest-running gang war in the state of California