Filipino youth imitate MS 13 gang culture though cyberspace
By Hector Gonzalez
December 8th, 2008
For many Americans, the notorious Salvadorian gang MS 13 is now dinner table conversation. Millions have seen the brutal murders, faces covered in tattoos on Youtube videos, national headlines, and your local evening news regardless of what part of the North American continent one lives in. There is something to be said about this, but what is there to be said when the next MS 13 clique you hear about being set up is based out of the Philippines?
Just yesterday I ran into a Myspace page with a headline caption that read “MS 13 now in the Philippines” I had to see it to believe it. I went to the profile and sure enough there it was. There were images of youth throwing up devil horns with one hand, and an ‘S’ in sign language with the other hand, and instead of writing ‘Mara Salvatrucha’ they write “Marah Salvatrucha,” the letter H emphasizing their native tongues annunciation of the Salvadorian term for gang. Young Filipinos have now adopted a culture that’s based half a globe away from them, most likely through cyberspace. Their Myspace profile includes photos of Filipino youth wearing Cortez Nike’s, Dickies, and shaved heads — staples of the look of a ‘cholo’, and a profile on Friendster has the national flag of both El Salvador and Philippines merging together, and as its company name, the individual writes ” The New Supermafia worldwide.”
As a Salvadorian born in El Salvador and raised in the US, the notion of cultural identity was never that important to me. It’s quiet simple actually. Growing up there was no Salvadorian Community around me, so the notion of my Salvadorian identity was never something to take pride in during the multi-cultural rallies in high school. Most people didn’t even know where El Salvador was located, many around me thought it was a place in Mexico. But all of that has changed now. El Salvador has made a name for itself and it did it in a very unconventional way; hence it wasn’t the horrible Salvadorian national soccer team that gave it fame, nor was it the Salvadorian strong ties to the USA, nor did it have to do with art, culture or glamour, in fact it was quite the opposite — it was a strong desire to be heard, to have your story told. After all, the Salvadorian people are products of a long extensive legacy of violence and war, including indigenous up rises, repressive governments, the massacre of 30,000 indigenous people, a socialist up rise, and a 12 year lasting war that has scared the Salvadorian people; a derivative of when the white man first set foot on Cutzcutlan (Land of Precious Things) … the MS 13 is just the mathematical equation of its past.
These Filipino teenagers may not know the full history of the MS or more importantly the history of El Salvador, perhaps an “O.G.” MS member residing in a prison cell in San Salvador might think its funny- maybe the word ‘wannabee’ might even be applicable, but aside from focusing on whether these youth are authentic MS members or simply imitating picture on the internet, the greater realization is that through cyberspace, peasant impoverished youth from the mountains of Central America have influenced peasant impoverished youth in Asia, making it clear that the world now acknowledges a new standard to the term ‘street gang’.
In a bizarre and ironic way, the MS 13 is our claim to fame, maybe not the most positive thing, but it’s fame; the most seductive of human archetypes. As stated in a recent BBC article titled “Latin America Tops Murder Tables”, the report lists El Salvador as having the highest youth murder rate in the world, “ The grimmest figures are for El Salvador, where the murder rate among young people is 92 per 100,000 people…A key factor there is the presence of violent youth gangs,” the report says. These claims could easily be substantiated on the internet, just type “MS 13” on Youtube where MS videos with over a million hits are influencing youth all over the world, giving the ultimate credibility of the biggest and baddest gang.
But even to Salvi- Americans with no gang affiliation, the MS 13 can strike a chord to our identity. The image of the young man on a Youtube photoslide, with a skull covering his entire face as if his face was literally a skull, or the photo of the young man with MS tattooed on his forehead with devil horns coming out of the side, help us Salvi- Americans tell the story of our people through them. Through them, we break down our history of colonization, imperialism, exploitation, and immigration, they are the result of our past. Through them, we can illustrate our anger of great injustices that have been committed to our people, and tell the thousands of thousands of stories, that to the ordinary American seem brutal and horrific. But to us. this is everyday talk as it is a part of our reality. Like the story of one of my relatives who the last dream he remembers is when he was 9 years old when he saw a man hacked to death, he’s 43 now.Or the story my mother tells causality when I visit her in El Salvador ‘We would take this street to school sometimes because the other street would have decapitated heads on it’, or stories of mass migration where young boys and teenagers ages 12-15 would say goodbye to their parents for fear of being forcefully recruited to fight in the war, not reuniting with their parents 20 years later, sometimes never.
To the curious mind on the net researching and studying the development of the MS, one thing is clear, Salvadorians have clearly made their point. All viewpoints may need to shift their understanding. The just graduated MSW Social Graduate might have to re-evaluate what they’ve been taught after studying the history of El Salvador. The ultra Revoluationary Che wearing college student might change his views when he studies the war battles in the jungles of Morazan. The devil horn hand sign and the S in sign language does not just mean the baddest gang to this curious mind looking at MS pictures from behind a computer screen in some random part of the world, the devil horn hand sign and the S in sign language also means martyrdom. It may mean something even newer in the Philippines.