The New Gangsta Terrorist

According to the Washington Times, the notorious Salvadorian gang called the Mara Salvatrucha may be linked to Al Qaeda. When I saw the article, which has been picked up all over the country in both the English and Spanish media, alarms went off for me. In Latin America the MS is already being treated like a terrorist group, but to top it off they are now supposedly linked to Al Qaeda. I feel that this could only do two things for Salvadorian Americans – either make us feel ashamed of being Salvadorians, or feed our egos and make our communities more violent.

Apparently, Al Qaeda member Adna G. El Shukrijumah was spotted in Honduras meeting with members of the Mara Salvatrucha back in July. The theory is that Brazilians are not required to have a visa to fly into Mexico, so Al Qaeda could fly into Mexico from Brazil and then be smuggled in to the US by the Mara Salvatrucha. El Shukrijumah has been identified as one of the key players in the September 11 attacks.

I have been seeing many Salvatrucha mug shots in all kinds of media and almost all are faces of young men with faces covered in tattoos. In fact, the New York Times recently ran a front page article titled, "Tattoed Warriors.” The gentleman featured was a Honduran native and a member of La Mara 18, the MS rival gang. The story went on to talk about the hostility between gang members in Honduras and El Salvador. It was consistent with the rest of the media depictions of Salvadorians. All that I ever hear from the TV, radio and newspapers are the violent stories of massacres and bloodshed by our people.

Although the MS is a Central American gang, the MS started in LA in the 80’s. "Mara" comes from a Spanish word used to describe army ants and "Salvatrucha" is slang for Salvadorian. It is estimated that they have over 200,000 members throughout North America. They have been labeled as the most violent gang in the United States. The MS is known for decapitating bodies and for using home made bombs. Words such as “brutal,” “vicious” and “fearless” are used to describe them. The viciousness comes from the brutally that El Salvador went through during the civil war. The originators of the Mara Salvatrucha were members of the FMLN (Fudaborto Marti Liberaccion Nacional), they were people who were not foreign to death.

Although young Salvadorian Americans may not have lived through the war, we have inherited the atrocities. A quarter of the entire Salvadorian population fled El Salvador as a direct result of war. Growing up, we are raised on the brutal images that our parents saw during the war. My dad tells me many stories of seeing people's legs blown off, to seeing people get there faces sliced in half with machetes. In El Salvador my house was on the top of a cliff, and my dad said that there were so many dead bodies stacked on top of the cliff that there was literally a river of blood flowing down.

Growing up in San Jose, I didn’t hang out with too many Latinos because, although they spoke Spanish, they were Mexican and they made fun of the way that I spoke Spanish. Salvadorian Spanish sounds very different then the way Mexicans speak it. On Spanish radio you’ll never hear Salvadorian music and on Spanish television you’ll never see positive messages about our people. Although we are the second largest Latino population after Mexicans in the United States, with over a million residents, we still don’t have much of an identity. If I was still an adolescent and I had seen these depictions of my people – as gangsters and terrorists or both – I think that I may have used it as a tool to find an identity, because its not like anyone else was helping me do it.

Salvadorian youth may fall into the depictions that the media is giving us. Either they will feel ashamed of saying that they are Salvadorians or they may start gang-banging simply because they are seeing Salvadorians gang-banging terrorists on TV. Words such as "vicious," "brutal" and "violent" may be something that young Salvadorians will glorify. These depictions are giving them an identity, and having a bad identity might be better then having no identity at all.

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