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A few generations ago, most tattoos were viewed as potential gang tattoos – whether or not they were actually gang related.
In other words, though most people didn't have the skill to identify symbols, it was more or less taken for granted that tattoos were connected to a criminal underworld. A lot of gang members have one or more teardrop tattoos under their eyes, especially if they've spend time in jail. For the average person, it is unlikely that you will encounter gang tattoos at a close enough range to try and identify them.
Japanese gang tattoos (which usually identify members of the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia) take the form of simple black rings around the arm – one ring for each major crime a gang member has committed. Usually though, tattoos of Yakuza members are very elaborate and detailed, going from sleeve to full body tattoos. Hispanic and Mexican gang tattoos vary a lot, because they relate to the numerous specific gangs. Most gang and prison tattoos have fuzzy, unsteady lines compared to those of professional tattoos. Gangsta tattoos are getting mainstream nowadays, because they are idealized and popularized by rappers. The use of abbreviations and acronyms is extremely common among Mexican gang members who have these tattoos on their bodies as identifiers and sources of pride.
Although the original Mexican mafia prison gang banned the practice of religion as a precondition to membership, the fact that Mexico in general is a country deeply rooted in the catholic tradition has made it impossible to discount the influence of religion completely, even amongst violent criminal gang members. Some Mexican gangsters also tattoo the web of their hands with drawings symbolic of their special role within the gang.  Sometimes these symbols are even burned into the hand.
Gang members will never confirm if you are an innocent bystander or you are part of a gang they hate. That’s because tattooing was relatively uncommon among the mainstream public, and having a tattoo almost automatically meant that you had some sort of criminal association.


The similarity with tribal tattooing is quite strong – there, too, tribe members got additional tattoos in recognition of deeds they had done. Just like gang tattoos, they form a secret language that pictures all kinds of information about the wearer, such as hierarchy, commited crimes, etc. When gang or ghetto tattoos are taken out of their context (the gang) they are not the real thing anymore.
For example, the Vagos gang, otherwise known as Los Vagos often abbreviate there name to a simple VGS which is tattooed on the gang members bodies to signify membership. This is why many Mexican gang members, regardless or their particular affiliation will often be found with tattoos depicting a pair of hands clasped together in prayer.
This is the name used to refer to gangs that are located in Central America and the United States. Due to the expansion of the gangs, you will find that they have expanded their networks to other areas.
MS a€“ 13 tattoos are used to identify gang members of this group therefore you will find that they are not common with ordinary members of the public. Every other week there is a story about criminals being caught and identified by visible tattoos. There are still tattoo designs that are specific to the different ethnic gangs that operate in the major cities.
They indicate for example what status a member has in the group or what a prisoner is in for. Alternatively, a small five pointed star can be found on the hand, between the thumb and first finger. The ink used in Russian prisons for example was made with melted shoe soles, mixed with urine and blood.
Our guide to Mexican gang tattoos provides you with the background information you want to know.Although people often think of gangs as being something related to hip hop and modern youth culture, this is in fact not true at all.


Mexican gang members who are really enthusiastic to demonstrate their loyalty will often add 100% after the abbreviated tattoo to reinforce their loyalty to the gang.
This powerful image is supposed to represent a plea for forgiveness from God for the wrong the gang members have done. The fact that this gang has been known to be associated with offences like human trafficking, drug trafficking, black market gun sales, among other crimes. Gang and prison tattoos have more in common with traditional tribal tattoos than they do with modern decorative body art: they are designed to mark an individual as a member of a group, as well as being an indication of status. Mexican gangs have existed in the United States in some form or another for over a century. There is no way you can convince the security agencies that you are not a gang member when you are sporting one of their tattoos.
Gang members seen to be spotting MS a€“ 13 tattoos are believed to be in hundreds in the United States.
Over the past decade, major cities on the east coast have seen a steady rise in the numbers of gangs composed of Mexican nationals, as well as US nationals or Mexican origin. Gang members are normally Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and other Central Americans. For example, you will find that a person who has MS a€“ 13 tattoos will get into trouble with other gang groups that have been conflicting with that gang.



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