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Gangsters Without Borders

An Ethnography of a Salvadoran Street Gang

T.W. Ward

Publication Date - 01 June 2012

ISBN: 9780199859061

256 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

A riveting ethnography on Salvadoran street gangs in Los Angeles


Based on author T.W. Ward's eight and a half years in Los Angeles conducting participant observation with MS-13, Gangsters Without Borders: An Ethnography of a Salvadoran Street Gang takes an inside look at gang life in the United States and in a global context.

Taking us through their journey from their homeland in El Salvador to the mean streets of Los Angeles, Gangsters Without Borders offers a perspective from the point of view of the hard-core members who live this hard, fast, and dangerous life.

A powerful and engaging overview of gang dynamics, Gangsters Without Borders contextualizes the sources and severity of the marginalization felt by Salvadoran immigrants and debunks myths about street gangs in the United States. This account of gangsters' lives before, during, and after their involvement with the gang delivers an intimate and analytical portrait unlike any other.

About the Author(s)

T.W. Ward is Associate Professor of Teaching in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.


"Gangsters Without Borders gives a perspective and analysis not found in other studies. Not only is this happening now, it is a subculture within our society that impacts the lives of students who know little about it."--Vicki Root-Wadja, College of du Page

"The insider view of gang life presented here is a highly valuable contribution. The focus on gender roles in gangs is particularly insightful. The text does an excellent job of providing a balanced discussion that examines the history of past studies of gang life along with detailed personal and ethnographic discussions that bring these social dynamics to life."--Christopher Fennell, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"An excellent blend of history, literature, poetry, research from numerous disciplines, and the author's own observational data, Gangsters Without Borders helps us understand the larger context that contributed to the emergence of MS-13."--Dana Peterson, University at Albany, State University of New York

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: War Trauma and the Cycle of Violence
    1. José Amaya Is Introduced
    His Background and Reasons for Joining MS
    2. Stereotypes of Street Gangs
    3. Street Gangs as Surrogate Families
    4. My Background and How the Research Got Started
    5. Methodology
    6. Research Objectives
    7. Further Methodological Issues
    8. Confidentiality
    9. Composite Characters
    10. "Hard-core Gangsters"
    11. Themes of Subsequent Chapters
    Chapter Two: The Beauty and the Horror--Memories of El Salvador
    1. José Becomes Trouble
    2. Trouble's Fond Homeland Memories
    3. Cuscatlán, Land of Riches
    4. Revolution in El Salvador
    5. Terror in the Streets and at Home
    6. Family Ruptures
    7. Crossing Borders
    Chapter Three: Hard Times--Welcome to America
    1. Family Reunion--Mending the Bonds of Trust
    2. Tongue Tied and Bullied
    3. Gang Initiation--Welcome to the Barrio
    4. The Anatomy of a Decision
    5. Escape from Misery
    6. Jales, Jainas y Ranflas
    Chapter Four: From Prey to Predators: The Origins and Transformation of MS
    1. Origin Myths of Mara Salvatrucha
    2. A Devil's Pact: The Mara Salvatrucha Stoners
    3. The Structure and Leadership of Street Gangs
    4. Who Calls the Shots?
    5. Democratic Anarchy: Collective Leadership within MS
    6. Gang Taboos
    7. Boredom in Street Gang Life
    8. Banging and Slanging
    Chapter Five: 'Girls' in Gangs--On the Margins of Masculinity
    1. The Death of Lonely
    2. Angel's Decision to Join MS
    3. Rebels and Runaways
    4. Sexing In--"The Easy Way"
    5. "Trust No Bitch"--Spies, Snitches, Traitors, and Rats
    6. The Sexual Double Standard
    7. Dating the Enemy
    8. The "Catch 22" of Respect
    9. Pregnancy and Motherhood
    10. "Mothers of Us All"
    11. Angel's Descent
    Chapter Six: Live Fast, Die Young
    1. Street Gangs as Warrior Societies
    2. Who's the Enemy?
    3. Gang Warfare
    4. The Enemy Within
    5. Suicide--Grief and Loss
    6. "The World's Most Dangerous Gang"
    Chapter Seven: Becoming Calmado
    1. Exiting the Gang
    2. De Corazón--The Heart Connection
    3. More Die of Heartbreak--The Process of Disillusionment
    4. "The Devil We Know"
    5. Afterlives
    Chapter Eight: Epilogue
    1. Possible Interventions for Gang Members

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