An inside look into the MS-13 gang

Ashley Reyes
To write his book, Ward spent eight years with the Los Angeles-based MS-13 gang. (Courtesy of T.W. Ward)

To write his book, Ward spent eight years with the Los Angeles-based MS-13 gang. (Courtesy of T.W. Ward)

Thomas Ward, an anthropology professor at USC, shared his experiences while researching and writing his book “Gangsters Without Borders: An Ethnography of a Salvadoran Street Gang” April 24 at Saddleback College.

The book takes an inside look at gang life in the Unites States through a global context.

Ward conducted eight and a half years of participant observation in Los Angeles with MS-13 gang. He explained nine common misconceptions about the MS-13 gangs, which are misconstrued due to mainstream media.

“[The media] take a few facts and run them over and over, basically the one percent becomes the hundred percent,” Ward said.

He went over nine common misconceptions of MS-13 in his book, including the common belief that gang life is exciting he explained that most of the time they aren’t doing anything and it is quiet boring.

Ward began his research studying the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. The war displaced people, causing some to flee to the United States. These refuges then created families, who’s teenagers were traumatized by the war, these people were tongue-tied and bullied leading them to the gang life.

“They started the gang for protection, one of the reasons gangs survive is there’s a sense of family, with the love and affection aspect,” Ward said.

Women’s studies professor, Margot Lovett also attended the lecture. She was interested in the methodology Ward used to study the gang. She explained it really shows you need time to truly understand anything.

“He’s teaching people to be skeptical about the media, which is important,” Lovett said. “I also loved what he said about being a critical viewer.”

Some students attended the lecture from anthropology classes. They came in with misconceptions about the gang caused by shows, such as Gangland and National Geographic specials.

“I came in here thinking everyone in MS-13 was ruthless, but he basically said not to believe everything the media says. It opened my eyes,” Michael Ponce, kinesiology said.

“[The media] take a few facts and run them over and over, basically the one percent becomes the hundred percent,” Ward said.

He went over nine common misconceptions of MS-13 in his book, including the common belief that gang life is exciting he explained that most of the time they aren’t doing anything and it is quiet boring.

Ward began his research studying the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. The war displaced people, causing some to flee to the United States. These refuges then created families, who’s teenagers were traumatized by the war, these people were tongue-tied and bullied leading them to the gang life.

“They started the gang for protection, one of the reasons gangs survive is there’s a sense of family, with the love and affection aspect,” Ward said.

Women’s studies professor, Margot Lovett also attended the lecture. She was interested in the methodology Ward used to study the gang. She explained it really shows you need time to truly understand anything.

“He’s teaching people to be skeptical about the media, which is important,” Lovett said. “I also loved what he said about being a critical viewer.”

Some students attended the lecture from anthropology classes. They came in with misconceptions about the gang caused by shows, such as Gangland and National Geographic specials.

“I came in here thinking everyone in MS-13 was ruthless, but he basically said not to believe everything the media says. It opened my eyes,” Michael Ponce, kinesiology said.

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