Gangs represent many ideological and pragmatic problems for the Salvadoran culture. In recent years, two prominent gangs migrated from the United States to El Salvador–MS 13 and Calle 18. These two rivals often commit violent crimes. As a result, El Salvador has experienced increased crime rates, juvenile delinquency, and political turmoil due to the power of the gangs. However, the morality of the gangs is not dichotomously black and white–many join due to the exigencies surrounding the lack of intersectional justice.

An MS 13 mural in a local community

An MS 13 mural in a local community

What are the social justice issues?
Often times joining a gang means physical and ideological protection. It means providing financially for one’s family, and it offers a familial system for those that lack this social structure. What would you do if you were unable to eat, public assistance was not available, and you had no familial support systems?

However, gangs do represent one of the major personal, communal, and political problems in El Salvador. A leader of one of the local MS 13 communities mentioned, “Gang members typically live between 10-35 years of age and maintain a 6th or 7th grade level of education.” Schools and gang leaders must negotiate for certain youth so that they can attend classes. Police and military officials regularly visit the gang communities, where each side perform acts of violence to the other that further separates mutual respect and understanding.

Politically, many GO’s (governmental organizations) and NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) do not contribute money or time to gang-affiliated communities. Society is also afraid that gangs hold too much power and will form a government party if politicians negotiate with the gangs. The media also plays a role in invalidating those involved in gangs by not discussing the associated social problems. It’s a cyclical system of oppression that requires dialogue on a variety of topics and levels. Progress cannot happen without mutual dialogue, negotiations, and understanding from both sides.

A mural of commemoration

A second mural of commemoration

A second mural of commemoration


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