In Sonoma County, Criminal Street Gangs are primarily made up of members claiming allegiance to either Northern or Southern California. Those claiming allegiance to Northern California consider themselves Norteños or Northerners. Those from Southern California - Sureños or Southerners.
Hispanic street gangs in their current form saw their genesis in the 1960s, in the California State Prison system. Urbanized Southern Hispanics came together for protection and to control the drug trade within the prison walls. The Southerners preyed upon the Northern farm workers who were seen as poorly educated “sod busters.” As a result, the Northerners banded together for protection from the Southerners and to run their own illegitimate businesses within the prison walls.
Southern gangs owe their loyalty to the Mexican Mafia - La EME. They took the color blue and the number 13 (M being the thirteenth letter of the alphabet). Sureño gangs are made up of primarily Hispanic but also some White members.
Northern gangs fall under the umbrella of the Nuestra Familia, or NF. In the prison system, inmates were issued either blue or red railroad style bandanas. As the Southerners had already taken the color blue, the Northerners took the only remaining color, red, and used it as a means of identification during prison assaults and riots. With N being the fourteenth letter of the alphabet, they also claimed the number 14 as one of their symbols. As the Norteños had to quickly build their membership to conflict with the Sureños, they decided to take in members of all races, as long as that person was dedicated to the Norteño cause.
North / South Dividing Line
The current North / South dividing line is somewhere between the Fresno and Bakersfield areas, although some investigators believe the line has moved North to San Jose. However, it should be noted that while Norteño gangs are nearly nonexistent in Southern California, Sureño gangs are active throughout both Northern and Southern California. There is a strong relationship between the activities of the street gangs and the prison gangs. Gang members incarcerated in the prison system can wield a great deal of power from their cells and will use the gang members on the street to engage in crimes that not only benefit the street gangs, but also those gang members in the prisons. These crimes can range from money making enterprises like drug dealing and robberies, to crimes like assaults and homicides that enforce gang rules and alter the power structure.
Here in Sonoma County, there is a nearly equal division of Norteño and Sureño gang members, usually hovering within a 100-200 member difference, or approximately 1,600 Norteños to 1,400 Sureños, the rest being Asian, Black, and White gangs.