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Chicano culture gang ink is life and death on Needles and Pins with Grace Neutral

Latino gangs use a combination of pin-up, religious and cryptic language to fly their colors

Grace Neutral is the British Anthony Bourdain of body modification and she spoke at length to Latino gang members and artists alike in Los Angeles for Viceland’s Needles and Pins.

In this week’s episode she travels to East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights looking into the Chicano tattoo culture. Grace finds out it’s a “straight struggle” when you have your neighborhood tattooed on you.

However, this homeboy ink curse can be removed for self-preservation and to extricate oneself from the gang life.

In gangland cities, tattoos tell tales, same as in Russian and European street gangs. The ink tells your gang affiliation, rank and even prison record. Ink marks beliefs, scope of influence, where those who wear them live and even who they killed.

LAPD estimates there are 530 turf-oriented Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles County

When Grace visits one Latino part of Los Angeles, a tattoo artist tells her he is decorating “warpaint”.

Last count in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, gangs included the Nortenos, Surenos, Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, MS-13: Mara Salvatrucha, Texas Syndicate, Mexikanemi,Barrio Azteca, Pistoleros Latinos, Fresno Bulldogs, 18th Street Gang, Latin Kings, Maniac Latin Disciples, Latin Counts, Tango Blast, Los Solidos, Tri City Bombers, Border Brothers, Raza Unida — and about 50 more under watch, all with distinct ink patterns which can get them killed in the wrong hood.

The episode sees Grace explore the history of Chicano style tattoos and learns how they evolved from the prison cells and gang culture of LA to the wider world.

Needles and Pins airs on Viceland on Tuesdays at 10:00 PM ET/PT


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