As the sun goes down over this Los Angeles neighborhood, shouts rise up from the young men gathered behind a local import-export business. “Chupa mi cabra, pendejo! ¿Adónde vas, pinche cabrón?” Laughter and the clink of bottles follows. This is the nightly meeting of the local chapter of the “Mara Salvatrucha” gang, commonly known as MS-13.
“We thought about the name change for a long time, you know, thinking about how we need to re-brand ourselves to stand out among the crowd of other gangs,” says Goat Dawg, the clica or cadre leader for this South-Central neighborhood. “You know, at first we were reported as a Salvadoran gang from LA, then a nationwide gang, and so we kind of lost our identity and a distinctive corporate presence,” he says.”
Matasputas, his lieutenant — pronounced the English way as “left-tenant” — follows up. “The feds rode us hard about equal opportunity, so now you can join MS-13 if you are Black, transgender, even a woman,” he said. “The feeling went away, and people stopped quaking at the mention of the name. We need a new trademark that makes people take us seriously again.”
“Yeah,” says Goat Dawg. “So, we thought, you know, what makes your average suburban mariposa cabrón start shaking? That virus that shut down all the big powerful armies, the police, the business… we want to be known as ‘COVID-19’ now.” The term “mariposa cabrón” loosely translates to “butterfly dickhead.”
A hulking six-foot-five-inch bruiser who goes by the name 1345455, or “Uno Trés,” speaks up next. “And we get free press each time a city closes or a hundred thousand old white people die somewhere. We’re going to be everywhere, man, ruling every place. They all gonna lock their doors twice when we’re in town.”
Goat Dawg mentions casually that the Circle of Nine, the worldwide leadership of MS-13, analyzed other names and even called in a financial consulting firm. “We rejected a bunch, but we had some good scary ones. MMT, IRS, § 1980, desegregation, COLA, and runaway inflation, but those didn’t scare our target audience enough.”
In the background, the target audience sweatily nods assent from behind the bandanas used to gag them. According to Uno Trés, these people had been kidnapped from random exurbs the night before to serve as a marketing test group. They raised their remaining good hand for scary names, and the severed one to indicate a weaker option.
“You know, hermanito, gang-bangin’ just ain’t what it used to be,” says Group Dawg. “You get bigger than Dunbar’s number, about 150 of us, and people need symbols to keep them in line. We have a HR department now, too, and we use surveys. It’s what you gotta do to stay relevant in a fast-paced highly regulated corporate environment.”
Sharpening his machete, Matasputas gets the final word, as he always does. “Tell people to be scared of the second wave of COVID-19. Wear a mask, stay home, and ignore the sounds of dismemberment and mayhem out there, because the COVID-19 boys are back in town.”