The United Population Fund issues an annual report, and the 2007 report has a supplement titled "Growing Up Urban" about the challenges of being a youth in a world culture which is increasingly urbanized. The report includes a section devoted to the story of Freddy, a former gang member in El Salvador whose story symbolizes the problem of the "maras" in the country:
The first time he saw a deportee from Los Angeles, Freddy was struck by the man’s tattoos – and the respect everyone paid him. The man looked different from the others.
By the 1990s, the first Salvadorean gang members had returned to the country, deported by the USA. Nobody could guess what was coming....
He didn’t go to school very often; his mother tried to send him, but he didn’t see the importance of attending classes. Most days he would just skip school and hang around. His mother was a maid, working all day in other people’s houses. His two sisters took care of him, spoiling him and turning him into their little plaything. His neighbours called him a faggot, a wimp. When he was eleven, Freddy decided it was time to show them he could stand up for himself. He said he joined the Maras to belong to a respected and powerful institution.
In my neighbourhood there were some guys that had joined the Maras, and everybody respected them. The guys used drugs and stole, everybody was afraid of them. And I started hanging out with them, so that I’d get respected too.
Those guys were part of the Mara Salvatrucha –and they made Freddy wait for years until one day they finally accepted him. That day, four of his buddies beat him up for thirteen seconds. Freddy was fourteen: if he cried or complained, he wouldn’t be accepted. He took it like a man and they started calling him Kruger. And so he became one of them, a homeboy or homie.(more)