INTERACTIVE TIMELINE | NUESTRA FAMILIA ORG CHART | SALINAS VALLEY MAP
The Nuestra Familia gang is a highly structured, sophisticated criminal group that operates inside and outside of prison, rules underground economies in much of agricultural California, and is responsible for hundreds of murders. With recently forged ties to Mexican drug cartels, Nuestra Familia now controls the flow of illegal drugs through most Northern California cities.
The gang has an immense impact on the lives of millions residing in California and the West. More than half the homicides in the Golden State are gang-related, and in agricultural cities like Salinas, nearly all murders stem from gangs and their warfare. A rural California without gangs would be a world almost entirely free of violence. Sadly, that is not the case. One only has to attend the funeral of a six-year-old struck by a gang bullet to see how this plague affects entire communities, how it replaces hope and vitality with fear and cynicism.
The Nuestra Familia and its affiliated Norteño gangs are responsible for beautiful Monterey County leading the state in youth homicide rates. Many experts consider the Nuestra Familia to be the nation’s most sophisticated prison gang, and the FBI acknowledges that the NF is spreading into other parts of the country, in part as an unforeseen side effect of ongoing federal prosecutions that are sending the gang’s leaders to New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.
Blood in the Fields intimately follows the lives of young people so deeply entrenched in “the life” they see no way out, even as they struggle to conserve those threads of humanity they still possess. Fathers, sons, and the women who love them hand over their lives to the gang as they search to find family of any kind in a modern but impoverished rural America.
Like many of the people described in the book, I have come to love Salinas and its contradictions. Every afternoon, the city’s East Side fills with the rich, meaty smells of Michoacán cuisine. The laughter of toddlers and grandmothers rings across wood-fenced alleys as field workers head home. The valley’s days end with a shank of sunlight touching the Gabilan Mountains. To the west, the sun breaks underneath the clouds so they’re black on top but heat-white below, and rows of cauliflower leaves glow as if they’re on fire.
Then darkness settles and the shooting begins.
I believe the killing in these streets and fields will not stop unless the logic of the gangsters’ world is known and much, much better understood.