Mr. Cabrera landed in Pasadena at the age of 10, short and skinny and intimidated. By 13, quick on his feet and agile with his fists, he had dropped out of middle school to devote himself to fighting.
His mother was very upset, but he told her it was the only way to survive in their neighborhood. The choice was not whether to join a gang but which one, he said.
He elected Mara Salvatrucha, a gang formed by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles that is now pan-Hispanic…. After his initiation, which was a severe beating, he had MS tattooed on his chest.
“MS totally gave me a feel of belonging,” he said, demonstrating the hand signs that serve as the gang greeting.
By 16, he ...