As a boy, Miguel Ángel Tobar’s small town in El Salvador was torn apart by guerrillas and US- backed death squads. Still a preteen, he joined a different kind of death squad—the Hollywood Locos Salvatrucha—a clique of the Mara Salvatruchas, better known as MS-13. This international criminal organization began on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s, as Salvadoran children, whose families had fled their country’s civil war, banded together to defend themselves from LA gangs. Denied refugee status, the Salvadorans found themselves pushed into the shadows and besieged by violence, and MS-13 itself mutated into a gang. When large-scale US deportations began, violence was exported from the United States to El Salvador, helping make it one of the world’s deadliest countries and in turn propelling new waves of refugees northward.
The Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martinez and his anthropologist brother Juan José Martínez got to know the Hollywood Kid when he informed on MS-13. In his hideaway shack, he recounted a life of killing—a death toll of more than fifty rival gang members—until his own murder ended the story. Vivid and violent, The Hollywood Kid brings a brutal world to life, illustrating the geopolitical forces propelling a country toward ever more vicious extremes.
“The Hollywood Kid is a revelation. As they track a single tragic life, Los Hermanos Martínez delve deep into El Salvador’s tortured labyrinth, into the macabre working of the Mara Salvatruches, into the sinister consequence of failed US policies, and in the process recover what Neil Smith called the lost history of the American Empire. This is reportage made literature, darkness made light, and one of the most important books of investigative journalism I’ve read in years.”
“As the poet William Blake famously put it, ‘General forms have their vitality in particulars, and every particular is a Man.’ The Martínez brothers’ beautifully written account of the life and death of the feared gangster El Niño de Hollywood, based on hours and hours of interviews with him and those close to him, starkly reveals the underlying dynamics of the Central American gang phenomenon in vivid and insightful detail.”