The Latin Kings and Queens in Quito, Ecuador.

In the juggernaut of Chicago, a clique of young men clad in yellow and black charge the streets in the night, their breaths drawing out clouds in the crisp air, pistols slung to their belt hoops. Not far behind are the police, ready to lock down their selective yearn for law and order and beat down the Latino gangbangers.

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3,000 miles south, in Quito, a city nestled in the Andean mountains, a group of men, women and children, also clad in yellow and black, congregate in a circle inside a basketball court, as the equatorial sun beats down on them. Work is off the agenda for today. No social justice programming, no fundraising drives, no rallies in support of the government are planned. It is two of the members’ birthdays, and the crowd celebrates with cake, whooping and hollering, hugging their comrades.

Both groups are part of the Latin Kings, a transnational gang founded in the United States with the philosophy of “overcoming racial prejudice.” While they function mainly as street gangs and are criminalized in the United States, Europe and throughout Latin America – in Ecuador, they have been incorporated into President Rafael Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution, working alongside the socialist state to organize on social issues. This shift to social work is touted as a model for dismantling the gang’s criminal activity where the group is present elsewhere.

In the lead up to the 2017 elections, the Sacred Tribe Atahualpa of Ecuador (STAE), the official name of the Latin King Nation in Ecuador, hopes Lenin Moreno, the candidate of leftist party Alianza Pais – which all the members and Correa belong to – will win so they can work in continued cooperation.