Tag Archives: family

Juan’s Story – The high cost of cheap prices

We came upon this taxi driver who started telling us of how, in order to build his family a house, he went to Texas to cut rock for housing facades, using a legal visa provided by his employer. Did this for three years, six days a week, 12 hours a day minimum.

Hope you like this video, which I did last week in Mexico.

Let me know what you think, either here on in the Youtube comment box. Please share it if you like it.

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Filed under Border, Business, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

Another Family Steps Up – D.J. Wolanski RIP

Another family has stepped up to acknowledge in an obituary that a child has died of a heroin overdose.4318752_300x300_1

Daniel Joseph “DJ” Wolanski, of Mahoning County in Ohio, died April 20. Read his obituary.

It must be so difficult for this family to come forward and say this publicly. But this scourge has spread because so many people before them have kept quiet, allowing the rest of us to imagine that the problem really isn’t as bad as it has become.

So it’s important to acknowledge the courage of those who do step up, speak publicly.

The obituary reads….

“Over the course of DJ’s life, he made many bad decisions including experimenting with drugs. Unfortunately, his five year addiction and battle with heroin took over. His family and friends truly loved him and tried everything from being supportive to tough love as he struggled with his own inner demons and heroin. …

“DJ often talked about the growing number of friends that he had lost to this destructive drug and how it destroyed families. They used to say it takes a community to raise a child. Today, we need to say that it takes a community to battle addiction. Someone you know is battling addiction; if your “gut instinct” says something is wrong, it most likely is. Get involved. Do everything within your power to provide help. Don’t believe the logical sounding reasons of where their money is going or why they act so different. Don’t believe them when they say they’re clean.”

Profound words – the way to attack a drug that turns every addict into a silo, a loner wrapped in a cocoon – is through community.

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Filed under Books, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland, Uncategorized

The last Arellano-Felix, dead by clown, stole a queen once

Francisco Rafael Arellano-Felix, of the notorious family that ran (terrorized) the Tijuana drug plaza for about a decade, was shot to death the other day in Los Cabos by a man dressed as clown.

Never met the guy, but I once wrote about him.

Francisco Javier actually stole the queen of Mazatlan’s carnival once, and forced her into matrimony — this in 1990.

Her name was Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga. This was before his family was a household name in Mexico, but was well known for the wrong reasons in its native Mazatlan.

In 1990, Francisco Arellano Felix was owner of Frankie Oh’s – a crass discoteque built with a Flintstones prehistoric decor of large stucco boulders along Mazatlan’s beachfront drive. He was known to be anxious to enter the city’s high society. He was a friend of the great Mexican middle-weight, Julio Cesar Chavez.

That February, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga was selected Queen of Carnival, one of the most high-profile positions in Mazatlan. She was 17, a fresh-faced high school student from a middle-class family.

A few months later, a small article appeared in the newspaper reporting that Rocio del Carmen had disappeared. Not only that, but that possibly she had been stolen by Francisco Arellano Felix. The newspaper said that her family was distraught, feared for her safety and hired private detectives to search for her.

Mazatlan spun with rumors. But though the reigning Queen of Carnival had apparently been stolen by a member of one of the state’s most notorious drug-running families, newspapers published only occasional short stories below the fold.

There were reports the couple was in Guadalajara, that they had married in a church. (Turned out that the bishop in the area refused to marry them, and they had to resort to a minor priest to perform the service.)

Finally, Rocio del Carmen’s mother, Oliva Lizarraga, told reporters she had spoken with Arellano Felix, who had not let her speak with her daughter, since “she was showering.”

The mother said her daughter, and her now-jilted fiancee, Oscar Coppel, from one of Mazatlan’s wealthiest families, were “victims of destiny” and that “God was the only one who can put things  in their place.”

It was all very surreal.

Finally, the episode concluded when Rocio del Carmen took out a large newspaper ad with a short letter that is both thoroughly bizarre and a beautiful exposition of Mexican fatalism.

She was in Mazatlan, she wrote. She thanked people for their support, but added, “I don’t want to be asked by anyone because it would be embarrassing to have to say whether I left of my own will or was taken by force.

“I don’t want to judge the father of my children and he who gave me his last name, since he’s never mistreated me. I accept with resignation the path that destiny has prepared for me, and if God has put me on this road, I have to continue.”

She signed the ad, “Your friend, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga de Arellano.”

And with that the episode ended, as quietly as it began.

About the worst that came down were pronouncements from Mazatlan’s high society. Arellano Felix “will never be accepted by the Mazatlan society that he wanted to enter,” Ernesto Coppel, owner of one of the city’s largest hotels, father of a Senorita Sinaloa and uncle of Rocio del Carmen’s ex-fiancee, said at the time.

Today, the AF cartel is nothing like what it once was. One other AF brother, the feared Ramon, was killed in 2002.  Three others are in US prisons. And so the death of this Arellano Felix is more about history than anything else.

Indeed, the story of how he took a wife was just one in a rich history between Mazatlan’s Queen of Carnaval and narcos from Sinaloa, the birthplace of Mexican drug running.

Btw, later this video circulated on Youtube of the shooting, with the clown briefly visible dressed in blue.

Photos: Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, Arellano Felix family; wanted poster for Arellano Felix brothers (Benjamin, now imprisoned, and Ramon, deceased) and key members of their organization.

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Filed under Drugs, Mexico

LOS ANGELES: A&E Biography documentary on Drew Street and the Leon-Real family

Tonight at 10pm (9 pmCentral), A&E/Biography is showing a documentary on the Leon-Real family and the Drew Street gang, part of its (perhaps hyperbolically named) series on gangs: Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.

Anyway, I helped make this doc, interviewing with them etc. Check it out and let me know how I did. I don’t have cable….

Whatever the tone it takes, the story of Drew Street and the Leon-Real family, which I did for the LAT, was one of the most fascinating I’ve done in LA. I was totally engrossed. A saga of immigration and the underside of the American Dream. How the immigrant enclave can turn toxic.

Most of the folks on that street come from one small town in Mexico: Tlalchapa, Guerrero, which is in the Tierra Caliente, long one of that country’s most violent regions. They congregated on tiny Drew Street and the street became known back home as “El Barrio Bajo.” (The Low Neighborhood).

As one immigrant told me, “Anyone with aspirations left the street.” Most moved to Dalton, Georgia, America’s carpet capital. Those who remained turned Drew into a hive of drug and gang activity — one of the scariest in Los Angeles, with Maria Leon, a tiny woman who once sold popsicles and babysat for immigrant mothers, as the matriarch of 13 children.

Several gang sweeps and a federal prosecution have changed Drew Street.

I was just over on Drew Street and it looks better than it has in probably a couple decades at least. People can actually sell their houses there now, which wasn’t the case in 2008, at the height of the housing boom. The city seized the family’s house and tore it down, in a kind of municipal exorcism. It’s now a community garden. So that’s nice.

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Filed under Culture, Gangs, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Prison