Keith Dannemiller, a native of Ohio, has been one of the premier photographers out of Latin America for two decades now. His black and white street shots from Mexico City are strange and dazzling.
Keith and I worked together in Mexico for many years, both of us freelancers. We recorded this conversation a while back when Keith’s first book of photography — Callegrafia – was coming out. It’s sold out, but the chat is interesting – about finding what to shoot, and why, and what got him started on street photography, and how a man devoted to his craft does his job.
Keith’s new exposition of his photography is called Luz Translation, opening in the town of San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato, on February 2. Check it out if you’re down there. It’s at Centro Cultural El Nigromante Bellas Artes, #75 Hernandez Macias and running until April 23.
El Monte Flores – from El Monte and South El Monte – is one of those Latino street gangs that grew up in the numerous barrios that emerged in post-WWII Southern California, places where Mexican-American workers lived.
Now, 50+ years later, the gang, like virtually all Latino gangs in the region, pays homage and obedience to the Mexican Mafia. In this case, the orders allegedly come from an Eme member named James “Chemo” Gutierrez, who just finished a 20-year federal sentence for murder in time to catch this indictment.
Reading between the lines of the indictment, Gutierrez took over in 2007 for Frankie “Frankie B” Buelna, the long-time Mexican Mafia member who was killed in a bar fight in Pomona and before his demise controlled many of the gangs in the San Gabriel Valley.
What’s interesting about these RICO indictment is how they have become almost as routine as morning coffee.This is the 25th or 26th in the last six or so years. So many that the US Attorney apparently no longer holds press conferences to announce them.
Still, the indictments are powerful things and have gone a long way toward changing gang activity in the region.
Federal prison sentences are longer than state time. There’s no parole. Plus, guys are sent to prisons in South Carolina, or Arkansas, or Minnesota – far from friends and family. No girlfriend’s going to be visiting any gang member in Arkansas. Plus, so many gang members are wrapped up in each indictment. the EMF was tiny, with 41. The Florencia and HG13 indictments each involved over 100 defendants.
The effect has been to either neutralize many gangs, or force them underground, giving the neighborhoods a welcome breather from the constant blight, graffiti, shootings etc that for so many years accompanied the presence of any LA street gang.
Today was my last official day at the Los Angeles Times after 10 years at the paper.
It was a sad thing. I’ve been a reporter for 27 years. I was very happy to have worked at what amounted to my hometown paper.
I’m very proud of the stories I produced while I was there (see below). But I decided it was time to move on, so I resigned.
Journalism, you may have heard, is changing, and I want to see if I can change with it. So I’m heading back to my freelancing roots.
I’ve got a heroin book to finish, then a podcast to start, my Tell Your True Tale workshops to teach, this blog to write — and other stuff. I hope you’ll follow it all as I wrestle with this grand experiment.
As these LAT farewell notes to colleagues have become almost a genre in themselves, I’ll add mine:
Adios Amigos –
Though I’ve been gone for many months writing a book about the (suddenly recognized) heroin epidemic in America, today is officially my last day at the paper.
It’s been great fun writing about Cambodian doughnut kings and palm-tree trimmers, Oaxacan hamburger chefs and stolen tubas, about transgender hookers and hellacious windstorms, kidnappers in Phoenix and Indian toothbrush gurus in Buena Park, about gangster matriarchs on Drew Street and the Mexican Mafia in every barrio around.
Such a great town. So many sublime stories to tell. …
So here’s wishing you all the best.
See you on the street, or wherever those stories happen.
I was in Compton earlier today and came upon this restaurant on Long Beach Boulevard.
El Infierno Restaurant (English: Hell Restaurant), known for its excellent menudo, was named thus by its owner, a fellow named Andres, who comes from Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.
Apatzingan, you may know, is in a ferociously hot part of Mexico known as the Tierra Caliente, and known for its wild ways. Frankly, I was always afraid to visit and never did.
Andres said he named it for the heat of his native region, though Apatzingan lately has become a virtual war zone, as cartels fight each other and the military.
Anyway, El Infierno Restaurant has had some tumultuous times itself.
When it was in its original spot, in a strip mall elsewhere in Compton, it was burned down during the riots of 1992. Andres rebuilt. Then earlier this year, his restaurant was shot up and then someone crashed a car into it, gutting it with fire (see photo, right).
Andres blamed gang members who wanted to sell drugs and didn’t like his surveillance cameras (there to protect his business). A neighboring business owner said he didn’t treat customers well and some got mad. That seems hard to believe, but whatever the case, Andres moved to the newer, bigger, better location on Long Beach, which he shares with a cleaners. (See photo above)
(Reminds me of the time when, from a bus, I spotted a taqueria in Los Mochis, Sinaloa — Tacos Hitler — no lie).
The stories you hear in L.A. if you stop and ask….
Mexican Mafia member Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison today.
Munoz-Gonzalez was tried on charges that he’d controlled the Puente 13 street gang, ordering gang members to tax local drug dealers in the La Puente area, sell methamphetamine, and attack rivals and even one cooperating witness, who was stabbed 22 times in a jail lockup — all this according to a US Attorney’s report.
His brother, Cesar, was also sentenced to life in prison for running Puente 13 and giving orders on behalf of Cisco, who was locked up until 2008.
The Mexican Mafia prison gang has run its drug-dealer taxation/extortion scheme since the early 1990s. The scheme is as close as Southern California has come to a regional organized crime system.
Truth is, though, it’s not that organized. It’s remarkable that these guys can control Southern Califonria Latino street gangs from prison. The system has broken up the SoCal gang world into little fiefdoms. But it is far from perfect, communication between maximum-security prison cells and the streets being shaky at best.
That and the greed and conniving of Eme members often leads to feuding, plotting, death decrees and betrayal of the kind that would give Shakespeare fodder for a dozen more tragedies.
Cisco Munoz-Gonzalez was part of an earlier Mexican Mafia soap opera. He and Ralph “Perico” Rocha, also an Eme member, were allegedly feuding with the associates of then-influential Eme member, Jacques “Jacko” Padilla, who ran Azusa 13 from his maximum-security cell at Corcoran State Prison.
Rocha and Munoz were supposedly collecting taxes from dealers in Azusa.
Padilla’s wife and liaison to the streets, Delores “Lola” Llantada, went to war with the two carnales. Women liaisons with jailed Eme members have enormous shot-calling power across Southern California. On a couple occasions, I’ve thought they were as powerful as the local mayor.
But this was the first example I’m aware of in which a woman actually ordered hits.
Anyway, a big RICO case came down, brought against Llantada and others in her crew.
Llantada and her cohorts are now doing lengthy prison terms. Padilla has since dropped out of the Eme, and is a genial chap, as I found when I interviewed him a couple years ago.
Now the brothers Munoz-Gonzalez are going away forever.
As the world turns, Mexican Mafia style.
Now, as an antidote to this grim stuff, here’s one about stuff to do in LA — Oaxacan basketball and photgraphy.
Keep scrollin’ down…..:)
Photos: Rafael “Cisco” Munoz-Gonzalez and Delores “Lola” Llantada
I’m doing a story now about a young fellow, Nathan Vickers, who was a drag queen or a transgender woman, and was shot to death on a street known as a prostitute hangout in Hollywood in November.
Part of the story is exactly who Nathan Vickers – or “Chase,” or “Cassidy,” or “Chastity” – was, or intended to be. He’d come from the Bay Area and seemed to seeking a transformation of one kind or another.
Helping me figure out Nathan’s world is Troy Erik, a former queen and current activist. A woman named Amber, he told me, knew Nathan well in the days leading up to his death. We went looking for her, as we’d heard she was just out of jail.
We looked at Donut Time (Santa Monica and Highland) and at the adult bookstore (no name) behind it, and in front of the $1 Chinese Express, whose prices didn’t keep it from going out of business.
We never did find Amber. But Andre, a sociable street fellow, said he’d known Chase or Cassidy. “She always dressed as a woman when I knew her,” he said.
We also happened upon “Grace” – a queen who enjoyed enormous renown in the 1980s because she looked, in drag, exactly like pop diva Grace Jones, and is now homeless. That’s next post.