Tag Archives: neighborhood

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.


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

BUSINESS: An upholsterer’s revolutionary roots – Benjamin Argumedo IV


Gritaba Francisco Villa: ¿dónde te hallas Argumedo?
ven párate aquí adelante tú que nunca tienes miedo.


Today, looking for someone else, I happened upon Benjamin Argumedo IV — great-grandson of the famed Mexican revolutionary of the same name.

The original Argumedo has a famous corrido written about him and figured also in the classic song, Carabina 30-30, which Los Lobos covered a while back (quoted above). There was also a movie about him, starring ranchero singer Antonio Aguilar: La Persecucion y Muerte de Benjamin Argumedo.

As with most revolutionaries back then, his was a romantic and complicated history. An illiterate saddlemaker who rose to revolutionary fame by leading peasants to claim land they said was theirs, he later switched sides and supported the counter-revolution of Victoriano Huerta. When that failed, the new government of Venustiano Carranza sent troops after him, captured him in Durango, where the Lion of Coahuila and the Tiger of The Laguna, both of which were his nicknames, was shot by a firing squad in 1916.

His great-grandson owns a custom upholstery shop in Highland Park, where he puts life back into old sofas and easy chairs — something he learned from his late father, Benjamin Argumedo III, who started the business, Golden B.A.,  at another location. Golden being for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ben – as IV is known –  opened his own shop three years ago and called it Golden B.A. IV. (Don’t know about you, but I see a resemblance to his great-grandfather.)

Ben’s father moved the family here in the 1950s, he told me, probably looking for a better life than they were going to find in Coahuila. They landed in  Highland Park (a neighborhood in northeast LA) in the late 1950s, when it was mostly populated by Italians and Jews. “We were the only Hispanic family around,” he told me.

Argumedo IV grew up there as Highland Park became the Latino neighborhood it is today, and has returned only occasionally to Mexico, and not at all recently due to the drug violence down there.

So many immigrants have these stunning stories tucked away in their family histories. (I’ve also met a sister of a former first lady of Cambodia and a former first lady of South Vietnam — both in the suburbs of L.A.)

You can hear the Corrido of Benjamin Argumedo here.




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Filed under Culture, Migrants, Southern California