By Javier Rodriguez      Los Angeles      27 Aug 2013

Lazaro is part of the new Mariachi Generation in Los Angeles. Young, bilingual and schooled in America. Like the thousands of other Mexican musicians of this genre that roam Southern CA, he is mired in poverty, with no medical insurance and no future pension of any kind for his retirement, including Social Security. One of the reasons, the overwhelmingly majority of this group gets paid in cash and many are  undocumented.

He is one of many residents of the famous “Plaza del Mariachi” in the Boyle Heights Arts District on 1st St., east of downtown LA. Illegally because of the zoning laws, Lazaro sub-rents a small office turned into living quarters that is located 10 feet away from the Mariachi Plaza Metro Station. There are no showers and the whole place is infested with rats. He complained to his immediate landlords, a Mariachi couple who also resides in the front part of the old and run down structure. On the outside wall they display a large sign that reads “Mariachi Celaya“ with a Cell number next to it to make appear “it’s an office.”. Instead of resolving the rodent problem, the Celaya’s have begun to pressure their tenant to move away.

For months since he moved in, Lazaro has lived with the grotesque animals as  neighbors, as well as the stench of their urine and feces. Tired of his situation, two weeks ago he complained to Patrick O’Neill, the real manager of the businesses and the son of Atty. Anita Diaz, the purported legal owner of the huge half a block land track. The response was, “You are sub-renting so legally I am not responsible.” An unfortunate but outright lie.

The property, located  on the corner of 1st  &  Boyle Ave. adjacent to La Plaza, is composed of a large parking lot, a total of 8 businesses which are: a music school for children, a tax consultant, an office, a used book store, an Alcoholic Anonymous Group, a Deli and Ice Cream Shop, the Celaya apartment, and the highly popular Santa Cecilia Restaurant. The fast food eatery has a double counter for inside sitting, a front patio and a back fenced in terrace with as many as twelve tables and chairs for approximately 48 customers.  The owner Armando also rents a separate and  illegal food storage room. They all face 1st St., the Metro Station and the now historical Plaza Kiosk built by a Mexican architect during the Richard Alatorre Godfather era.

Behind the old façade is the parking lot where the mariachi groups gather  and park their cars. There are also abandoned vehicles plus vans  and five good size motor homes where 12 people rent or own and live in them with no water or electricity connected to them, which means they all lack individual restrooms and showers. The majority are mariachis and except for one, they are all homeless and there are also no outside showers or restroom facilities.  Adjacent to the lot is a two story four unit old apartment probably built in the 1920s. It is also owned by the attorney and rented to families with mostly female tenants. The lot is managed by Frank “Quico” O’Neill, and the businesses and apartments by his younger brother Patrick.

So the million dollar question is, where do the rats come from? According to the older son “the source of the large rodents is Armando’s illegal storage room, which is sandwiched between the AA site and the Celaya’s place.” And he adds, “It used to be the back entrance of an old “cantina bar.” It is a real dirty and unhealthy basement like place that resembles a dungeon from the early 1900s. There, meats, chicken, sea food, vegetables and other perishables are at times stored openly, in addition to grains, sugar and sodas.” The entrance is located a few feet away from a closed restroom and the outside floor area is a favorite urinating spot for many roving mariachis throughout the day, including the restaurant’s clientele. Incredibly, the fish is at times cleaned just outside that door. In the weekends when the Farmers Market is on next door at  the large Metro Plaza, which by the way has no public restrooms either, many of their people and customers also use the old parking lot for their physical needs.

For many years the now wealthy restaurateur has been getting away with not providing restroom and washing facilities by claiming the business only seats 8 customers, which of course is not factual. The small bathroom had been closed for many years but approximately twelve months ago, Leno, the president of the Mariachi Association hired handyman Rafael to repair it and remodeled it. Speedy, a local street mechanic and handyman painted it white. It was perfect for the tenants, the customers and visitors and Speedy cleaned it every day. However, with no security personnel period, soon after, the vandals stole most of the parts so instead of replacing them, the wash bowl use was cancelled. The unsanitary use continued and of course the businesses refused to take charge of the rest room for their clients.  Four weeks ago Jose Luna, one of the older historical mariachis, was almost electrocuted because the floor was full of water and hot loose electrical cables were laying on the water. An electrician repaired the lighting and installed a new lock system, informed Cejas, a Salvadoran mariachi that owns and lives in one of the motor homes, that “Armando” was given 12 keys but Cejas says, “he refuses to handover the keys to open it.”  

Besides controlling about 60% of all mariachi customers, the Santa Cecilia also attracts a working class clientele from the nearby White Memorial Hospital, construction workers, gardeners and families amongst others. It also has a high volume catering service with five permanent workers, all undocumented who work six days a week, are paid a flat salary with no overtime or vacation pay, nor health insurance and it’s a toss up if they make the minimum. No different than many of the restaurants, cantinas, billiards or stores on 1st St. The fast food eatery serves sumptuous portions but it is definitely a high source of cholesterol and calories for the neighborhood. In Mexican terms, it is called “Comida Chatarra.”

Unfortunately our politicos or their middle class staffers have never gone beyond the wall of glamour and folklore of the “fiestas,” otherwise they would see the mountains of restaurant trash and cardboard spread all around a small trash bin and the hundreds of flies hovering and dogs  feasting on food leftovers, as well as the continuous flow of urinating customers, mariachis and guests, and they will also see the intense 1st St Gang graffiti painted all over the walls, the vehicles, signs and the restroom. They will witness a true slum cover up.  

It is high time our city representatives take the Health Department  and carry out a rigorous inspection of the premises, “storage room and help Lazaro with the rats.”

Javier Rodriguez is a journalist, a blogger and a media and political strategist. He is a co- founder of the Millions of Voices Coalition; directed the mass street mobilizations of 1982-86, in LA that led up to the Amnesty Law IRCA of 1986; He was the initiator and directed the making of the 1.7 million historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, as well as the May 1st 2006 Great American Boycot; and recently traveled for 5 ½ months thru Mexico in 2012, observing and writing about the country’s political process, the aftermath of a highly questioned presidential election, the failed drug war and migrants.

Blog,     emails,