Monday, July 8, 2024

Review: The Rent Collectors: Exploitation, Murder, and Redemption in Immigrant LA by Jesse Katz


The Rent Collectors: Exploitation, Murder, and Redemption in Immigrant LA by Jesse Katz
Astra House
Publication Date: July 16th, 2024
Hardcover. 320 pages.

About The Rent Collectors:

"Baby faced teen Giovanni Macedo is desperate to build a reputation with local LA gang, the Columbia Lil Cycos -- so desperate that he agrees to kill an undocumented Mexican street vendor. The vendor, Francisco Clemente, had been refusing to give in to the gang’s shakedown demands. But Giovanni botches the hit, accidentally killing a baby instead. The imprisoned overlords who rule their world must be placated so the gang lures Giovanni across the border and plots his disposal. But, in turn, the gang botches Giovanni's killing. And so, incredibly, Giovanni rises from the dead, determined to both seek redemption for his unforgivable crime and take down the whole gang who drove him to do it.

The Rent Collectors is filled with ruthless gang members, tattoo artists, a legendary FBI investigator, a girl who risks her life to serve as a witness, all in service to the story of the irrationally courageous immigrant whose ethical stance triggers these incredible events.

Jesse Katz has built a teeth clenching and breathless narrative that explicates the difficult and proud lives of undocumented black market workers who are being exploited both by the gangs and by the city of LA -- in other words, by two sets of rent collectors."

The Rent Collectors is a nonfiction account from acclaimed journalist Jesse Katz of Giovanni Macedo's experiences as a member of the Columbia Lil Cycos. Katz covers Giovanni's upbringing and discovery of street gangs, which leads him to doing whatever he can to join the gang, including attempting to kill someone and accidentally killing a newborn instead at nineteen years old. From there, Katz takes us on a journey following Giovanni as the gang attempts to kill him for his failed job and eventually to his arrest and life behind bars up until this point in the present day. This is a harrowing journey, but it's one that kept me absolutely glued to the pages as I was led into the history of MacArthur Park and its vibrant street vending history, to better understanding immigrant stories of those vendors, and to learning more about the ins and outs of some of the 18th Street Gang and Mexican Mafia and what their rule on the streets really means. 

This was a very wide-reaching look at a plethora of topics that center around gang activities in LA, specifically relating to the Columbia Lil Cycos, an 18th Street Gang. I appreciated Katz's focus on one main person, Giovanni Macedo, aka Rusty, which then expanded into covering an array of other people's experiences that varied quite a bit. For instance, through Giovanni we learn about his mother's experiences after coming to California from XX and the many struggles she faced trying to adapt and make a life for herself and her children while also navigating abusive relationships. We also meet Francisco–the man Giovanni was meant to kill–and learn about his experiences as a street vendor in MacArthur Park and what it meant to have the Columbia Lil Cycos demanding rent for your spot. We meet a variety of other gang members and street vendors and learn all about the different ways they've ended up in the same place in LA. 

From all of these offshoots, Katz is able to delve a bit deeper into each topic, such as the MacArthur Park and its street vending and how many different ways cops and the city have attempted to either shut it down or regulate it. By taking a closer look at MacArthur Park, Katz is able to similarly expand upon the many people who immigrate and enter California through the southern border from countries ranging from Mexico through Central America to South America and the many different reasons they make the decision to leave their home countries. There are so many more topics and interesting areas covered in this book than I've mentioned here, which is also where this book seems to wander off topic every now and then, but since everything was fascinating to learn about I never minded any topic Katz wrote about. 

Throughout this book, we as readers witness many different instances of crime and violence, arguably the most intense being the killing of a newborn by Giovanni. What I most appreciated about Katz's presentation of these events was his thoughtful neutrality, and what I mean by that is that he doesn't seem to push too hard to make the reader feel any specific way about them. He doesn't frame things as if Giovanni or any of these people are purely evil, but he also doesn't try too hard to make you feel extreme empathy for them, either. He presents them in an extremely human light, pointing our flaws, mistakes, and everything in between in order to showcase exactly what happened and how it happened. There are no excuses, just a desire to show how things like this can unfold and what the full story is behind it all, and I think Katz excelled in doing this. 

Overall, this is a nonfiction read that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys true crime, gang-related history, or maybe someone who lives in Southern California/LA like me and enjoys learning a bit more about where they live. This was, at times, a brutal story, but it's one that gave me a lot to think about and for that I'm very grateful. I've given The Rent Collectors 4.5 stars!

*I received a copy of The Rent Collectors in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

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