Danny Trejo loves the Northeast San Fernando Valley and the local community loves him back.
This Latino enclave of the Valley has a history of producing an impressive group of Hollywood celebrities that is often noted as beginning with Ritchie Valens and continued with Cheech Marin, George Lopez, Danny Trejo and others.
But what sets Trejo apart from all the rest — he still lives in the community that he continues to love.
“Why would I move?” asks Trejo, who explains he has everything he needs right here.
“You can get anywhere in Los Angeles in 25 minutes from here. I love the people and the atmosphere and the police all know me, so they keep an eye on me,” he laughs. The ends of Trejo’s sentences are punctuated with humor and a distinct laugh that sounds a bit like a happy machine gun.
Trejo doesn’t wall himself off in the same way that other Hollywood actors typically do after they’ve reached a level of success. Most move to gated communities far away from the areas where they were raised. But for Trejo, it’s the opposite.
It’s not unusual to see him at a community event, a local family restaurant or just taking a walk around his neighborhood, not far from where he grew up.
He finds it hard to say ‘no’ to requests to lend his name to a good cause, so sometimes those around him have to step in to remind him of his calendar.
SFV Sun/El Sol Editor Diana Martinez talked to Danny Trejo at his Northeast Valley home. This video was produced by Susana Duenas (camera), Marita De La Torre (sound) and Alejandro Chavez (sound)of L.A. Media Group. This video cannot be duplicated or reproduced without permission.
When word got out that “Danny” was coming to support a local business in Sylmar that had been vandalized, people lined up around the block and waited for a couple of hours just to meet him and ask for an autograph. When he arrived, he didn’t disappoint them.
“I love the neighborhood, all my friends are here,” he said. He breaks out into a smile as he starts to name them all. “We ran around together and got into trouble together.”
His daughter now has the house his parents bought in Pacoima that he first lived in when he was 13-years-old. When his mother passed away, he couldn’t bring himself to sell it.
“I think my Mom would be happy that my daughter now has the house.”
He keeps a schedule that would exhaust those many years younger, and he puts a lot of trust in those he surrounds himself with who help him handle his businesses that seem to keep growing.
Some of his most trusted staff, are long time friends who, like Trejo, know what the inside of a jail cell looks like.
He enjoys telling the story when a neighbor asked the guys working for him to watch her house and cat when she was out of town. “They asked me, ‘does she know that all of us have been arrested for burglary?’”
He also enjoys pointing out how seriously they took their job, wanting to rush back from wherever they were each day, so they could walk the perimeters of her house. “That cat got so fat!” Trejo added.
For him, taking time to relax means enjoying the company of his “babies” that include his adult son and daughter, his dogs and working on his beautiful collection of classic cars.
His fame came later in life after what were too many years lost in a cycle that first took him to juvenile hall, that led to camp that led to prison — a trip to nowhere that too many young people don’t escape, and a system that he believes perpetuates making money by locking up brown and black youth who are swallowed up and routed to prison.
Trejo knows that slippery slope and credits his higher power for his escape.
“Without God, I wouldn’t be here, I know that for a fact and I say prayers every day, simple prayers. I pray to let me take every picture and sign every autograph.” His voicemail message always ends with him saying, “God Bless You.”
He practices what he refers to as an “attitude of gratitude”; now having a platform as an actor allows him to reach young people and others who struggle with addictions.
It’s not enough to know firsthand the downward spiral that addiction can cause. Being the badass-looking guy with a long list of film credits gets people’s attention. Trejo considers his best work not on the big screen, but the work he does for Western Pacific MedCorp that runs detox centers across the Valley. The acting work and outreach that Trejo does now go hand in hand.
“What this acting job did for me was give me the best platform to talk about drug abuse,” he said. “When you talk to kids you have to get their attention, getting kids to listen to you can be impossible. My message is that drugs and alcohol will ruin your life and education is the key… anyone can deliver that same message but they listen to the guy from ‘Spy Kids,’ the guy from ‘Machete’ and ‘Blood in – Blood Out.’
“I think the one thing that saved me was realizing that drugs and alcohol had to go out of my life. With drugs and alcohol you either die or go to jail. How is it that some people can have a little drink and others can’t? It’s the disease of addiction,” Trejo said.
Whether it’s speaking, doing outreach in the community, or acting, Trejo has no plans for slowing down. His fame came later in life and he hasn’t stopped and has no plans for slowing down or retiring.
“My life started again at 70 — when I turned 70, I opened up my first restaurant.”
His mother was the inspiration for “Trejos Tacos,” which has added locations and been joined by another enterprise that dots L.A.’s streetscape, “Trejos Coffee & Donuts.”
Both enterprises have a mission for healthful offerings that include jackfruit and cauliflower tacos and vegan donuts that Trejo says even considers the dietary needs of those on the autism spectrum.
He recommends eating a healthful diet. He said when he realized he didn’t have to worry about money as before, he treated himself to a really good restaurant meal.
“I like good food and I like good restaurants. My Mom was an unbelievable cook. I would joke and tell my Mom that she should open a restaurant, my Mom was the epitome of a 1950’s housewife and my Dad hated the fact that I would say that. He would say, ‘Callate! (shut up) What do you mean? You have a kitchen right there where you can cook.’ He was like the Latino Archie Bunker.
“Latinas in the 50’s cooked with lard and masa, but our chef started experimenting with the food from my Mom but eliminated the stuff that wasn’t healthy. We now have jackfruit tacos. I didn’t even know what jackfruit was and it was delicious. I thought it was brisket.
“I now have gluten free and vegan donuts,” he said. “I work with autistic kids, and what doctors have said is that kids with autism don’t do well with gluten. Now we are getting families with autistic kids and they don’t have to cook. Mom can order vegan and Dad can still order a cow.”
As he shares his plans to open up another location at LAX, he breaks into a little rap … “My name is Danny Trejo .. and my tacos are the best…”
It’s been four years since Trejo opened up his first restaurant. He’s now 74 and understands that staying in shape allows him to keep pace with his ambition.
“The heart is a muscle and you have to exercise that muscle,” he said. “I go to the nearby gym and I have a gym here at home, or I just walk right here, around the block a few times.”
“I think if I’d retired…I’d be fishing in my [swimming] pool. I think I would be bored to death. I’m starting a record label, I want to open an auto shop and customize cars… I’m working with my son who is producing a documentary. There are things I still want to do.”
“I’m going to try to get on the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine when I’m 75,” said Trejo, as he shows off his biceps and laughs. “I’ll say, ‘Latino power!’”
There’s little doubt that he will.
In next week’s issue, Trejo shares more about his life, his work in the community mentoring, his concern about the prison system, and his work to help those challenged by the grasp of addiction