Street Vendors Leave the Shadows

in The Word is Text by

By Jorge Arriaga and Evelyn Robles.

For many years, local street vendors in Los Angeles operated under the radar. For many Chicano families that relied on selling their food or accessories on the street, they were forced to hide and run away from local police and health officials to avoid hefty fines and tickets. It was not until early New Year’s Day 2019 that street vending become legal. Bringing relief to many vendors all around the Los Angeles area.

Street vending has become a primary source of income and in some instances, the only source of income for many families. According to an LA Times article, over 50,000 people who make ends meet by street vending, 80% are females. Selling food is one of the most popular and common items sold in the streets of Los Angeles. Street vendors all around the Los Angeles county from East Los Angeles all the way over the San Fernando Valley selling tacos, fruit any many other delicious foods.

We had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful lady named Maria, who happens to sell a bunch of Mexican and Central American goodies in an intersection on Beverly Blvd & Kenmore St. She sold Tamales, Chiles Rellenos, Atole de elote, Arroz con leche and garnachas (a very popular central american food that is made up of a lightly fried handmade tortillas that comes with beef, cheese and tomato sauce on top, with cabbage and jalapenos on the side). I remember asking Maria how she felt about food vending being legalized, and her response was really heart warming and eye opening at the same time. Maria responded to my question by saying “ Le doy gracias a dios por esta oportunidad, por muchos años la cuidad me tiraba toda la comida que yo vendía, quitándome la oportunidad de trabajar y ganar mi dinero para poder soportar a mis hijos, la policía me a multado y esos eran unos tiempos muy espantosos.” The wonderful part about street vending is that consumers like you and I can have mouth watering food for relatively cheap prices.

I live down the street from what is now a really popular taco truck called “Leo’s tacos”, a viral sensation that started off as a small taco stand within a car wash on the corner of Temple and Glendale. I went over to Leo’s tacos this past weekend and briefly asked a worker that has been there since the beginning, what It felt like to have a successful business despite all the obstacles that they faced. One of the workers named Irma went on to tell me that it was hard in the beginning, especially before the street vending law went into effect because there were times where the city would come and shut them down or where the car wash would call the police on them. She went on to tell me “ No sabia que hacer, me estaba desesperando, no tenía a nadie y me quería regresar a méxico, pero de repente paso un milagro, cuando pasó la ley dándonos el poder de vender en la calle hicimos un trato con el car wash y empezamos a vender nuestros tacos, y les encanto a la gente… después nos hicimos virales en facebook y de ahí crecimos, mucha gente de diferentes lugares nos visitan hasta celebrities”, She ended by saying “No se den por vencidos, si se puede, hay que echarle muchas ganas.”

Street vending has opened up many opportunities for many Chicanas like Maria and Irma but not everything is as perfect as it may seem. Vendors sell in the parts of Los Angeles where lower income families live and are the ones who benefit . They are able to sell their food to the low-income families at relatively cheaper prices and most importantly face little to no problems with the law. But what happens to those Chicanos that street vendors on upper scale cites such as Santa Monica? As it turns out, those vendors tend to have much more problems despite having their vending license. According to an article in Forbes, cities like Santa Monica have found other alternatives on how to target street venders by citing them with tickets for other so called ‘crimes.” The article explains how a couple was making its way out of the metro station and about to cross the street when they were given a ticket for “blocking, impeding, or obstructing the path to a beach facility”… as we can see the city of Santa Monica is finding any little reason to fine these poor street vendors. But despite the fact that street vending is now legalized and Chicana/o vendors now have the opportunity to make a living without having to worry about being fined or arrested despite some cities finding others way to stop vendors from making an honest living.

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher George Sanchez, MA Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D., 1992-2021