For this assignment, I tried to visit 2 street vendors that are normally in my neighborhood near USC (I live on Ellendale near Adams and Vermont). Unfortunately both Taco Zone and the stand outside of Ralph’s were not there the two times I tried to go, so I went with my roommate and her friend from UCLA to a taco truck near there. I asked the man selling us food how he was, and he said he was doing great because he was happy that his business was picking up since the past year had been so difficult with COVID. He said that during COVID, he had to close his truck for 2 months because of LA restrictions and almost had to shut it down completely because he was running out of money. At the truck, we bought burritos with Al Pastor, mulitas which are like smaller quesadillas made with fresh corn tortillas, and horchata. The food tasted and looked authentic, and I especially knew it was because the vendors did not speak any English, made their tortillas fresh, and came with delicious homemade sauces.
STREET VENDORS PRESENCE IN LA
According to the L.A. Taco article by Janette Villafana and Jack Ross, there are roughly 10,000 street vendors in Los Angeles (Villafana & Ross, 2021). With such magnitude of a presence, these vendors are crucial to the culture and atmosphere in the city. Like Rennie Short mentions in his article,La venta callejera hace más vivas, seguras y justas las ciudades y por eso pertenece a la escena urbana post Covid 19, street commerce truly aides in making urban areas more lively and welcoming. In Los Angeles, the diversity of the food stands themselves helps to tangibly display the culture of diverse cultures, ethnicities and histories that work together to make the city what it is.
ECONOMIC BURDEN CAUSED BY COVID-19
Even before COVID, these street vendors were faced with harsh discrimination and county-imposed restrictions making it difficult to stay in business. The process of gaining permits for selling legally is both tedious and expensive. The current system is that vendors must obtain a business license and state seller’s permit which are both free, then a county health permit that requires vendors to obtain expensive food carts and a street vending permit that costs $772 annually (this is just for Los Angeles, $546 for the state). On top of that, they are required to pay commissary. These permits are almost as expensive as what California physicians pay- and needless to say they bring in far more in salary (Villafana & Ross, 2021). Adding COVID into the equation has made these expenses impossible for most street vendors, and county restrictions for temporary closures have caused many to be out of work for months. Because many street vendors are undocumented immigrants, they are excluded from any COVID-19 economic relief efforts like stimulus payments and outdoor dining programs. During the past year, some have only received income from non-profit organizations like Inclusive Action for the City in the form of small cash assistance (Bautista, 2020).
In addition to brutal economic disadvantages, street vendors are marginalized in society, especially societies like that of Los Angeles that are so centered on capitalism and elitism. Many powerful government officials and big business men look down upon street vendors solely because of the fact that they are both foreign and poor. In addition, since they function in the informal economy which is the term for activities that are not protected, regulated or socially valued (Short, 2020). All of these factors pile up and create an immense economic and social burden on the lives of these people who are just trying to build a new life in America.
Rocío Rosales studies fruteros in Los Angeles and explains the precarious nature that comes with being a fruit vendor in urban America. He talks about how Mexican people often immigrate to America and start working as fruteros within days- it is literally like starting at the bottom. These people have to function inside the “ethnic cage” which is the idea that there is a dual nature of immigrating to America. They come here in search of economic freedom but then are faced with a hostile context of reception. This means that since they come as undocumented immigrants, they are placed under laws the restrict both their presence and their work (Rosales, n.d.). Because of these roadblocks, the social network of fruteros is crucial to their success. Specifically between Mexica and the United States, social networks from immigrants hometowns help to direct them towards Los Angeles and aide in their transition to a new country and mitigate short-term costs of settlement (Rosales, n.d.). These social networks can also facilitate exploitation, however, because street vendors are also in competition with each other and will step on one another if it means advancing their own status in the business.
John Rennie Short John Rennie Short is a Friend of The Conversation. Professor. (2021, January 26). La venta callejera hace más vivas, seguras y justas las ciudades, por eso pertenece a la escena urbana post-COVID-19. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/la-venta-callejera-hace-mas-vivas-seguras-y-justas-las-ciudades-por-eso-pertenece-a-la-escena-urbana-post-covid-19-143869.
Rocío Rosales, “Chapter 1,” Fruteros: Street Vending, Illegality, and Ethnic Communities in Los Angeles.
Ross, J. V. and J., Villafana, J., Ross, J., 15, M., 16, M., 17, M., & 20, M. (2021, March 17). Fines and confiscation: Explaining l.a.’s arbitrary street food cart law the county uses to criminalize street vendors ~ l.a. taco. https://www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/.