Addressing the “Jaula de Oro”

por Jonah Vroegop

Working as a frutero in Los Angeles is anything but sweet – these workers endure the beating sun and heat to serve a constantly changing, unpredictable public. Fruteros and other street vendors often lack permits and the bureaucratic paperwork required by the city to serve their products and until 2017, this was a criminal offense. These stands are iconic in Los Angeles – after sporting events at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, on the corners near Metro stops or bus stations, and even just in regular neighborhoods and on city streets. They are happy to serve the public and are often happy to chat and joke with those who visit their stands. Most commonly, these “vendedores ambulantes” serve fruit with chile or tajin, hot dogs, aguas frescas like horchata, or flowers either single or in bouquets. Many of these vendors work as street vendors because they lack documentation and lack fluency with English, therefore not only limiting their ability to belong to a regulated workplace with benefits but also forcing them to work, accepting the risk of interaction with the police, which could mean arrest or deportation for many. These threats, in my opinion, are undeserved. In our class chat with Merced Sanchez, she said “Those of us who come to the United States are just like you but we don’t know the language – we are good people, we have good intentions, we also love good food and cervezas, and we are not all dangerous like you hear.”

The city of Los Angeles makes it extremely difficult for vendors to sell their goods, requiring high-performing new grills and materials to suffice the health code, requiring annual permits for about 300$ (500+ after July 1), and cart inspection for over 700$ (LA Taco). This makes it so that almost none (about 1%) of the street vendors in Los Angeles can afford to do business with proper permits and paperwork. This makes them easy to harass, prohibit, and prevent from selling first because of their lack of permits and also due to immigration and mistrust of government officials. “We work to get by day to day, to raise our children, feed them, pay rent, for the clothes on our backs because it’s our job. According to the article from Nidia Bautista about the Cortez family – a citation for vending on the street wouldn’t just hurt her savings – because of the low earnings of this type of job, a citation would cause her family to go without. Not only do these workers do anything they can to support their families, they are often unappreciated and harassed by the people they aim to serve as well as the government that should be helping them. The barriers to receiving justice in this regard are many, including cultural appreciation of these vendors, bureaucratic processes like licensing, lack of documentation for many, and fostering a culture of appreciation and respect for hard workers who earn little. 

Fruta fresca con Tajin del frutero

In my conversation with a frutero near USC named Humberto, the sales and ability to attract people to buy fruit have been extremely low since the outbreak of the pandemic. Not only are people confined to indoor or socially distanced places, but there are also fewer students to buy his fruit and more people looking to cause trouble. According to Humberto, getting robbed or harassed by locals and homeless individuals is not uncommon to see or hear about. Unfortunately, the robberies aren’t always committed by individuals. The California Department of Public Health (DPH) has been “confiscating” and withholding the carts seized from street vendors throughout the pandemic, even in cases where citations were not issued (LA Taco). This blatant thievery of a hard-worker’s way of life has further increased distrust and tension between the people and the City of Los Angeles. According to Merced Sanchez, there are often “no vending zones” that pop-up on a moment’s notice in some of the busiest areas of the city including Hollywood, Culver City, and other popular tourist/high traffic areas. There is no reason for the city’s harassment beyond a means to control the vulnerable populations and the street vendors in Los Angeles contribute a vital piece of Southern California culture. Street vending has been a part of Latino culture since the time of Cortez’ conquest of Mesoamerica in the early 1500’s (Portnoy). 

By allowing the persecution of fruteros and other street vendors in Los Angeles, we’re furthering the idea of living in an “ethnic cage” for many and alienating those willing to work hard serving the rest of us for low wages and in poor conditions. Really, we should be praising the hard work of these vendors and fostering avenues for entrepreneurial endeavors in this arena. To allow street vendors (decriminalization in 2017 was a step in the right direction) to sell without citation, overpriced permits, or unrealistic expectations for equipment and sanitation would be to recognize the hard work and dedication it takes to feed a family in Los Angeles as an immigrant. In this way we can address the “jaula de oro” situation and more so focus on fostering community and addressing the other disparities within our communities. 

Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic.

Villafana, Janette, and Jack Ross. “Fines and Confiscation: Explaining L.A.s Arbitrary Street Food Cart Law the County Uses to Criminalize Street Vendors ~ L.A. TACO.” L.A. TACO, 17 Mar. 2021, www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/.

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/. 

Portnoy, Sarah. “She Used to Dodge Police. Now She Can Make Puebla-Style Food and Run a Business While Speaking up for Other Vendors.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 June 2018, http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-re-merced-sanchez-20180615-story.html.

Despite their contentious battle for legality, Street Vendors might just be LA’s saving grace post COVID-19

By Erin Sweeney

If you ask any nativo Angeleno about what makes their city so vibrant, you’ll hear everything from its international film industry to the beautiful coastline. However, there is one particular occupation that, while under recognised, is essential to Los Angeles culture: Street vendors. It is impossible to walk more than a few blocks without encountering a stand that could sell anything from fresh fruit to hand sewn garments. This week, I took to the streets to explore what these entrepreneurs had to offer.

After a healthy 20 minute jaunt from my apartment, I stumbled upon a food truck called Taco Tamix parked on Hoover Street, right next to the freeway exit. Before I even approached the truck, I could see groups of workers sitting and enjoying their lunch break. After breaking a sweat on my walk over, I was ecstatic to see the offering of tortas, mulitas, fajitas, quesadillas, and more. I decided to order a burrito with all the fixins – cheese, pinto beans, onion, and carne asada. The smell of the trompo rotating and roasting in the truck told me that I was in for a treat – and I was not disappointed. 

When I visited Taco Tamix, there were only two people running the truck. As it was their lunch rush, I didn’t want to take up too much of their time. However, after a short conversation I learned that this was actually just one of a multitude of their trucks parked throughout LA. They have become a city favorite for authentic Mexican street food. Although I tasted their succulent carne asada, Taco Tamix is also a contender in the battle for LA’s best al pastor. They have become a quintessential example of the popularity of street vending in this city.

In a country that was created by the traditions and skills of immigrants, it may be surprising to learn that the United States is one of the strictest countries for street vendors. Furthermore, Los Angeles – which is home to thousands of these workers – has had an extremely contentious history with their legality. As immigrants – largely, though not exclusively, from Mexico and Central America – flooded Los Angeles in the early 20th century, so came their long held culture of street markets. Tamale vendors were particularly popular early on. Unfortunately, this did not go without acquiring negative stereotypes of being lower-class and unsanitary. However, sidewalk vending remained legal in Los Angeles until 1980 when the ban was first enacted, even as Latinx immigrants continued arriving in search of work and familiar culture.

Since the ban, there have been grassroots efforts to overturn the ruling, which has slowly and steadily gained more formal support. It wasn’t until 2017 that they received their first official victory – the decriminalization of sidewalk vending. However, despite this win, many vendors are still unable to afford city requirements to stay in business. Nidia Bautista explains in her article that “under the current permit program, street vendors must obtain a business license, a state seller’s permit, both free of cost, a county health permit that requires food vendors obtain expensive food carts, a street vending permit costing $541 annually and pay commissary.” This is combined with the unattainable standard for carts in order to satisfy the Department of Public Health, which “must include a handwashing sink, a three-compartment sink for kitchen wares, and substantial refrigeration and storage space.” (Portnoy) Even though these workers are part of the informal economy (which includes any business neither taxed nor protected by its government), they still provide an incredible service to their city, adding more than $100 million in income for the LA economy each year.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced every business to reexamine how to keep themselves afloat and street vendors are no exception. In addition to not receiving the same economic relief benefits as traditional restaurants, many vendors remain undocumented, which leaves them vulnerable and without any stimulus funds. But despite these inequities, sidewalk vendors and food trucks have continued to provide important access to fresh and culturally appropriate foods for low income and minority communities. Additionally, these businesses are essential to the thriving social scene that LA is famous for. In her article, Sarah Portnoy points out that “more than 100 vendors work downtown on weekends in the area known as the Piñata District — or the Mercado Olympic, as it’s informally known [and] by noon on a Sunday, the sidewalks are teeming with people shopping, eating and socializing.” At a time where interacting outside has become one of the only means of socialization, what could be better than a plethora of delicious meals offered to you right on your sidewalk?

This past week led me down a history that I was previously ignorant of. Street vending has been an essential part of Los Angeles life and culture for over a century, yet they are continuously marginalized by their government. To protect this important practice, we all have to recognize the value these vendors add to the city. Personally, I know that my respect for these workers has soared throughout this investigation and L.A. can only benefit from embracing this tradition.

Bibliography

Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic. 

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 22 May 2019, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/. 

Portnoy, Sarah. “She Used to Dodge Police. Now She Can Make Puebla-Style Food and Run a Business While Speaking up for Other Vendors.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 15 June 2018, http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-re-merced-sanchez-20180615-story.html. 

Villafana, Janette, and Jack Ross. “Fines and Confiscation: Explaining L.A.’s Arbitrary Street Food Cart Law the County Uses to Criminalize Street Vendors ~ L.A. TACO.” L.A. TACO, 17 Mar. 2021, http://www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/.

El Papel de Los Vendedores Ambulantes en La Cultura Alimentaria de Los Ángeles

Por Lindsey Bach

En una ciudad donde la comida, junto con el costo de la vida, solo se ha vuelto más cara cada día, los vendedores han permitido que la más amplia variedad de clientes sigan comiendo fuera: Gente que emigró a los EEUU y se pierde el sabor de hogar (de vendedores como Merced Sanchez, quien comida que aprendió a hacer de su madres), los residentes de larga data, los visitantes temperamentos que caminan por allí, e incluso los estudiantes que entrevistan a los vendedores para una clase sobre la cultura alimentaria. Después de observar Los Ángeles durante los últimos cuatro años viviendo aquí, no puedo pretender ser una experta – dicho esto, parece como si estos vendedores comprendieran una gran parte de la cultura alimentaria de la ciudad. Además, alivian los desiertos alimentarios y distinguen la ciudad con la vida que traen a sus calles.

A pesar de su papel invaluable, la ciudad de LA no ha logrado empoderar y proteger a los vendedores ambulantes. No fue hasta hace unos años en 2017 que la venta ambulantes fueron despenalizadas, y como Villafina y Ross de LA Raco explican, “Even if vendors can afford the expensive permits they need to sell legally, they still cannot get their carts approved by the Department of Public Health because the county’s health code was written for brick-and-mortar restaurants.”

Si el gobierno local y estatal no tenía los mejores intereses en mente antes, ciertamente no lo hicieron con el inicio de la pandemia. Como lo describe Bautista en su artículo de Food and Wine, muchos de los paquetes de ayuda y la reducción de los restricciones de COVID para las instituciones de comida se atienden sólo a “brick-and-mortar restaurants,” mientras que los vendedores ambulantes todavía enfrentan obstáculos después de la prohibición de emergencia de su negocio instaurada en marzo.

Fuera de la jurisdicción del gobierno, hay algunas cosas inherentes a la venta de alimentos y a la industria alimentaria que profundizaron la carga de la pandemia. En el artículo de Portnoy para LA Times, Merced Sanchez describe el trabajo de los vendedores como “‘just as dignified as a desk job.’” Si esto es totalmente cierto, pero una diferencia importante entre un trabajo de escritorio y la venta ambulante es que un trabajo de escritorio puede tener el privilegio de una opción de trabajo desde casa. Obviamente, mientras que gran parte de la fuerza de trabajo estaba en transición al trabajo virtual, los vendedores ambulantes no tenían otra opción que permanecer en persona. Según Raman de Eater LA, muchos vendedores son personas mayores, y casi ochenta por ciento de ellos son mujeres de color – algunos de los grupos más vulnerables durante esta pandemia.

Además, incluso antes de los pedidos de stay-at-home, el uso de dinero en efectivo en una institución de restaurantes era escaso, ya que los restaurantes hicieron la transición a iPads y ApplePay. Con la pandemia, el dinero en efectivo se ha vuelto prácticamente obsoleto, en parte debido a cosas como la escasez nacional de monedas, y en parte debido al miedo a la transmisión. Este miedo indudablemente jugó un papel en desalentar a los clientes de ir a vendedores ambulantes, y por consecuencia las ventas de vendedores como Mario Ramos se desplomaron un setenta por ciento.

Vendedores ambulantes y LA están tan profundamente interrelacionados que no puedo imaginar un día en que ya no existan aquí. Dicho esto, el gobierno, así como el consumidor, tendrán que hacer un esfuerzo consciente para abogar, apoyar, y comprar de ellos para mantenerlos vivos.

Bautista, Nidia, “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit,” Food and Wine​, 24 Jul. 2020

Portnoy, Sarah,​ ​“L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” ​LA Weekly,​ 25 Jan. 2017

Villafana, Jannette, and Ross, Jack, “Fines and Confiscation: Explaining L.A.’s Arbitrary Street Food Cart Law the County Uses to Criminalize Street Vendors.” L.A. Taco, 15 Mar. 2021

Raman, Nithya. “Once Again, LA Has Failed Its Street Vendors.” Eater LA, Eater LA, 21 Apr. 2020, la.eater.com/2020/4/21/21229760/street-food-coronavirus-at-risk-los-angeles.

Los Angeles County is harming street vendors and missing an opportunity for economic success

Por Kennedy Plant

I decided to visit one of the fruit stand carts near USC because I have seen these food vendors since my freshman year moving around different parts around campus, whether it be the village or on Figueroa, and have never actually given them a try. Before heading there, I was thinking about what their usual clientele might be, because to be honest, I can’t recall a time where I’ve actually passed one of the vendors and seen a line of people waiting to buy a fresh fruit salad, even though I’ve always commented on how refreshing they look. Has the decrease in students around the USC area during the pandemic been a detriment to their sales and success? Or are their customers not even made up of USC students?  After reading about the economy that they take place in, and the regulations put in place that are a detriment to their livelihoods and hard work, these were the sort of questions I was very curious to know. 

Aside from the fruit carts, the other type of vendor that I was thinking about, of which I have more experience, are the ones that sell what we call “Victory Dogs”, bacon wrapped hot dogs with fajitas, mayonnaise, and ketchup, during USC football games around the Coliseum and outside of campus. These are a tradition among my family, my friends, and I, when walking to or from football games, even to the point that during the football games this year when no fans were allowed in the stadium, my roommates and I would make Victory Dogs while we watched, because it has been so integral in our USC football experience. I thought a lot about these vendors, which are found at more than just USC sporting events, but outside of the Staples Center after concerts or basketball/hockey games, and outside of many other event centers throughout the Los Angeles area.

Upon arriving to the fruit stand, there was no one waiting in line, so I was able to order my fruit and ask the vendor about her experience running one of these near USC’s campus, and what it has been like since the pandemic began. She confirmed some of what I expected; that her sales had sunk by quite a bit, especially with the lack of many students around during the height of the pandemic last spring and summer. Now, there are more students back, but her business is still suffering and she’s not sure when she can expect a comeback.

I’m sure she shares the same sentiments of many street vendors around the Los Angeles area; they don’t know what to anticipate next, just like the rest of the country, having to take this pandemic day by day and adjust as new information comes to us. Though these street vendors are put at a much higher disadvantage due to the lack of resources and accessibility to government aide than brick and mortar restaurants and shops. During the start of the pandemic, Los Angeles imposed “an emergency motion to ban unlicensed street vending” (Bautista 2020), stripping the recent win of decriminalizing street vending in the city, and stripping these vendors of their ability to receive an income. Now, as they are allowing “licensed” vendors with permits to operate, their attempt at providing relief to vendors has gone unnoticed, due to the fact that only 1% of vendors in LA have received the expensive permit (Villafana 2021). To add to that, “street vendors have also been mostly shut out of economic relief packages” (Bautista 2020), furthering the damage to the livelihoods of members this community.  This is the result of working within what is called the informal economy which is described as “actividades que no están protegidas, reguladas o, comúnmente, valoradas socialmente”(Short 2020). Essentially, these street vendors support an economy that rejects them as part of their own.

And while the street vendors are not receiving the same support as other types of stores and restaurants, some argue that street vendors should be one of the ways to uphold the economy as it experiences lockdowns and heavy regulations that make certain restaurants hard and expensive to operate. John Rennie Short in his article, “La venta callejera hace más vivas, seguras y justas las ciudades, por eso pertenece a la escena urbana post-COVID-19” describes why street vending can be a positive for cities during this time. He mentions that in addition to diffusing some of the economic damage from the pandemic, it also would be much easier to maintain social distancing in an outdoor setting rather than indoors. Lastly, because of how many cities are already working to reconfiguring their outdoor dining options by widening sidewalks, it gives street vendors the ability to thrive (Short 2020).The discrepancies we are seeing between how Los Angeles County is treating street vendors during the pandemic and the opportunity for them to be thriving members of our economy is what is harming those who are running their stands.

Fuentes

Bautista, N. (2020, July 24). Los Angeles street vendors already had it Tough. then the Pandemic Hit. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic

Rennie Short John Rennie Short is a Friend of The Conversation. Professor, J. (2021, January 26). La Venta CALLEJERA hace más vivas, seguras y justas Las ciudades, por eso PERTENECE a la ESCENA URBANA POST-COVID-19. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from 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

Ross, J., & Villafana, J. (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. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/

The Hardships of a Street Vendor in Los Angeles during a Pandemic

Ally DiCuffa

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.

FRUTEROS

A frutero stand on the Los Angeles streets

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.

REFERENCES

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/.

Taking to the Streets

By Addie Kapsner

A Victory Dog cart outside the USC Coliseum

Street vendors, typically found on sidewalks, in public parks, or even on freeway off-ramps and street medians, have long been a staple in Los Angeles culture. As a USC student, football games would be incomplete without the sweet smell of sautéed onions from the endless street vendors selling “Victory Dogs” at the gates of the Coliseum, and I likely spent more money at the fruit cart on Hoover street outside the USC Village than at the Village itself. Even in a hypergentrified area such as the USC University Park Campus, street vendors contribute to the Los Angeles culture in ways that overpriced smoothie restaurants or the seven Starbucks (Google Maps, 2021) within a few blocks of the campus cannot match.

Furthermore, Los Angeles is known to have several food deserts, defined as areas without fresh produce or other healthy foods due to the lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, or other healthy food sources, that result in families needing to travel often miles to find healthy food. These areas, the majority being in South La, East LA, and the Bell Gardens area (Moses, 2019), are often highly saturated with fast food, convenience stores, liquor stores, and otherwise unhealthy sources for food due to the decades of business disinvestment that pushed grocery stores out, and chain restaurants in. Enter street vendors. Street vendors provide food deserts with much needed fresh fruit, homemade meals, and healthier options at lower costs for families that need it the most, acting as somewhat of a lifeline for these food deserts (Raman, 2020).

The City of Los Angeles, despite the street vendors having an importance in the city’s culture, has historically not made it easy for street vendors to stay in operation. The City of LA requires that street vendors have permits from the LA County’s Health Department, which are expensive (totaling to be around $1,651) and often unobtainable for those with smaller food carts such as the carts selling hot dogs or pupusas, and without a permit, the city frequently gives out citations with fines between $200 and $1000 (Ribeiro, 2020). Out of over 50,000 street vendors (Sarmiento, 2015), 10,000 to 12,000 of which sell food items (Portnoy, 2017), very few are able to obtain a permit, and those who do are likely the bigger food trucks that are more likely to participate in the gentrification of LA and often have higher priced items (Sarmiento, 2015). For Latino vendors, police harassment, citations and fines, and even imprisonment have been a risk for years, further contributing to the discrimination Latinos face on a daily basis in the United States.

Even during the pandemic, the City of LA has not stopped giving out these fines as they did with parking violations, giving out over 640 citations in 2020 (Villafana & Ross, 2020), putting thousands of street vendors at risk of financial insecurity due to a lack of work. With new health codes needed due to the pandemic, more street vendors found themselves either out of work or with more citations, and federal relief loans and outdoor dining programs excluded street vendors (Bautista, 2020), street vendors were at an unfair disadvantage.

Annabel’s food cart outside FIGat7th where she sells bacon wrapped hot dogs, horchata, and watermelon agua fresca
Horchata from Annabel’s cart

Many street vendors who did manage to stay open during the pandemic, such as Annabel who sells bacon wrapped hot dogs and agua frescas outside FIGat7th in Downtown Los Angeles, struggled to sell enough products to make a fair living due to decreased amounts of customers. Annabel, who has been a street vendor in Los Angeles for 15 years, stated that she moved to FIGat7th at the start of the pandemic and has been selling there for around a year now, in hopes that the increased foot traffic would make up for the decreased demand for street vendors.

Annabel and I chatted about her experiences as a street vendor in Los Angeles and her home of Oaxaca, Mexico which she immigrated from 15 years ago. She seemed pleased that a customer wanted to know about her story and was willing to speak in Spanish with her, as I would guess this did not happen much in the heavily gentrified area of DTLA where she makes a living. I bought a very delicious horchata from her, which was the perfect combination of of smooth, sweet and cinnamony deliciousness, and the portion size was more than generous.

It’s important to support street vendors, especially during COVID-19, as they have so many disadvantages against them, so make sure to visit, check up on, and buy from the street vendors in your area, and don’t forget to start a conversation and tip if you are able!


Sources:

Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, Meredith, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic.

Moses, Elijah. “Food Desert Analysis in Los Angeles, CA 2019.” ArcGIS StoryMaps, 30 Oct. 2019, storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/1be4915ebead44e59b7f7dad1ab704db.

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/#:~:text=Credit%3A%20Danny%20Liao-,L.A.’s%20Street%20Vendors%20Aren’t%20Giving%20Up%20the,Fight%20for%20Food%20Cart%20Legalization&text=D%C3%ADaz%20found%20all%20manner%20of,insect%20eggs%2C%20even%20iguana%20meat.

Raman, Nithya. “Once Again, LA Has Failed Its Street Vendors.” Eater LA, Eater LA, 21 Apr. 2020, la.eater.com/2020/4/21/21229760/street-food-coronavirus-at-risk-los-angeles.

Ribeiro, Norma. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Demand End to Citations.” NBC Los Angeles, NBC Southern California, 22 June 2020, http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/los-angeles-street-vendors-demand-end-to-citations/2384392/.

Sarmiento, Hugo. “The Spatial Politics of Street Vending in Los Angeles.” UCLA: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, 1 Feb. 2015.

Villafana, Janette, and Jack Ross. “L.A. Street Vendors Are Caught between COVID and the Law.” Salon, 2 Dec. 2020, http://www.salon.com/2020/12/02/la-street-vendors-are-caught-between-covid-and-the-law_partner/.

The Essence of Los Angeles Culture lies in the Work of Food Vendors

By: Audrey Zhao

Street food vending is essential to Los Angeles for two reasons. First, markets have been a part of culture in Mesoamerica, dating back to even earlier, as “Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier in the army of Hernán Cortés, observed in 1519” (Portnoy 2017). The other reason that it can be considered essential is that it provides the only source of income for many immigrant families.

For immigrants who come to Los Angeles with nothing, and especially those who are undocumented,  street vending is their only option. Street vending is a large portion of informal economy, which provides income and employment to all people. Limited education and undocumented status greatly limit their employment opportunities, so they do their best with what they know how to do, which often includes cooking. Food brings people together in all cultures, so it’s not surprising that selling food from a stand on the street brings communities together too. Stands lining the streets in Latino neighborhoods evoke memories of home and provide a place for people to gather and share their experiences. Many vendors are left out of many aspects of society because they are undocumented, and Portnoy mentions that, “street vending allows them to participate in the public sphere… has given them a sense that they have a voice in their community” (2017).

However, this association between Latino immigrants and street vending has contributed to the difficulties they have faced. A history of discrimination from law enforcement and pushback from neighboring businesses makes it even more difficult for vendors to make a living. Being on the street and having no brick-and-mortar location also means vendors have to face weather and crime in a way that other establishments do not, while also being held to the same or unrealistic standards in other ways. Vendors that can afford an expensive permit cannot get “an affordable code-compliant vending cart”, leaving only “around 1% of street vendors selling food in L.A. County are permitted” (Villafana 2021). This cycle perpetuates, as vendors continue to deal with crime, residents associate vendors with crime, and law enforcement cracks down, taking hard earned money and leaving them in the same place they started.

Fruteros

Fruteros are street vendors who specifically sell fruit and vegetables, which they often sell in salads or smoothies. They are particularly noteworthy because they are commonly the entry into street vending for immigrants who have only been here for a few days, and they have a distinct social network that sets the stage for their relationships not only with other fruteros but with the city in general. These hometown ties, or paisano, influence their work and personal lives in the United States, but they are not always positive sources of support because “they can also be overwhelmed by the economic poverty of their members and by the hostile context of reception in which they exist” (Rosales 5). The complex nature of better opportunity and simultaneous loss of freedom for immigrants to the United States is referred to as the “ethnic cage”.

The ethnic cage is different for each person and within different contexts in the life of each person because the relationships and situations involved are dynamic and changing. It seems that those who understand the plight of individuals are those best poised to help and exploit them. A cage can both corral and protect those inside while also trapping and depriving them. The duality of the nature of this concept is illustrated in the ways that communities can support each other and also take advantage of those who are newcomers or unfamiliar with the situations they face.

For fruteros, this concept was omnipresent because they were entering an environment that rejected their presence and their work. Living with the knowledge that law enforcement could take away everything at any moment greatly affected vendors’ lives and relationships. Even their presence or recruitment to Los Angeles began with the assumption that they would work for little to no pay at the beginning (Rosales 12).

Hotdog at Exposition Park.

Street Vendors during COVID-19

Street vendors have not only struggled historically, but their marginalization also contributes to their increased troubles during a time where everyone is struggling. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the fears vendors have always had of citations from the county health department. Many vendors found themselves without income because they were unable to work on the streets while also not receiving economic relief from the government.

Just down the street from my apartment, I remembered that I had often seen vendors with colorful umbrellas set up in Exposition Park. I have only lived in this area during the pandemic, so while I was used to seeing street vendors in upscale, trendy environments, it had been easy to forget about the people who set up their stands each day just to get by.

I tried to calm my nerves before approaching the stand of a middle-aged couple. When they saw me, they greeted me quickly before waiting for me to speak. The moment I greeted them in Spanish, they looked delighted and smiled widely at me. I explained that I was studying street vendors in my class at USC, and they agreed to answer my questions.

I learned that this couple had been selling food in this spot, on the corner of the rose garden and museum center, for seven years. They told me business had been very bad for the past year and that things had been very difficult. Despite the fact that people were spending some time outdoors, they lost the business they normally would have gotten from foot traffic, as the museums had been closed for some time.

I ordered a hotdog, and as the woman warmed the bun on the cart’s grill, her husband asked me if I had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. He smiled when I told him I had gotten a headache from my first dose and told me they had both received two doses already. We spoke about how we hoped things would look up soon as more people received the vaccine, and I thanked them for their time as they handed me the hotdog.

This was my first time trying to engage in conversation with a food vendor in Spanish rather than simply order, and it was a completely different experience from all the times I had spoken English. Rather than merely transactional , our conversation felt natural and our interaction had been much more meaningful and warm because I had spoken to them in their native language.

I did the most reflecting I have ever done while eating a hotdog, and I realized I had never thought about how the museum closures had been affecting the street vendors nearby and those in similar situations all over the city. While I had always viewed street vendors as hardworking people trying to provide for themselves and their families, I learned firsthand about difficult it is to make a living with work the city both benefits from and simultaneously rejects. For a city that loves its culture of street food, I hope that Los Angeles works towards showing more appreciation for those who bring this culture to life and rely on it for their own lives.

Sources

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/. 

Rosales, Rocío. “Chapter 1.” Fruteros: Street Vending, Illegality, and Ethnic Communities in Los Angeles, pp. 1–19. 

Villafana, Janette, and Jack Ross. “Fines and Confiscation: Explaining L.A.’s Arbitrary Street Food Cart Law the County Uses to Criminalize Street Vendors ~ L.A. TACO.” L.A. TACO, 15 Mar. 2021, http://www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/. 

Un atardecer con Ruth y Marcí: una exploración de los vendedores ambulantes en Los Ángeles durante la pandemia

No se puede pensar en la ciudad de Los Ángeles sin pensar en los vendedores ambulantes.  Forman parte del tejido social pero también económica.  En esta ciudad hay “an estimated fifty thousand street vendors, ten thousand of whom sell food products” y la mayoría de estos vendedores son inmigrantes o inmigrantes sin documentos (Rosales [8]).  Aunque la historia de los vendedores ambulantes es parte de la historia de Los Ángeles, ha sido muchos esfuerzos para prohibir y controlar su trabajo.  Abajo la disfraz de política y salud pública, el gobierno local ha conducido “strict antivending ordinances and…crackdowns” que son “a perpetual risk to vendors, whose livelihoods and public presence are continuously contested” (Rosales [9]).  Muchos de estos vendedores se mudaron a los EEUU para huir una situación peligrosa o obtener más oportunidades económicas, pero también han sacrificado parte de su libertad. Por eso, el concepto del “ethnic cage” representa la naturaleza dual en la experiencia de ser vendedor ambulante. 

Mientras proveen una variedad de productos de quesadillas a frutas y ropa, los vendedores ambulantes de Los Ángeles son su propia comunidad porque enfrentan desafíos similares.  Por ejemplo, no incluyendo los precios de equipo, “permits…cost staggering amounts for a street vendor making $10,000 a year: Annual city permits are priced at $291 ($541 after July 1), while county permits cost $772 yearly. Vendors must also pay $746 for a one-time cart inspection. Licensing permits for California physicians cost $820 every two years, by contrast, in a profession with median salaries of more than $200,000.” (Villafana and Ross).  Los precios de las licencias para ser un vendedor ambulante son una barrera calculada para mantenerlos como parte de la económica informal. 

Para mi exploración de los vendedores ambulantes en LA, fui a la esquina de Pico y San Vicente.  Era un tarde bien lindo y al atardecer hablé con dos mujeres, Marcí y Ruth, quien operan una frutera.  Pregunté a Ruth sobre experiencia con este trabajo. Ella me dijo que trabaja en el aeropuerto pero cuando empezó la pandemia, perdió su posición y por eso vende frutas frescas, y algunas veces flores también, con Marcí.  Supongo que esta experiencia que tuvo Ruth es común porque “la venta callejera ofrece muchos alicientes para las ciudades que reinician tras los cierres por el Covid-19” incluso la manera en que “puede configurarse de modo a que aliente la distancia social de manera más fácil que los espacios interiores de centros comerciales llenos de gente (Short). Pero todavía no estoy segura si Ruth prefería tener su trabajo anterior en el aeropuerto. 

Sin embargo, ellas ahora están en esta esquina y sirven frutas bien frescas y deliciosas.  Pide una porción pequeña, pero en realidad era muy grande.  Ellas me dieron una mezcla de cada fruta que tenían: mango, pepino, sandía, piña, coco, melón, naranja, etc. y me las dieron con limón, Tajín, y una salsa casi ambos dulce y picante.  Para hablar con ellas y para comer fruta fresca en el sol era una experiencia bien linda.  Como una vegana, las fruteras me provee una buena opción para apoyar los vendedores ambulantes. Cuando ves el paraguas de arcoíris en el calle, sabes que vas a comer fruta deliciosa. 

Fairness on the sidewalks: working towards equitability for L.A.’s street vendors

By Isabel Hanewicz

Coming from a mid-sized city in Florida, my only experience with anything similar to street vendors was the food trucks and food carts found at upscale food truck rallies and farmer’s markets. To me, street food seemed like something hip and new (save for New York City’s hot dog stands). Moving to LA, I was introduced to a vibrant and longstanding street food culture unlike that of my hometown – fresh fruit from vendors in the Jewelry District or South LA taco stands I drove past on my way to work. Despite its recent popularization, street vending has been in LA since the late 19th century, where tamale carts sold a booming migrant population a cheap meal (Portnoy 2017). 

However, through a class I took Spring 2018 (Spanish 316) on food justice in Los Angeles, as well as this class, I’ve learned that this longstanding tradition has also faced longstanding discrimination. Despite providing part of the city’s character – as well as feeding its residents – street vendors are seen as “criminals” and accused of increasing crime in the area (Portnoy 2017). In 316, I visited Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN) – now called Inclusive Action for the City – that helped fight for legalization of street vending in Los Angeles. During this chat, I was able to hear from street vendor Merced Sanchez who helped lead the movement for legalization. Merced notes in a L.A. Times article “Our work is just as dignified as a desk job”, as well as her love for preparing her traditional food (Portnoy 2018). 

A street vendor in Los Angeles, from LURN’s website.

Despite being in a country that champions self-preservation and entrepreneurship, prior to the legalization of street vending, vendors could face fines up to $2,000 for selling on the street (Portnoy 2017), despite making as little as $10,000 a year (Villafana and Ross). This just continues the hardships that immigrants face. Vendor Caridad Vásquez notes that “all [I] knew how to do was be a street vendor” (Portnoy 2017) when she came to the US, a job that gave her economic mobility and the ability to be an entrepreneur. Rocío Rosales estimates that many of the ~50,000 street vendors in Los Angeles, many are immigrants, likely drawn to street vending because it is one of their only options to make a living. Some may have even come to the US with the expectation they work as street vendors (Rosales 12). While this compatoritism, or paisanaje, amongst groups of street vendors can provide new immigrants with a social network and support system, but also facilitate exploitation and mistreatment that is hard to escape, a so-called “ethnic cage” (Rosales 12). Outside of their circle, vendors can face threats of violent robbers – or police looking to fine them for relatively small infractions (Villafana and Ross). 

A newly permitted street vendor in LA, however, the mere existence of a permit system did not mean it was simple to follow or obtain for vendors.

With the recent legalization of street vending in Los Angeles, one might think a lot of these issues have disappeared. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. In order to be completely “legal”, a vendor must buy pricey permits – $241 for an annual city permit, plus $746 to inspect their cart. Their cart also must meet Department of Public Health regulations, which is unrealistic for most (Villafana and Ross). Only about 1% of the street vendors in L.A. County have all their permits, meaning most risk fines and confiscation of their equipment to sell. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased these inequities, as street vendors who are undocumented cannot get federal stimulus, nor have they received other forms of financial aid from California or LA (Bautista). Despite this, vendors are still selling, offering benefits to a community that doesn’t always reciprocate. Dr. John Short, a public policy professor, gives three reasons street vending is beneficial for a city trying to reopen after the shutdowns (Short):

  • Street vending can reduce the pandemic’s economic hardship
  • It’s simpler to meet social distancing requirements with street vendors, as opposed to in shopping malls
  • Initiatives to create traffic-free streets, like Culver City in LA, are a natural match for street vending 

As we approach (maybe) the end of the pandemic, we should take a stronger look at supporting members of the informal economy – those who work in industries without regulation or government protection – who help make our cities vibrant. While legalizing street vending helps, if the regulatory requirements are too expensive or unreasonable for most street vendors to reach, as suggested by L.A. Taco’s article, the environment for vendors will not change much. If we like the fruit stands, the paletas, and the taco shacks, and believe they make L.A. L.A., we should fight to ensure the vendors have a safer occupation with a more livable wage.  

Works Cited

Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic.

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 25 January 2017, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/.

Portnoy, Sarah. “She Used to Dodge Police. Now She Can Make Puebla-Style Food and Run a Business While Speaking up for Other Vendors.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 June 2018, http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-re-merced-sanchez-20180615-story.html.

Rosales, Rocío, Fruteros: Street Vending, Illegality, and Ethnic Community in Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2020, pp. 1–19. 

Short, John Rennie. “La Venta Callejera Hace Más Vivas, Seguras y Justas Las Ciudades, Por Eso Pertenece a La Escena Urbana Post-COVID-19.” The Conversation, 26 Jan. 2021, theconversation.com/la-venta-callejera-hace-mas-vivas-seguras-y-justas-las-ciudades-por-eso-pertenece-a-la-escena-urbana-post-covid-19-143869

Villafana, Janette, and Jack Ross. “Fines and Confiscation: Explaining L.A.s Arbitrary Street Food Cart Law the County Uses to Criminalize Street Vendors ~ L.A. TACO.” L.A. TACO, 17 Mar. 2021, www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/.

La Lucha, Perseverancia, e Importancia de los Vendedores Ambulantes en Los Ángeles y Phoenix

Por: Phillip Glascock

El fin de semana pasado pude visitar a un vendedor ambulante, llamado El Caprichoso Hot Dogs. Después de investigar un poco en línea y descubrir que el Phoenix New Times nombró a este proveedor por tener el mejor perrito caliente de Sonora en el valle, con mucho gusto me instalé en este lugar. Conduje unos 35 minutos desde mi casa y me aventuré al centro de Phoenix, donde encontré los perritos calientes más increíbles de Sonora. Al llegar, noté que existía la opción de caminar hasta el puesto y pedir comida para llevar o hacer un drive thru. Debido a que fui con mi mamá, que es muy consciente de COVID como yo, decidimos optar por la opción drive thru. Después de mirar el menú junto a una gran carpa blanca que albergaba las parrillas debajo, decidí pedir su tradicional hot dog. Este contenía un hot dog a la parrilla envuelto en tocino y cubierto con frijoles horneados, mayonesa, ketchup, mostaza, guacamole, tomates, salsa jalapeño, cebollas y queso Cotija.

A continuación, pregunté por el propietario, Aureliano Dominguez. Fue muy acogedor y me explicó que ha estado en el negocio de la venta ambulante durante 32 años. Domínguez también me informó que ha trabajado en este lugar específico durante los últimos 15 años, lo que ha popularizado enormemente el hot dog sonorense en el gran valle. Cuando le pregunté cómo afectó la pandemia a su negocio, me explicó que tenía que reinventar aspectos, como implementar una opción de drive thru. Rápidamente corrí a casa e inmediatamente me sumergí. Fue espectacular. Todos los ingredientes juntos hicieron que mi boca estallara de sabor. Aunque esta comida fue muy poco saludable y muy sucia, disfruté cada bocado delicioso.

Estas fotos muestran al increíble vendedor de comida de perritos calientes Caprichoso

Esta foto muestra el delicioso perrito caliente tradicional que pedí

Se considera que los vendedores ambulantes son una parte tan importante de la ciudad de Los Ángeles porque brindan cultura, opciones para comer, una forma de apoyar la economía informal, un sentido de comunidad y son parte del estilo de vida cotidiano de muchas áreas pobladas por latinos. . Si bien muchos pasan por alto el valor de las personas que se reúnen alrededor de un carrito en la calle para comprar tacos o frutas, los latinos de bajos ingresos ven estas escenas como una parte esencial de la vida cotidiana que crea estructura y comunidad. (Portnoy) He estado en muchos vendedores ambulantes en Los Ángeles, como Taco Zone, Elote Man, fruteros y puestos de perritos calientes abiertos durante los juegos de fútbol de la USC. Si bien personalmente me gusta probar nuevos alimentos y salir de mi zona de confort, también disfruto apoyando a las pequeñas empresas, especialmente durante la pandemia de COVID-19, que ha tenido un profundo impacto en los vendedores ambulantes. La pandemia ha reducido drásticamente el número de clientes de los vendedores ambulantes que generalmente se quedan en casa. Como resultado, los vendedores ambulantes han perdido negocios. Además, debido a que muchos vendedores ambulantes son indocumentados, están excluidos de los fondos de ayuda del gobierno como cheques de estímulo y no se contabilizan en la ayuda federal en general. (Bautista)

Estos vendedores ambulantes han enfrentado tantos desafíos principalmente debido a las agendas motivadas por el racismo por parte de la policía y los funcionarios gubernamentales. A menudo, los vendedores ambulantes en Los Ángeles son indocumentados y, en el pasado, la policía allanaba a propósito las esquinas y aceras para arrestar y deportar a los vendedores ambulantes ilegales. Además, muchos vendedores ambulantes han sufrido violencia extrema y son extorsionados por pandillas. La economía informal se refiere a empleos, trabajadores y empresas que no están protegidos, gravados o regulados por el gobierno del país o del estado. (Portnoy) Debido a que muchos vendedores ambulantes latinos son indocumentados e ilegales, participan en este sector de la economía informal porque tienen que permanecer ocultos y vender en las calles.


Referencias:

Bautista, Nidia. “Los Angeles Street Vendors Already Had It Tough. Then the Pandemic Hit.” Food & Wine, 24 July 2020, http://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic.

Portnoy, Sarah. “L.A.’s Street Vendors Aren’t Giving Up the Fight for Food Cart Legalization.” LA Weekly, 22 May 2019, http://www.laweekly.com/l-a-s-street-vendors-arent-giving-up-the-fight-for-food-cart-legalization/.

Portnoy, Sarah. “She Used to Dodge Police. Now She Can Make Puebla-Style Food and Run a Business While Speaking up for Other Vendors.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 June 2018, http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-re-merced-sanchez-20180615-story.html.