On a warm day in Orange County, the aroma of fresh fruit, buzzing cars and conversations in Spanish fill the air. Makeshift vending food carts run by the people of the Hispanic community are spread throughout cities such as Anaheim and Fullerton, where the culture continues to thrive even during a pandemic.
It’s a non-stop busy scene for these vendors as every day, uncertainty lies in if they will make enough money to take home for the day. Many of these workers are immigrants and declined to provide their full names for the sake of their privacy and security.
Alex immigrated from Guatemala and currently lives in Norwalk. He starts his day in Downtown Los Angeles where he and many other street cart vendors prepare their fruit and mobile carts before heading out to different parts of Orange County to sell for the day.
“I work six days a week, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he said in Spanish as he prepped and cut through pineapples and cucumbers.
Like many undocumented workers who were unable to receive unemployment or other benefits due to the pandemic, these street vendor’s income took a hit and many turned to sell street food full time in order to make ends meet.
“Right now, it’s slow, and we make only half of what we usually make, so the pandemic has really affected me,” Alex said.
Alex, among many other undocumented workers in California who were shut out of the federal coronavirus relief bill and unable to receive the $1,200 check, wasn’t the only one who turned to street vending as a full-time job.
One of the vendors, who declined to give his name, explained how he works seven days a week in order to make ends meet. On the weekends, he sells in Orange County and during the week he works in Los Angeles County.
“We start at the bodega, preparing the fruit from 7 to 9:30 a.m. We clean the carts and load them with ice and all the fruit. We usually get to our location around 10:30 a.m. and I work from that time until 5:30 p.m.,” he said.
Currently, the vendor lives in Los Angeles but grew up in Anaheim after he came to the United States when he was 16 years old. Since then, he has worked in places such as Walgreens, supermarkets and doing other community work. Some of the money that he makes street vending is sent to his family in Mexico.
“The salary I receive is $60 a day from the person I work for,” he added. “In addition to the tips, I’ll make around $100 a day on the weekend.”
Claudia and Rosa, who both started selling five months ago, had a line of eager customers waiting to purchase from their extensive list of food items ranging from fruit, tejuino, elotes and esquites. They both work as street vendors on weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Most of the prep work they do is on the spot. Claudia effortlessly diced through pineapple slices and swiftly peeled a cucumber. She explained that between the two of them, “It only takes between 15 to 20 minutes to get the food ready for the day.
Rosa explained that their street vending isn’t their own business, but rather they work for someone else who runs the many carts in the area.
Down the street on the corner of State College Blvd and Orangethorpe Avenue was Guadalupe, who also works for someone who employs multiple street vendors. Two to three times a week, she comes from her home in Los Angeles to sell in Fullerton.
Having only been a vendor for two weeks, Guadalupe said that on a good day she serves between 40 to 20 customers, making close to $300.
Between Sept 15 and Oct 15, the United States celebrates National Hispanic Heritage month to recognize the cultures of the people who trace their roots to Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America and South America.
However, in the past few months, there have been assaults and thefts aimed at street vendors, primarily in the Los Angeles area. Videos on social media started appearing in April where vendors were being attacked, harassed and had their money stolen just for online entertainment and increase in followers.
Sadly, the aggression towards the Latino community isn’t something new.
“It’s a terrible feeling when I see the violence towards the street vendors on TV,” Alex stated. “I hope they take care of themselves because it’s unfortunate when you make your money throughout the day, and someone comes and takes it.”
Even through the danger and harassment the workers face, the perseverance they continue to display makes a better life for themselves and their families, all while serving the people in their community with the delicious culture through their street vending.
Alex added, “The Hispanic people are the ones that really put a lot of effort into their business and their restaurants, and there’s a drive to achieve our dreams.”