Writing Gallery

This is what we are all about! We are so very happy to share with you some of the best student writing from workshops, field trips, and tutoring sessions at 826 centers across the country. We also accept submissions by any students age 6-18. All writing can be emailed to submissions [at] 826national.org for consideration. Read on and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tacos, Elotes, Hot Dogs: Life Behind the Vending Cart

Flores, Connor, Aguilar, and Zavaleta — students of Garfield High School in East Los Angeles — compiled this report for the summer 2013 publication of their school newspaper, HumaniTimes, an in-school project partnered with 826LA.

Street vending is common in Los Angeles and in cities across the nation. You may be walking down Whittier Boulevard one day after school and get a whiff of sizzling food. You have a couple of dollars in your pocket, and that is enough for a hot dog. As you are eating this delicious hot dog, you do not realize the intricacies behind selling food on the street.

Street vending is illegal without a permit due to the health risks the customer is put through. But do the reasons matter when you, as the vendor, need to feed your family? Many people face this reality and have to adapt to their working conditions. They have to hide from the police and can be cited. The thing is, they can avoid this situation by obtaining a selling permit.

Street vendors in the United States without permits face criminal charges. Across the nation they receive $1,000 fines for selling their products without a permit. Some of the criminal charges include selling without a vending license and disorderly conduct. Many immigrants that come to this country may not be aware of street vending laws. Vendors lose at least half a day of income, if not more, while they are in court. If they do not show up, they are automatically issued warrants. That can be quite expensive for vendors who may only make $30 to $50 a day in income.

The general public may not be familiar with the reasons street vending permits are necessary. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, illegal street vending should be reported because of the health risks. Vendors have no way of sanitizing their workspace, utensils, and hands. Permits also ensure public health because the food needs to be obtained from an approved source and be kept at a certain temperature to remain edible.

Politicians, police, and street vendors are in conflict not only in East Los Angeles, but around the nation. Some people around the country support street vending; some want to crack down on street vending. Take Hialeah, Florida. “We have to balance the need of our vendors, our citizens and the community,” Mayor Carlos Hernandez said in a meeting reported by The Wall Street Journal. Business owners are concerned that the image of the city is being tarnished by street vendors and want to limit their rights to sell on the street. Dan Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, a privately funded business improvement project in New York, said, “The carts are horrendous looking.” Each side of this debate has strong opinions, and no one is getting what they want.

Around East Los Angeles, community members shared their preferences for restaurants or street food. John Vargas, a customer at a taco stand on Whittier Boulevard, supports street vendors. “I like the food because it reminds me of Mexico because I mostly buy Mexican food.” Vargas is all for street vendors and supports their right to sell street food as a way for him to lessen his homesickness. “They have [as much of a] right to sell food as a person selling food at a restaurant.” Many street vendors sell street food because they have to in order to survive. “[Whether] street vendors have permits or not, they will continue to sell because they need the money,” Vargas said.

Josefina Camote, a customer of a street vendor who sells corn on Whittler Boulevard, is in the middle of this discussion. “I prefer none because they are both equal in my view,” she said. Many people take chances with street vendors and sometimes get sick, like Camote, who confessed, “Last time, I had diarrhea from going to eat at the street.” But, this doesn’t stop her. She still eats from street vendors.

Street vendors who are not documented and don’t have a permit have fear of getting caught due to the fact that they may be deported. But in Maximiliano Antonio’s case, a 51-year-old male taquero, he does not have fear of getting caught because he does have citizenship and a work permit and likes his job. “I like selling tacos because I like making tacos. I like my job because I am my own boss, so I can work at whatever time and whenever I want.” When asked if he had trouble with the police, he said, “I don’t have many barriers.” But that is not always the case, for example, Maribel, a 32-year-old female hot dog seller, still loves her job even though she does not have a working permit or citizenship. “Selling hot dogs is my thing,” she said. “I like selling hot dogs because I can make my own schedule and I can work whenever I want.” Maribel said that she loves her job, but she still needs to deal with the fact that she has to hide from the police. “Even though I like my job, I still have some barriers that don’t let me enjoy it to the fullest, like the fact that I have to hide from the police,” she said.

There is an organization in Los Angeles that is trying to initiate the legalization of food vending out on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. This campaign is called The Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and it is driven by a city-wide coalition of organizations that are committed to developing a system that gives street vendors the opportunity to make an honest living. Overall, the main goal of this organization is to bring permits for food vendors and legalize food vending. The way this organization is doing all of this is by the following: providing permits for food vending on sidewalks; incentivizing healthy food vending; creating partnerships with small businesses to cultivate vibrant communities; fostering safer streets by putting more “eyes on the streets”; creating jobs for low-income, unemployed workers.

Becoming a street vendor may seem like a relatively easy goal to accomplish, but it involves diligence and patience to acquire the proper licenses and permits to operate as a legal business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, vendors will need: a sales tax permit from the state government revenue agency, a tax certificate from the local government revenue agency, a general business license from the city or county clerk’s office, and additional vendor or peddler’s license from the city or county government. Vendors also need to comply with any general licensing and registration requirements that apply to all businesses in their state.

Life as a street vendor involves a lot of legal challenges and fear of losing everything. While some members of the community love and support street vending, some find it unsanitary and feel that it taints the community. Whatever your perspective may be, can you imagine Whittier Boulevard without the smell of carnitas on the grill?


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