For a few bucks you can get an assortment of pineapple, mango, melon, cucumber, watermelon, orange and other delicious fruits sliced and diced to your preference. Squeeze some lime juice across the top or sprinkle on some tangy Tajín; or drink from a young coconut to quench your thirst during the summer months. The carts themselves are a colorful feature native to the LA landscape, with pops of custom car culture, hand-done lettering or the painting of a fictional character adorning the quilted aluminum. Some have become minor celebrities in their own right, like Joe Mendez of Mid-Wilshire who has his own Yelp page, where customers celebrate their friendship and his infectious happiness.
Behind the scenes, things haven’t been so sweet for a lot of other street vendors. In Los Angeles, the pop-up business practice is mired in gang extortion and citywide crackdowns from the police and health department. Outright hostility is also an occupational hazard: last year Benjamin Ramirez was assaulted in Hollywood for allegedly blocking a sidewalk with his pushcart, the whole ordeal caught on video. Others haven’t been so lucky: robbers brutally beat Pedro Daniel Reyes in Downtown LA, landing him in the hospital. Fortunately his patrons were quick to respond, raising over one hundred thousand dollars online to pay for his medical bills.
If those problems aren’t enough, until recently slanging fruit or street meat was considered illegal — creating a perfect storm for many undocumented workers and the not-so-friendly policies handed down from our current administration. Many of the folks I visited were cagey about having their photo taken, and for good reason; they’re very aware of the ruthless tactics employed by ICE to enforce their eligibility to even be here in the first place. It seems hardly fair, especially since the popularity of Mexican and Central American street food dates as far back as the 1870s.
On the upside, new rules are in place, as City Council passed some policies to decriminalize the selling of street food. The fine print outlines all kinds of tedious rules and regulations but at least many will feel a little more at ease while the city works out the kinks. It’s a small step but good news nevertheless—we really can’t imagine Los Angeles without the men and women who make so many street corners a little more colorful and delicious along the way.