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El Monte

After Being Shot Five Times, This Cholo Got a Job at NASA and Also Became a Frutero

10:37 AM PDT on October 9, 2020

    n my neighborhood, we say pushing dope, but in this case, I’m pushing fruits,” says Jorge Urrea. As a former gang member, the father of four and NASA employee, is now traveling L.A. County to serve his sliced fruit off his stand, Pushin Fruits. 

    Urrea sets himself apart from your local fruit vendor by adding Mexican chopped Mexican candy to his fruit: Chaca Chaca, Lucas Salsagheti, and chamoy. His other unique ability as a street vendor is his connection to people from the streets and inner-city. Urrea says, “You can see the joy in people from talking to me because of the humanity I give them. I’m talking to customers not just to sell something but also wondering how their day is going,” he notes. “I do still get a few dirty looks from people passing by like ‘Ay este cholo,’ so I have to win people’s trust. But in the same way, some people don’t want to buy from me, in the same way, people don’t want to mess with me.”

    Growing up in El Monte, Urrea’s parents were not actively involved in his upbringing. His mom worked multiple jobs while also battling substance abuse addictions, and his dad was absent in his life due to heroin addiction and being in and out of prison. Without a stable home, Urrea left El Monte High School to attend a continuation school and later joined his neighborhood’s local gang.

    Over the next few years, Urrea found himself falling deeper into the life of a gang member. However, his life changed forever in October 2004 at the age of 24, when he and his best friend, Omar Prado, AKA, “Gato,” were stopped by rival gang members at a gas station in Baker, CA. After exchanging a few words, the men began shooting. Urrea survived five bullet wounds to the ankle, knee, forearm, and abdomen. However, Prado died instantly from a single gunshot. “That was one of many eye-openers I had around that time when I was laying there with my homie next to me lifeless. I just kept talking to God in my head like, ‘If you get me out of this, I’ll be a better person,’” he says. 

    He was inspired to try his hand at being a frutero when he began stopping by a local fruit vendor near JPL to strike up a conversation after a long day of work. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s the perfect job.’ Just chopping fruit and hooking people up.”

    Two months later, he was sent to jail for attempted murder after running over his mom’s husband. While Urrea was in custody awaiting trial at a supermax facility, he experienced a spiritual encounter when he was approached by an older man in his late 60s. The older man said to him, “I’ve been sent here to give you a message. I know you lost your brother and have an injury from being shot. I’m a prophet from God, and you need to cherish what he’s done for you, or he will take one of your kids away to instill in your mind that he’s ultimate.”

    This conversation broke Urrea into tears as he began to realize God was giving him another chance. Although he initially faced 12 years in prison, he was sentenced to 19 months and only served nine. Once he was released, Urrea was homeless and struggled to find a job due to his violent criminal record. He then decided to write a seven-page letter to the judge in hopes he could help him secure a job after hitting rock bottom. “And again, God came through for me,” he says. “The judge granted me expungement after a few months and I didn’t take that for granted because deep down inside, I knew there was a higher power doing all of this for me.” 

    “I see myself being a staple of Los Angeles with multiple Pushin Carts but my ultimate goal is to help a kid change his mind about how his life can turn out, because I feel like I’ve been spared so many times it would be selfish of me not to.”

    However, Urrea continued to struggle from the trauma of losing his best friend. “Now I was dealing with the mental issues by falling into an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ mode, and once you get in that pocket it’s hard to get out, but I feel like the prayers I’ve made to God got me out of those situations,” he notes. “I wasn’t spiritual before but when I talk to people about my story and where I’m at now, it’s like God is always giving me a sign.”

    Since 2006, Urrea has been able to keep himself out of trouble by working multiple jobs. In 2013, Urrea landed his current position with NASA as a lead for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the High-Tech Data Center. He was inspired to try his hand at being a frutero when he began stopping by a local fruit vendor near JPL to strike up a conversation after a long day of work. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s the perfect job.’ Just chopping fruit and hooking people up,” says Urrea. Over the next few months, he started doing research, saved up money, bought himself a cart, and started serving fruit cups under Pushin Fruits LA.

    Nowadays, Urrea continues running his business despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. He says it brings him peace of mind seeing the joy on people’s faces when they see him, so he does not plan on slowing down anytime soon. “I see myself being a staple of Los Angeles with multiple Pushin Carts but my ultimate goal is to help a kid change his mind about how his life can turn out, because I feel like I’ve been spared so many times it would be selfish of me not to,” he notes. “I’m still a gang member. I just chose to go a different path. The way I think about it is, I still have ties to my community and the people in it, so it means I never left.”

    To find out Jorge Urrea’s next destination, follow Pushin Fruits LA on Instagram

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