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Who Is This White Man Who Harassed El Ruso Out Of His New Highland Park Location?

6:09 PM PDT on June 1, 2020

on’t be here tomorrow, or we can make it difficult...you cannot be here.”

These were the words shouted at Walter Soto, one of the city’s most important taqueros at the moment, by a face covering-less caucasian man in Highland Park on Saturday afternoon. Soto was about an hour into his second day of service of his new location on Avenue 63 and York Boulevard specializing in Sinaloan-style tacos with handmade corn tortillas when the confrontation happened. 

Soto managed to record the last bit of the incident with his phone, 49 seconds total.

It was one of the most anticipated openings in L.A.’s taco life during the pandemic; a pioneering taquero who worked his way up from a stand hidden in the industrial backstreets of Boyle Heights to a food cart reviewed by the LA Times off Olympic Boulevard to his second location painstakingly built out of the elbow grease and mesquite smoke that he has become famous for.

It was supposed to be a big weekend for Soto as he was finally going to be able to bring his second concept to life, an ode to his taquero roots in Sinaloa. But instead, the high profile taquero who has played by the rules—frequently posting his “A” letter grades from the County Health Department and recording himself proudly washing the concrete where he sets up shop—was greeted with xenophobia and several threats, says Soto.    

 

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3 years ago, we started a project based on a dream, and it took hold and grew. Thanks to people with good hearts that have supported us and all of you, our awesome customers that have been keeping us going from our first days. Thanks to you, all this has been possible. We hope to have great news for all of you soon!!! From my thankful and grateful heart, I wish you health and prosperity!! We will see you soon with new and great things for you. Hace 3 años, comenzamos un proyecto basado en un sueño, y se afianzó y creció. Gracias a las personas con buenos corazones que nos han apoyado y a todos ustedes, nuestros increíbles clientes que nos han estado apoyando desde nuestros primeros días. Gracias a ustedes, todo esto ha sido posible. Esperamos tener buenas noticias para todos ustedes pronto! ¡Desde el fondo de mi corazón, les deseo salud y prosperidad! ¡Los veremos pronto con cosas nuevas y geniales para ustedes! Pura Calidad!!!!!

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“If I’m being honest, it makes you feel really bad to have someone act as if they are superior to you,” Soto informs L.A. Taco the morning after the event occurred. “I’m here because I want the best for my daughter, too. I pay taxes and with my fully permitted trailer, I can legally work in any commercial street in the County.” His voice audibly shook up when talking about it. “Some of my employees go to school part-time and I work harder to pay them better wages—I also want to work towards a better future, you know?” According to Soto, the man was complaining that he was too close to his home. “He changed his tone and words once I started recording him,” Soto tells L.A. Taco. 

Unsure of what to do after the confrontation, Soto decided to put a pause on the operation of his second location and did not return the following day for service, as he originally was set to do. “My customers, some of which who were white, were there when this happened and started to tell the guy off. They defended me, but I don’t want any problems.” El Ruso informs L.A. Taco that the unmasked man returned later that night and made more threats to Soto and his crew. “He would come back and say things like ‘things are going to be different tomorrow if you come back,’” Soto shares with L.A. Taco. 

The incident also scared his staff, including his vital employee who was making all of El Ruso’s handmade corn tortillas. “She did not feel comfortable returning to this location to work out of fear for her safety, I don’t know what to do.”   

L.A. Taco has verified that El Ruso was operating well over 100 feet from a residential home. El Ruso’s permits allow him to operate anywhere in L.A. County as long as it is in a commercial zone. Across the street from El Ruso #2’s trailer is a WSS shoe warehouse and on the other corner is a Jack in the Box. The Offbeat, a dive bar, and venue that frequently has live music is half a block away.

“It made me fearful, what if he comes back with a weapon or tries to do something to my trailer? You just don’t know nowadays.”  

El Ruso is still unsure whether he will return to work at this location, L.A. Taco will update this story with any new developments. The interview was conducted in Spanish and translated to English. It was edited for length and clarity.

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