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San Pedro Tamalero Who Was Called An Anti-Mexican Slur Sells Over 2,000 Tamales After Community Shows up to Support

3:44 PM PDT on June 13, 2022

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

“Tamales! Tamales! Ricos Tamales”

That is what 21-year-old Juan Aguilar was shouting as he made his rounds selling tamales on 7th street in San Pedro before he was verbally attacked by a man in the neighborhood. 

The incident which happened last Wednesday at around 3 PM was captured on video by Aguilar and has since gone viral. In the video a man who was identified by neighbors as Chris Shelby is seen walking towards Aguilar taunting him and yelling “get your fucken wetback ass out of here, I’m gonna get you, you motherfucker.” 

Shelby then is seen kicking Aguilar’s cooler before walking away, the 21-year-old tamalero said the incident happened just an hour into his shift. Aguilar who runs “Tamales el Primo,” said he has been selling tamales on that same block every day for the past five years and had never seen this man until that day. 

“I was having a great day, to be honest,” he said as hundreds of people lined up to buy his tamales at a community buyout hosted for him on Saturday. “Then I saw the man come out of the apartments and he called me so I thought he was going to buy some tamales but no, he started saying racist things in English and I was like well what can I do?”

At that moment, the only way Aguilar could think of protecting himself was with his phone. He began recording Shelby as he approached him and continued to yell racist slurs at him. Although this was his first encounter with the man, Aguilar said it is not the first time he’s had someone yell slurs at him while selling. 

“I was mad because although I've had people say things before it’s never been this severe where the person is coming at me and going as far as kicking my cooler,” he said in Spanish. “And it's not okay. This abuse these types of people do is horrible.”

A few short hours after posting his video on Tiktok, he was reached out to by Edin Enamorado a street vendor advocate who is known for defending street vendors from attacks by providing free security to them. Enamorado along with Melissa Arechiga founder of Buried Under The Blue and Tito Rodriguez also known as “The Hood Santa” quickly came together to organize two community buyouts for Aguilar. The first buyout was held in the morning around 9:40 AM in the same street where the incident occurred earlier that week.

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
A community buyout for a tamal vendor was held in San Pedro on Saturday, June 11, following a racist attack earlier that week. Over 1,000 people showed up in support that weekend.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO A community buyout for a tamal vendor was held in San Pedro on Saturday, June 11, following a racist attack earlier that week. Over 1,000 people showed up in support that weekend.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

“I saw the video, and I wanted to make sure we took advantage that it had just happened to show immediate support,” Enamorado said at the event on Saturday. “To show this man that Juan is not alone, we got his back.”

With the help of Allen Osmanagic, a neighbor who lives next door to the apartment complex where Shelby lives, they organized the buyout that hosted over 1,000 people. Osmanagic tells L.A. TACO that his brother witnessed part of the incident on Wednesday and was very upset about it. He said everyone in the neighborhood knows how rude Shelby can be and they were saddened to hear that their tamalero was a victim of one of his attacks. Osmanagic and his brother have also been verbally attacked by Shelby in the past.

“Everyone in that apartment building hates him, we don’t like him. He once literally called the cops on me and my brother for playing basketball in our backyard, in our, house,” he said as he carried another round of water bottles to hand out to the crowd of supporters. “So I’m not surprised at all.”

Osmanagic said he knew the man was rude but didn't realize how racist he was and was shocked when he came across a video that showed what Shelby had been posting on his Facebook account. The video shows Shelby's account where he posted a string of disturbing racist posts. Another neighbor named Rosie agreed with Osmanagic regarding the man’s attitude towards other people. “He is very rude,” she said as she stood at the steps of the apartment complex. 

However, her facial expression lighted up when she expressed herself about Aguilar. She said, “oh I love him and his tamales.” So much so that she has his number on her phone and calls him to order tamales all the time. “The chicken ones are my favorite!” she said. 

She describes Aguilar as a super nice guy who never bothers anyone which is why she doesn't understand why someone would attack him.  

“You know what? He doesn't deserve this it makes me feel sad how people can do that,” she said, holding back tears. “Because he is just making an honest living, he is not harming anyone, we love him and we don’t want him to stop coming here because of Chris. This man also needs to learn that he cannot treat people like that.”

Arechiga who also resides in San Pedro said this buyout has helped bring awareness to the racism that occurs in the city. 

“I think we all know that San Pedro has this underbelly of racism and it’s not talked about a lot, but now it is because it's public in a video it says it's here it's present and this is a good opportunity to address it and also let the community know that this will not be tolerated,” she said as she waved a blue flag that read “Displacers.”

At the event, over 2,000 tamales were sold, an unexpected amount. Aguilar and his wife Luz said they expected 50 to 60 people to show up so they made around 600 tamales. But by 10 AM the line of supporters went about a mile down the block. Aguilar and his wife had to call for reinforcements, and that’s when Aguilar’s cousins came to the rescue. After all, there’s a reason his business is called “Tamales el Primo.” Almost all of his cousins sell tamales too. 

Every 25 to 30 minutes his cousins would come to fill up four to five coolers with the warm and savory breakfast to go. Tamales de pollo con chile verde (green chicken tamales), queso (cheese), Puerco en chile rojo (pork in red sauce), y piña (and pineapple) piled high in the blue coolers. 

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

Enamorado also said he was not expecting the amount of support Aguilar received.

“It makes me want to tear up. I feel great. It's a good turn out,” he paused as he noticed Shelby peek his head from a two-story window. With a megaphone in hand, he yelled  “When I say racist,  you say, stay home!” soon after the crowd began to chant “racist stay home,” their voices echoing down the block as cars blasting corridos honked in support. 

The man eventually retracted from his post at the window and the event went on. 

It's important to note how often these attacks happen. Aguilar’s incident is not the only attack that happened that week, in fact as his second buyout was being held in Long Beach at 2 PM another vendor was being verbally attacked in North Hollywood by an L.A. gym owner. And unfortunately, random attacks from strangers are not the only thing vendors need to watch out for when selling. That same Saturday vendors in Junipero Beach were being harassed by the health department who showed up to shut down their stands. 

“This is why people need to also be informed about senate bills that are trying to be passed because there are currently two that we need to be aware of,” Enamorado said. “One that will help vendors succeed and one that further criminalizes them.”

Enamorado is talking about SB972 which is supported by Long Beach Senator Lena Gonzalez and seeks to modernize the California Retail Food Code to include vendors. If passed it would be considered a historical change seeing as it would open the door to success for vendors. On the other hand, SB1290 which was introduced by Santa Monica, Senator Ben Allen looks to give cities the ability to re-criminalize street vending.

Although both of these bills are still being voted on, vendors like Aguilar hope that more protections are made for them. As the event in San Pedro came to a close Aguilar who was first very nervous about doing any kind of event, wanted to express how grateful he was for everyone coming out. 

“I really want to thank everyone who came to support me and who came to support this cause, this is how it always should be, we’re all humans just trying to make a living,” he said. “And to other vendors, know that you are not alone, we are here to support you too, we need to be united.”

Anyone wanting to donate to Juan's GofundMe click here.

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