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Street Vending

After an Elderly Street Vendor Is Attacked and Robbed in Long Beach, ‘Mexicahana’ Hibachi Restaurant Offers Him a Safe Space to Work In

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ast week, 75-year-old flower vendor Miguel Angel Gonzalez was selling flowers on Anaheim and Atlantic in Long Beach when he was randomly attacked out of nowhere. 

The flower vendor, who is from Mexico City, said he was on his way to the gas station to buy a refreshment after being in the sun since 10 AM that day when it all happened. As he walked over to the gas station, he counted his money when he noticed three men walking towards him. Thinking nothing of it, he continued counting his money because he was trying to make sure he had enough change for a drink. But before he walked into the gas station, one of the men walking towards him attempted to take his money from his hands. 

“One of them pushed me and ripped the money from my hands and began hitting me, and then he ran to the front,” said Gonzalez in Spanish. 

According to the vendor, before the man fled the scene, he hit Gonzalez on the side of his head and pushed him to the ground. This caused the vendor to get injuries on his head, neck, and back. The man attempted to take the money from his hands again but was unsuccessful. Due to the force of the altercation, Gonzalez’s bills were ripped in half. The vendor had only sold five small flower bouquets before the attempted robbery and attack happened. Meaning even if the person attacking him were able to take his money away, it wouldn’t have been more than $20 that he would’ve fled with. 

“I'm older. I feel like I deserve respect, and it’s hard to have to look out for myself when I’m also trying to make a bit of money for the day,” said Gonzalez. 

Thankfully for the vendor, an officer happened to be in the area when he saw what was happening and pulled over to help the vendor. That’s when the man attacking the vendor fled but not before he and the other two men were caught further down the street. 

“Una señora me ayudo (one lady helped me) get up from the ground and asked me right away if I needed an ambulance, but I told them no, I was in shock,” he said. 

When police asked him if he wanted to press charges, the vendor was hesitant, and he said, “No, no quiero mas problemas (no, I don’t want any more problems.).” The response is prevalent among street vendors who are attacked, as more often than not, those who commit the attacks usually live in the area and can, in some cases, return. But after being convinced by the officer, he pressed charges and identified the man who attacked him.

“I remember his face clearly, so when they took him out of the police car, I said right away, yes, that’s him,” he described his voice still a bit shaky. “I feel like they were coming with other intentions. I really feel that if it wasn’t for the people and police showing up, something worse could’ve happened.”

That same day Long Beach’s The Hood Santa, also known as Tito Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Local Hearts Foundation, showed up to support Gonzalez. 

In an Instagram post, he shared the vendor’s information. He created a GoFundMe for the street vendor to provide him with money as he recovers physically and mentally from the attack. But what touched Gonzalez the most was how attentive Rodriguez had been in the days after the attack. Rodriguez took the vendor the second day to get a massage, get clothes donated by Diamond Supply Co., made sure the report against the attacker was filed, and took the vendor to get food where he was eventually offered a job by Martin Luzanilla, owner of Mexihanas Hibachi Grill in Long Beach. 

“Me gusta trabajar (I like working,)” he said. “I told Martin, as soon as I feel better, I will call him because I want to work. I still feel strong.”

The moment Rodriguez and Gonzalez told Luzanilla about what had occurred the day before, he couldn’t believe it. 

“It really just hits home, you know. Miguel literally reminded me of my grandfather, so to see a 75-year-old man be robbed and beat up just for a couple of dollars, it’s just not right,” said Luzanilla.

The restaurant owner knows the struggles street vendors face because before owning his restaurant, the ex-tow truck driver sold food out of his driveway. He said, looking at Gonzalez. He knew he had to help him out, so he gave him $200, a hot meal, and offered him a job at his restaurant. 

“I told him he didn’t need to be in the sun anymore, to come to work for me,” he said. “We’ll make a position for him if we have to, but it’s so he can be in an air-conditioned place getting paid more than what he makes selling flowers.”

Gonzalez considered the offer and the support from both Rodriguez and Luzanilla as a grand gesture. The 75-year-old street vendor lives alone in a nearby shelter run by the Homekey program, which funds the transformation of hotels, motels, and other properties into long-term homeless housing. He said he works because he enjoys making his own money. 

“Me gusta trabajar (I like working,)” he said. “I told Martin, as soon as I feel better, I will call him because I want to work. I still feel strong.”

“This is about respecting street vendors and respecting each other because we all have our reasons for hustling the way we do.”

The vendor also expressed that he has no family in Long Beach and said he would rather be working than sitting alone at home. He sells roses for $3 every day in different locations but often near his home on Anaheim and Atlantic. His shifts are from 10 AM to 6 PM, where he said he sometimes sells three or four flowers all day. So being offered a job where he will be paid more and be around other people makes the vendor feel, as he put it, blessed. 

“Estoy muy agradecido con todos ustedes (I’m very thankful with all of you), if I don’t say a lot, it’s because I don’t know how to repay everyone for their help,” he said. “I feel like a thank you is not enough for all this kindness.”

This week, the vendor who is currently recovering from the hits to his head and body will be visiting his doctor and hopes to begin working next week. Back at Mexihanas, Luzanilla is ready to receive Gonzalez with open arms. He said he would continue to help Gonzalez and anyone else in his community for as long as he could. 

“We’re here for our people. It doesn’t even matter what race you are. We’re here to lend a hand to our community,” he said. “This is about respecting street vendors and respecting each other because we all have our reasons for hustling the way we do.”

For those wanting to donate to Gonzalez, you can donate here

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