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‘Ya No Somos Criminales:’ Six L.A. Street Food Vendors Reflect on What It Means to Finally Be Given a Chance to Sell Legally

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

“Selling food on the street will no longer be a crime!” yelled street vendor Mario Ramos at last Friday’s celebration at Mariachi Plaza, where street vendors from Los Angeles and across Southern California came together to celebrate the signing of SB972. 

A law that will modernize the CA Retail Food Code to include micro-entrepreneurs like street vendors and will give them an actual opportunity at obtaining their health permits. A permit that for years has been known to be impossible to obtain for the over 10,000 street vendors that operate on L.A.’s streets. Particularly vendors who sell food, but as of January 1, 2023, that will no longer be the case. 

In celebration, vendors from Hollywood, Bonnie Brae, Downtown, Piñata District, and more proudly wore their neighborhood t-shirts as many of them filled Mariachi Plaza with their delicious food. Giving out free nieve de garafa (ice cream), warm churros, pupusas, mole poblano, and of course, tacos. No matter where your head turned, there was a vendor handing you a snack, all of them filled with emotions and gratitude to everyone who helped them get to this point. 

Officials were also present. Councilwoman Nithya Raman who has been a big supporter of street vendors, attended the event to congratulate street vendors and said:

“People have been fighting for a path to legal street vending for so long, 2017 felt like a win, and then we realized that there were still so many other obstacles. Now we’re here. It’s a step forward.”

Commissioner Ricardo Lara was also present at the event and was brought on stage along with other street vendors to express his joy for the passing of SB972. This moment was special to Lara as he has been in this fight for and with vendors from the beginning. He pioneered the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (SB946) in 2018.

“It’s an emotional day for me. Growing up in unincorporated East L.A., our street vendors were always part of our culture, there is no L.A. without street vendors,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day our most vulnerable workers organized, they fought, and they won, they did it.”

As for vendors, we caught up with them too, and here is how they feel. 

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

Faustino Martinez, Bolis El Oaxaco

“Before we worried about our voices not being heard, we were criminalized, our food was thrown away, and we wouldn't do anything we’d cry and get ready for the next day,” he said before offering a plate of mole poblano. “But now we are happy because our voices, the voices of street vendors, are being heard, thank you to everyone who has helped us.”

“We bring traditions, cultures, food from different countries, and a lot of hard work; we are street vendors working an honorable job,” he added. 

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

Claudia Moreno, Fashion District Street Vendor

“At the fashion district, we have organized around 80 different street vendors. This was a lot of work that we spent doing for over a year, working towards this moment,” she said in Spanish. “Gracias, thank you to everyone who said that they would help us and did it. We also want to thank our customers who come from different walks of life and who have signed petitions and have sent letters in support of street vendors.”

“It's beautiful to know that our community has our back. We are not alone anymore. Si se pudo!”

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

Pablo Miguel, Nieves de Garafa Fashion Fashion District

“We’re happy, if I am honest, we feel free and like we can breathe a little because we will now be able to sell without that constant fear,” he said as he served nieve de garafa to a supporter. “Of course, la lucha sigue, the fight goes on, we know this won't fix everything, but for now, we celebrate this victory and hope everything will be better from now on.”

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

Eva Orosco, Churro Vendors in Los Callejones and Hollywood

“I have 20 years selling churros, and today,” she holds back tears and takes a pause. “It is such an immense joy that I’m feeling because everything is going to change. I’m not saying we’re all going to become rich, but we will be able to sell at peace, no more anxiety about having to look for a new place to sell because they moved you.”

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

Nieves de Garafa near South El Monte High School

“This is something that seemed unattainable, but thankfully if you give something time and don’t give up, it is possible. Look at us right now,” he said, a smile filling his face. “Not that long ago, I was almost arrested for selling ice cream. A police officer even pulled a gun on me. This puts a stop to that type of treatment. This treatment will hopefully just be a thing of the past now.”

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

Martina Avila, Tacos and Hotdog Vendor

“We feel happy because thank God we are at this point where we will finally be treated like humans, not like criminals,” Avila said while serving a taco de asada.  “I can’t stop saying how happy and proud I am because I have all my permits except for the health permit. That one has been hard to get until now. I can’t wait to get it and take a picture with it and say, ‘Soy legal’ ‘I’m legal.”

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.
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.

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