Los An­ge­les fi­nally lifts its ban on street vend­ing

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Tim Arango

Of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated that there are 50,000 street ven­dors in Los An­ge­les, and sell­ing on the city’s side­walks is of­ten the first pro­fes­sion for newly ar­rived im­mi­grants. On the streets, many have faced crack­downs by po­lice and im­mi­gra­tion agents. The le­gal­iza­tion of street vend­ing, for them, means dig­nity and se­cu­rity.

In re­cent weeks, I ex­plored the city’s neigh­bor­hoods and spoke to ven­dors about their liveli­hoods and a chang­ing LA. In the evenings, ven­dors at the Gu­atemalan food mar­ket at Bon­nie Brae and Sixth streets, near MacArthur Park, serve up grilled meats, stews and potato tamales.

“This isn’t your coun­try, go home,” is what Ofe­lia Ruiz, a ven­dor at MacArthur Park, said she heard count­less times from po­lice. An­other ven­dor there, Jose Ugalde, re­called: “It was a lot of years of fight­ing, of suf­fer­ing. A lot of crim­i­nal­iza­tion.”

The his­tory of street vend­ing in LA has al­ways been tied up with is­sues of race and class, as well as de­bates about how pub­lic spa­ces are used in a city that re­volves around the au­to­mo­bile.

“It be­came a place that con­sciously tried to be dif­fer­ent from the East Coast, where streets were more rau­cous,” said Gregg Ket­tles, a lawyer who stud­ied the is­sue in the 1990s.

LA had been de­bat­ing le­gal­iza­tion for years. But it was not un­til for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing street vend­ing across the state that the City Coun­cil voted in Novem­ber to le­gal­ize it.

Myra Her­nan­dez be­came a ven­dor af­ter her hus­band lost his job, and she needed to sup­port her three chil­dren. She wor­ried that she would be de­ported. “It was my big­gest fear,” she said.

For decades in LA, crack­downs on ven­dors hap­pened in neigh­bor­hoods un­der­go­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, where richer, of­ten white, res­i­dents moved in, dis­plac­ing im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.

“You can’t re­ally dis­en­tan­gle this from de­bates about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and dis­place­ment pres­sures,” said Doug Smith, le­gal coun­sel to a coali­tion of groups that pushed for le­gal­iza­tion.

Cari­dad Vasquez ar­rived in LA a quar­ter-cen­tury ago. Like Amer­ica to­day, Cal­i­for­nia then was crack­ing down on im­mi­gra­tion. Vasquez be­gan sell­ing Mex­i­can food on the streets of Boyle Heights in 2006. Tacos, po­zole, muli­tas, que­sadil­las – all old fam­ily recipes. “The only peo­ple who ac­knowl­edged us were the peo­ple who wanted to eat the food of their coun­try, which I could pro­vide,” she said. “That is what is sat­is­fy­ing to me, as a Latino.”

Af­ter a po­lice crack­down in 2008, Vasquez be­came an ac­tivist push­ing for le­gal­iza­tion. There was lit­tle progress un­til Don­ald Trump be­came pres­i­dent, she said. “When Trump came, the ven­dors were wor­ried that he was go­ing to take us away from our com­mu­ni­ties be­cause we are un­doc­u­mented,” Vasquez said.

For her, le­gal­iza­tion is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the con­tri­bu­tions of im­mi­grants to the life of LA. “Our city is Latino and we bring our cul­tures with us from other coun­tries,” she said.

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