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Latino/a Mobility in California History

Genevieve Carpio, Javier Cienfuegos, Ivonne Gonzalez, Karen Lazcano, Katherine Lee Berry, Joshua Mandell, Christofer Rodelo, Alfonso Toro, Authors

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Academia regarding street vending varies across practices and depth. Scholarly research exists that explores the ties between street vending and economics or policy. It is difficult to locate text that delves into cultural and ethnographic significance of street activism, especially within the realm of Latino identity. Intriguingly, street vending has made its way into the identity of what is considered the Latino upbringing. Parody videos, songs, and solidarity among Latinos of various nationalities exist from the familiarity of the ‘paletero’ or ‘elotero.’ Through my research, I was directed to works by Phoebe Kropp and Lorena Muñoz. Both scholars provide an important look at the history and movement of street vending in the Los Angeles region.

In Citizens of the Past?: Olvera Street and the Construction of Race and Memory in 1930’s Los Angeles, Phoebe Kropp provides an insightful history of Olvera Street. She details how race and class relations---between the elite Anglos that transformed the street into a decoration and the puesteros, or merchants, which were uniformly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and lived and worked on the street---ultimately caused the construction of a street vendor community. Olvera Street “illustrates the links between public memory, racialized politics, and the control of public space” (Kropp, 45). Kropp provides a historical account of the construction of a mythic landscape between those that orchestrated it and the community that it affected. She provides evidentiary support for the formation of activism centered around the street vendors. Through the narrative she provides, I was able to formulate my project around this topic. It is important to understand the motivation behind street vendors coming together as a community. Sterling, the socialite responsible for Olvera Street,  “conveyed [a public message]that Mexican expression was better channeled toward music and crafts than toward politics or the economy” (Kropp, 46) through Olvera Street. She concludes that the “Mexican community of Los Angeles has been in the process of renegotiating the fantasy on Olvera Street since its opening, and in many ways is still doing so” (Kropp, 47).

Lorena Muñoz connects street vending in Los Angeles to the immigrant narrative in a modern setting. Latino/a Immigrant Street Vendors in Los Angeles: Photo-Documenting Sidewalks from 'Back-Home' describes the transformation of the Los Angeles landscape as architected by street vending immigrants. Her account embraces street vending a medium that holds prominence in the city visually and through its participation in the informal economy. She provides photographs to visualize the transformation of Los Angeles through vending. Although her argument is centralized on street vending, it is focused more “how the informal landscapes inhabited by Latina/o immigrants can be better understood through a process of visualisation” (Muñoz, 1.5) rather than street vending itself. It does allow the reader to visually consume her claims. Her accounts of vending in MacArthur Park also tie in negotiations between legality, vending, and vendors. The limitations that exist on vending connect to restrictions placed on those that do the vending. Issues of citizenship and the right to belong to the landscape connect to an overall theme that have been covered throughout the course. Additionally, I could have connected street vendors as bodies to themes of racial restriction and the establishment of racial hierarchies; what mobilities they provide, restrict, innovate, etc.  

Research is available under the scope of specific groups tied in with street vendors. I was able to locate an archive under the Southern California Library that focused on the street vending activist group, La Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes. Additionally, literature centered around the formation and activist efforts of this group exists through books such as Latino Street Vendors in Los Angeles: Heterogeneous Alliances, Community-Based Activism, and the State. Although not widely explored in the world of academia, street vending should definitely be regarded as a cultural icon of significance that encompasses the identity of a landscape and culture of Latin America. Through my research on street vending, vendors, and street vending activism, I conclude that academia regarding these topics is expanding through multiple venues and intersections.

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