Street vendors are usually immigrants or people of color who organize and mobilize an enterprise to serve their own ethnic communities working long hours for very little profit (Portes 1981; Wilmot 2014). A great deal of academic literature views street vendors as part of the informal economy solely as vendors with only a few scholars focusing on street vendors’ other roles in the communities they serve. This paper is an ethnographic project of observing a mobile street truck vendor named Joaquin, who has over 25 years of experience working in a Latinx immigrant working-class neighborhood. This work seeks to explore the different roles Joaquin takes on while vending in a Latinx immigrant neighborhood and ask what are the structures of the neighborhood that make it possible for him to take on those roles? Findings reveal that Joaquin is also an informal banker, alternative health advisor, and public character through cashing out checks, providing health remedies, and informing residents on recent local activities. This work contributes to a range of topics, including the informal economy and health, all while reframing the roles of street vendors.
“Pues la mera verdad es que ellos me ayudan a mí y yo los ayudo a ellos [Well to tell you the truth, they help me and I help them]” Joaquin responds when I asked why he has been a mobile street vendor for the Manzanita community for over two decades. Joaquin is an owner of an old white truck from where he sells groceries (ex. tomatoes, milk, etc.), junk food (ex. chips, candy, etc.), and other products (toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.). He parks in front of a Latinx working-class neighborhood from 9 am to 9 pm. The neighborhood is all apartments, most of them have faded paint, there is visible graffiti in the alleys, and it is always a struggle to find street parking, however, Joaquin manages to park in between cars to vend. A street vendor is anyone who works in the informal economy selling products in the public’s view, and in the United States, they are usually immigrants or people of color who work long hours for little profit (Wilmot 2014). Immigrant populations organize and mobilize an enterprise or business model to serve their own ethnic communities (Portes 1981). Street vendors who have years of experience vending for the same neighborhoods establish a sense of entitlement to the space they vend in through community social ties (Weng and Kim 2016). As seen in the academic literature on street vending, Joaquin’s lifelong service to an ethnic enclave of Latinx working-class residents of Manzanita has led him to establish a sense of belonging to the community.
Literature on the informal economy often undervalues the social importance of street vending, failing to see how street vending contributes to public safety and more vibrant and welcoming public spaces (Short 2020). Additionally, street vendors are usually studied through an economic or political lens to analyze the economic inequalities vendors experience due to limited mobility associated with legal status or government restrictions (Cross 1998). For instance, research has found that street vendors operate as entrepreneurs taking advantage of the multiple restrictions marginalized communities face in the banking system, like language barriers (Walsh 2010). Showcasing a different perspective of street vending and immigrant labor, Zlolniski (2006) found that immigrant workers and vendors also challenge harsh employment conditions of the informal economy through mobilization and activism. Emerging scholarship has also revealed how street vending can be an ethnic cage because it can both protect and exploit vendors through their own social networks (Rosales 2020). Scholarship on the informal economy regarding street vending is opening up the discussion on how vendors interact with one another, but not enough has been done to look at their roles considering their social relations with their customers and community members.
Acknowledging street vendors as contributors to the places they sell, I propose to investigate: What are the different roles Joaquin takes on in the Manzanita neighborhood? What are the structures in the Manzanita neighborhood that make it possible for him to take on these roles? I answer my questions using an ethnographic approach of observing Joaquin, a street vendor with over 25 years of experience vending in the Manzanita neighborhood. This study showcases street vendors as integrated parts of the community and highlights overlooked roles of vendors like informal banking, alternative health advisors, and distributors of information.
Street vendors are a crucial and important part of the informal economy, yet experience exclusion from various financial institutions and banking systems (Martinez and Short 2022). To add, marginalized communities, particularly those with poor and working-class backgrounds, also have been historically excluded from banking systems leading them to informal banking (Day 2002). Informal banking institutions trace back to the 1880s, particularly when there was an abundance of newly arrived immigrants or urban ethnic enclaves, providing financial services (Day 2002). For instance, in the Civil Rights Era, ethnic banking or informal banking was common for African Americans because most banks did not serve them due to racial discrimination and segregation, leaving a large population having to resort to other streams of banking (Ammons 1996). Similarly, undocumented immigrants do not rely on formal banking institutions and resort to alternative financial services like payday loans or title loans for emergency funds (Martin 2015). However, immigrants have wary attitudes to these alternatives due to their high-interest rates (Martin 2015). These different forms of financial banking systems like ethnic banking are a response to when the needs of marginalized communities are ignored and inaccessible. Furthermore, more research is needed in analyzing how ethnic enclaves and street vendors work together when both are excluded from formal banking.
Indeed, a person’s banking practices are usually associated with social factors such as race and education, but research finds that those who are unbanked are predominantly from immigrant enclaves (Bohn and Pearlman 2013; Rhine and Greene 2006). According to a study, over 25% of Hispanics do not have a checking or savings account because of barriers such as fear of deportation and discriminatory treatment (Aizcorbe, Kennickell, and Moore, 2003; Bullock et al. 2020). This has resulted in high rates of participation in the informal banking system. Scholars have actively advocated for banking systems to respond to the needs of Latinx people by having Spanish services (Stevenson and Plath 2006). Existing literature suggests informal banking systems arise in marginalized communities when formal financial institutions do not meet their needs because of exclusion, cultural barriers, and lack of trust.
Addressing street vendors as agents of the informal banking system has shown that vendors promote economic interventions and developments to the financial needs of their customers (Walsh 2010). Also, street vendors provide opportunities to urban residents by reducing the exclusion they face through the policies and regulations from mainstream banking institutions (Mitullah 2003). Additionally, residents of these ethnic enclaves find street vendors easier to deal with compared to other financial sectors (Mitullah 2003). Therefore, I expect to find street vendors such as Joaquin operating as an alternative banking and financial service for working-class immigrant residents.
Street vendors are also discussed in topics encompassing a community’s physical well-being. For instance, city officials and educators view street vending trucks as contributors to youth obesity through their sale of candies, chips, and sodas (Emahrek 2014). However, city representatives are reluctant to regulate and get rid of vending trucks entirely in Latinx neighborhoods because of their strong sense of community to residents and the benefit that they sell fruits and vegetables (DePaul 2011). Additionally, scholars are steering away from labeling food trucks as negative, rather as an accessible alternative to grocery stores where residents can obtain fresh lower cost fruits and vegetables outside their homes because mobile vending trucks are parked a few feet away (Brinkley et al. 2014). Not only can street vending be seen as a positive contributor to healthy communities through food, but also through resources, services, and information.
In Latinx communities accessing healthcare services can be difficult because of language barriers, affordability, and cultural competency of healthcare providers (Rastogi, Massey-Hasting, and Wieling 2012). To add, Latinx people consider mental health services stigmatizing and fear legal issues when visiting healthcare institutions, such as deportation (Rastogi, Massey-Hasting, and Wieling 2012). Latinx health researchers suggest that future work should focus more on the role mobile street vendors play on residents’ health (St. John 2013). Because street vendors are constantly interacting with community members and play a large factor in their health due to their proximity to the community and residents’ distrust of healthcare institutions, this study seeks to observe how a street vendor provides alternative health information to their customers.
In urban neighborhoods, sidewalks and streets are public spaces where people congregate (Hanser 2016). A street vendor who sells in these spaces has constant contact with a large range of people and is fully immersed in the community’s networks is referred to as a public character (Duneier 2001; Jacobs 1961). Public characters also interact with different people, spread news, and usually have a special talent or wisdom (Jacobs 1961). The idea of public characters came from local business owners and people who keep parents informed of their children’s activities or residents on the latest community events, also referred to as “the eyes of the street” (Jacobs 1961). Public characters keep streets predictable, safer, and more vibrant through their presence, diffusion of information, and ensuring an inflow of people (Deore and Lathia 2019; Duneier 2001).
Literature on street vendors’ roles in the informal economy has documented how they utilize their role of being public characters to regulate and assign space, such as men who wash vehicles in the same location for years (Oliver 2009). In communities with high policing and regulations, street vendors challenge these practices through resident solidarity (Hanser 2016), demonstrating the importance of street vendors interacting with a wide range of people. Aligning with the public character’s role of spreading information, mobile food trucks are able to stay connected and emerge in social processes of communication in urban communities (Wessel 2012). Sociologists have noticed that in communities with high crime rates, street vendors keep the streets safe in combination with partaking in crime to survive (Gans 2006). Researchers have critiqued Jacob’s definition of a public character because it is a one-sided observation of street vendors urging new scholarship to go beyond topics of safety (Gans 2007; Wekerle 2000). Literature on public characters is limited, focusing on street vending with high crime, urban spaces, and safety. As a result, I seek to look at the nuances of street vendors beyond crime, and how they engage with communities through the diffusion of information.
This research emerged from my own experiences of growing up around mobile food truck vendors. For over 20 years I lived in a Latinx working-class neighborhood where mobile food trucks parked less than 10 feet away from apartments. They were local convenience stores for my family and the surrounding community, except not in a building, but rather in a vehicle. Below is Figure 1, a photograph capturing the inside of Joaquin’s truck and the products he sells to Manzanita’s residents.
Because of my intimate relationship with each vendor that sprouted from everyday interactions dating back to my childhood and now young adulthood, this study benefited from years of rapport and trust. Joaquin has also been vending in the neighborhood the longest of anyone I’m aware of. Joaquin is a Mexican man in his late 50s with dark brown skin and visible wrinkles on his face who only speaks Spanish. My interest in how and why he has been stationed in the same location for over 20 years led to my sociological curiosity. I started by generating an idea and hypothesis through my own experiences and reviewing the literature before going into the field. Therefore, on February 26, 2022, I started an ethnographic study on Joaquin’s role. When accessing Joaquin’s truck as a field site all it took was buying 75 cents Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with chamoy and saying,
“Oye, Joaquin piensas que puedo venir el lunes para hacer un proyecto de clase sobre … [Hey, Joaquin, do you think I can come on Monday to do a class project about] …” Joaquin cuts me off and says, “Claro, tu vienes … No me importa, tu no mas vienes [Sure, you come … I don’t care, you just come].”
Joaquin welcomed me with open arms, not knowing what the project entailed. Having known Joaquin gave me an insider status resulting in gaining immediate access to my field site and formal permission to conduct my field observations (Lofland et al., 2006). However, I am an outsider because I am not living in the Latinx neighborhood anymore and am not familiar with the new Manzanita residents (Lofland et al., 2006).
Being aware of my insider-outsider status, I returned the following Monday and began working in Joaquin’s truck by helping customers and cleaning when there was downtime. My time with Joaquin meant I had to use the restroom beforehand because the truck had no restroom. However, Joaquin would always remind me that I was able to use the nearby public park’s restroom. Most days I would sell bags of chips and fill them with lemon juice and Mexican hot sauce (ex. Chamoy, Valentina, or Tapatio). At times I restocked sodas and Gatorades or reorganized chips by flavor, starting with Extra Hot Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and ending with Nacho Cheese Doritos.
I visited Joaquin at least once a week for over 3 months. My field visits ranged from 15 minutes to 3 hours with an average of 2 hours a week. All my interactions with Joaquin and Manzanita residents were in Spanish. After each visit, I wrote a field observation memo documenting what was sold, product prices, customer interactions, and my conversations with Joaquin. I used my cell phone to write down important times and details of what was occurring, helping me write memos more accurately once I got home. After two months in the field, I coded my notes and developed analytic memos, which resulted in my three findings: banking, health, and social interactions. I saw the themes through what was happening in the neighborhood, and they all appeared consistently and extensively in all my field notes.
My analytic process incorporated Joaquin’s perspective, including his reflections on my preliminary findings. When there were no customers, I told Joaquin about my preliminary finding and analytic memos asking for his thoughts and critiques. For the most part, Joaquin agreed with my analysis and elaborated on how he took on these roles. Lastly, after discussing my findings with Joaquin, I conducted a short informal interview with him about his perspective and how he viewed his role. I finalized my findings by staying true to the data and incorporating his feedback. I also discussed the issue of confidentiality and masking, explaining my reasons for this work and the reality of the risk and benefits of ethnography (Jerolmack & Murphy 2019; Lofland et al.,2006). Keeping this in mind, throughout my fieldwork, I made sure to include Joaquin’s voice and consent throughout the process. After days of deliberation Joaquin requested, “No más no pongas mi nombre ni el lugar cuando lo públicas, di que es en otra ciudad [Just don’t put my name or the place when you publish it, put another city].” Honoring Joaquin’s request I created pseudonyms for him and the neighborhood. Upon leaving my first day of fieldwork I received a text message saying, “El chisme no se documenta [The gossip should not be documented]” a friendly reminder to mask my data. My findings consist of how I observed Joaquin’s larger role in the Manzanita community.
My first day in the field was the last week of February. I sat on top of a white dusty cooler, one of the two coolers where Joaquin stores beverages. The inside of his truck was a colorful display of merchandise consisting of Takis, bright pink and green chips, and stacks of bread on the side (see Figure 1). A few minutes after my arrival, a Latino man came to the truck and gave Joaquin a check. The man noticed my presence and quickly asked, “Ella quien es [Who is she]?” Joaquin assured him of my identity and stated that I am conducting a study. Joaquin looked at the check and brought out a clipboard and pen that were hiding behind a shelf of merchandise. Joaquin wrote on his clipboard, had the man sign the check, and gave him a few hundred dollars. The man joked with Joaquin about his check being less than usual and the $20 fee Joaquin charged him. Joaquin laughed and the man left without his check and the new cash in hand. Once he left, Joaquin shared with me that he often cashes out people’s checks for a $20 fee for his informal banking services. Additionally, Joaquin deducted $40 from the check because the man had an outstanding balance. The man works in a hospital nearby and comes to Joaquin’s truck bi-weekly to cash his check. Joaquin informed me that the man’s paycheck was $800, while on average it is over $1,000, making Joaquin wonder if the man had taken any vacations or sick days or if his hours were reduced. In one hour, Joaquin cashed out 5 checks from different men, all Latinos and Spanish-speaking. Some of these men also had a recurring debt with Joaquin. Joaquin’s actions of cashing out checks and loaning money reflected those of a banker.
Joaquin engages in banking by providing instant access to funds for a fee and extending credit and loans to his customers with interest rates. Joaquin would make a list with the name of the person, the products they bought, and the amount they owed him. People showed up at the truck to drop off the payments of their debt. Parents also sent their children to Joaquin’s truck asking how much their parents owed him, ran back home, and came back with cash to pay a portion of the debt. Joaquin offered credit to nearby residents operating as a convenient, family-oriented, and informal banking system.
However, there are pitfalls to such banking practices. Dona Lupe’s two sons, who lived in the apartments across from Joaquin’s truck for two decades, each owed Joaquin over $300, estimating a cumulative debt of $600. Her sons do not visit their mother at the apartments or Joaquin’s truck anymore. Joaquin never sold items to Dona Lupe’s sons again and began to be more careful about the amount of credit he offered and to whom. As I delved deeper into the fieldsite, I observed Joaquin’s banking strategies of engaging in the informal economy by cashing checks, accounting, offering credit and payment plans, and refusing services to those with a bad credit history and reputation.
The Manzanita community is predominantly composed by immigrant working-class mixed-status households. Mixed-status households refer to having at least one family member not having legal status in the U.S. and other members being citizens, legal residents, or some type of legal status. Because some Manzanita residents do not have a social security number, they are ineligible to open bank accounts to cash out their checks. Other barriers besides legal status also restricted Manzanita residents, such as distrust of formal banks, bad credit, and lack of knowledge of technology or banking practices. It is also important to note that Joaquin was accessible and familiar, and had created rapport with the community, creating not only a customer relationship but a financial one too. Joaquin also resembled the community he served, by being an immigrant from Mexico and speaking Spanish. He was able to successfully create social ties with Manzanita residents because formal banks did not make them feel welcome, were unable to fit their needs, and had not earned their trust. This finding aligns with existing literature on ethnic and informal banking on how immigrants from working-class backgrounds create informal banking, such as Joaquin’s truck.
Alternative Healthcare Advisor
Purchasing items from Joaquin came with an exchange in conversation with health being a major topic. For instance, Letty, a Latina woman in her late 40s, asked for two pounds of tomatoes and cilantro. Joaquin went to grab the tomatoes and weighed them on his scale. As Joaquin weighed the bag of tomatoes he said,
“Y tus piernas cómo siguen [How are your legs doing]?”
Letty responds, “Pues muy mal, todavía me duelen y están hinchadas [Well pretty bad, it still hurts and they are swollen].”
Joaquin quickly shares, “Mira, compra esta hierba, conviértala en un té, bébala con mucha mucha fe y debería reducir lo hinchado [Look, buy this herb, turn it into a tea, drink it with lots and lots of faith, and it should reduce the swelling]!”
Letty agreed and took mental notes on what Joaquin told her by asking him to repeat himself. He handed her the tomatoes and cilantro, and Letty gave Joaquin 3 dollars.
On another occasion, Joaquin gave an observational diagnosis of a man’s health problem. Rica, a Latino man in his mid-30s, told Joaquin he needed a Gatorade because he was not feeling well. Specifically, Rica’s throat was hurting. I went to the refrigerator and grabbed Rica the coldest Gatorade I could find. Rica shared that he drank cold water with ice after working hard in construction yesterday and he woke up feeling sick. Joaquin reassured Rica that it was because his body’s temperature was hot from the manual labor so drinking the cold water put his body in a state of shock making him sick. Joaquin reassured him that rest and the Gatorade will make him feel better after charging him $4.50 for the drink and a bag of Lays chips. At times, Joaquin’s advice can be contradictory, such as having a sick man purchase a cold drink after he told him it was a cold beverage that made him sick to begin with. This can be presumed because his rationalization is to have customers buy a product.
Joaquin continued giving customers home remedies, diagnoses, and his unfiltered opinion on their health. He often followed up with community members if they had surgery, health visits, or on their overall well-being. Joaquin spoke openly about his opinions on health matters usually ending with a recommendation or suggestion on how the customer can improve their health. Below is a photograph (see Figure 2), I took of Joaquin holding a home remedy he shared with a Manzanita resident for a health problem. His mom had given him the plant and disclosed that it can cure illnesses and diseases. Joaquin’s mom is from a small village in Mexico, where they rely less on doctors and more on herbal medicine. She passes down her wisdom of plants, medicine, and health to Joaquin, giving him the confidence and tools to pass the information to his customers.
Generally, Latinx people tend to have a distrustful and fearful relationship with the healthcare system and formal institutions (Rastogi, Massey-Hasting, and Wieling 2012). This relationship between negative views and distrust of health professionals can be seen throughout the pandemic. This was no different for Joaquin and the Manzanita residents who were vocal about their wariness of doctors. As a result, these communities go to familiar networks to obtain health advice and remedies. These networks are usually friends, family, and other people who look like them. As a result of the fear and inaccessibility, Manzanita residents confided in Joaquin about their health problems. Joaquin was able to make recommendations on remedies, offer informal diagnoses, and check in with customers about their well-being and health. He took on an alternative role as a healthcare advisor because Manzanita residents did not feel comfortable with health professionals due to historical malpractices, language barriers, and inaccessibility. As a result, Joaquin offers complimentary health advice with the purchase of products to the Manzanita neighborhood, showcasing his role as an alternative healthcare advisor but staying true to his business of vending.
Joaquin knows the Manzanita neighborhood and his customers’ personal business. Upon each visit to my field site, Joaquin’s truck was never empty. His truck served as a place to socialize and gossip. It was also conveniently located in the middle of the street where one can see residents leaving home, coming back home from work, cops arresting people, local gang activity, and children coming home from school. For the most part, Joaquin’s truck had a least one visitor, ranging from an old man drinking a Coca-Cola soda can standing outside Joaquin’s truck, a woman inquiring about her debt, a young boy buying a large bag of Takis, or a bald young man with a tattoo on his lower left eye shopping for cigarettes. Because of Joaquin’s multiple interactions with community members and years of business, he was always the first to find out the latest news on people’s intimate life and the community.
During one of my field site days, Efrain, a Latino man in his late 70s, was talking to Joaquin. Efrain had lived in the Manzanita neighborhood for over 30 years and had developed a friendship with Joaquin after years of buying his daughters and granddaughters candy from Joaquin’s truck. Joaquin and Efrain greeted me and went back to talking as I sat inside Joaquin’s truck. Joaquin continued,
“Pensé que eran los cohetes de Disneylandia, había policías por todas partes no sabía en qué dirección ir [I thought they were Disneyland fireworks, there was police all over].”
Efrain asked, “Pero que pasó [But what happened]?”
Joaquin replied, “Le dispararon cuatro veces por la espalda mientras andaba en patineta. Lo han estado siguiendo. Estaba relacionado con pandillas [They shot him four times in the back while he was riding his skateboard. They must have been following him. He was gang related].”
Joaquin is interrupted by a small boy asking for a large bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The boy gives Joaquin $3.50 and leaves with the party-size bag of chips. Joaquin goes back to tell Efrain about the young man who was shot. A few men stopped by and Joaquin begins the story of the shooting all over again to inform his new listeners. I heard Joaquin tell the same story over and over again to every adult who passed by his truck. Joaquin was quickly spreading the details of the shooting like wildfire, disclosing the time, location, and identity of the person. He made sure to tell his listeners that he has known the young man from a young age and was a very respectful person with kids who was trying to get out of gang life. Two hours later the sun began to set and a large Black truck parked in the middle of the street blocking the road. A bald skinny man comes out of the Black truck and tells Joaquin,
“Tengo buenas noticias, está vivo! Gracias a Dios. [I have good news, he is alive! Thanks to God].”
The man informs Joaquin that the man is in a coma. Joaquin and the man discuss the shooting and their emotions concerning the young man and his family. When the man left Joaquin began quickly telling his customers the great news. This interaction showed how Joaquin became a key informant in spreading the neighborhood’s latest news. It also demonstrates the level of trust community members had in Joaquin as he was one of the first people to be informed of the young man’s medical status.
Additionally, Joaquin would inform me about the neighborhood’s activities such as drug use, adultery, and gentrification. A homeless man pushing a cart would pass by and Joaquin would share how the man fell into drugs after a hard divorce. If a man came to cash out a check, once he would leave, Joaquin would let me know that he is having an affair and marital issues. There were times when Joaquin would catch a city official taking pictures of apartments letting me know that the city has come to offer apartment owners money for their property attempting to displace residents, an occurrence of gentrification. Joaquin informed residents of crime, gang activity, cheating scandals, and possible displacement as a result of his vending location being on the public street, his years of knowing the residents, and the social issues arising in the neighborhood.
In previous years, there was a gang injunction that created heavy policing and resulted in the arrest and deportation of many Manzanita residents. Because Manzanita is a Spanish-speaking immigrant community, most of the community sticks to themselves and receives information based on their interactions with Joaquin. He was able to obtain and spread information rapidly through his multiple interactions with different people. Joaquin would be in constant contact with everyone, and he would not leave his truck from 9 am-9 pm allowing him to observe the community. Manzanita residents knew that if they needed information on the latest shooting, gang activity, crime, or the juiciest gossip, he would be the first to know. Joaquin confessed his pride and appreciation in having Manzanita residents’ trust, reminiscing, “Me tarde pero con el tiempo me los gane y aquí estoy [It took me a while but over time I won them over, and here I am].” Joaquin’s years of loyalty lent him to know everyone’s business and inform people of the latest incident, a quality only attributed to public characters.
When street vendors sell to people, they have short conversations discussing a wide range of topics all while taking part in the informal economy. Some of these topics are about health, current events, or their own personal life. Findings from this study reveal that these small interactions are valuable and have meaning. I argue that a street vendor can take on multiple responsibilities in response to a neighborhood’s lack of resources and accessibility to formal structures. This is seen through my field observations of Joaquin in the Manzanita neighborhood and can be extended to different vendors, such as looking at the value of having fruit vendors, small taco spots at the corner of streets, and other small businesses. This work also improves our collective understanding of how vendors are positive contributors to a community in a society where they are exploited and heavily regulated by formal institutions (Etzold 2015).
The Manzanita neighborhood is a Latinx immigrant working-class neighborhood where most residents have low levels of education and are distrustful of institutions like banking systems and healthcare professionals. Consequently, Joaquin becomes a form of relief to the gap in services in the Manzanita neighborhood because he is an immigrant from Mexico, speaks their language, shares their customs, and has been able to build trust with them. According to a study, Latinx immigrants are the most unbanked population in the US due to legal, language, and trust barriers (Aizcorbe, Kennickell, and Moore 2003; Bullet al., 2020). Similarly, most of Joaquin’s customers are Latinx immigrants and do not have bank accounts, therefore Joaquin uses his capital to cash out Manzanita residents’ checks for a $20 fee. He also offers payment plans offering people to pay him in the next billing cycle. Additionally, immigrants and Latinx folks have difficulty accessing and receiving medical care because of financial and cultural competency factors (Rastogi, Massey-Hasting, and Wieling 2012). The barrier to health services and lack of accessibility to health professionals led to Joaquin’s role as an alternative health advisor by always engaging in the topic of health with his customers offering home remedies, discussing diagnoses, and checking in on residents’ health. Lastly, street vendors have been labeled public characters because of their interactions with multiple people and their sharing of information (Duneier 2001; Jacobs 1961). Joaquin became Manzanita’s public character because of his interactions with residents over the years and the diffusion of information about the neighborhood’s activity. Joaquin is primarily a mobile food truck vendor but also has other much-needed roles like a banker, alternative health advisor, and public character.
I came to my findings after I spent three months with Joaquin observing him and taking on an active role in assisting in selling and cleaning his truck. However, my findings are limited to only one street vendor and one occupation of vending. Additionally, I was limited by the time constraint of being in the field for three months, but I reached saturation due to my lifelong relationship with Joaquin and the Manzanita neighborhood. Despite the limitations, I conclude on Joaquin’s three roles and how and why he was able to take them on.
Future work should expand on this conversation and conduct a historical approach of street vendors documenting their presence and erasure from mainstream society. Additionally, I encourage scholars to look at how street vendors contribute to awareness and advocacy toward accessible services for the communities they serve. Lastly, gender, legal status, and context of reception should be analyzed in how street vendors navigate vending and community building. For example, female vendors use gender to their advantage, engaging in flirtatious talking to increase sales, keep customers, and obtain information (Rosales 2020). Reinstating the importance of expanding this work to capture how different factors impact how vendors interact and are being interacted with.
Overall, it is important to think about how street vendors become part of the community in unique roles and the ways they give to the community in non-monetary ways. Street vendors have been viewed mainly through an economical framework, but I argue they are more than what they sell. Their interactions with residents are a representation of the need for more inclusive banking regulations, culturally competent health services, and nontraditional ways of spreading information. I end by recognizing the labor of street vending and thanking Joaquin and Manzanita residents for allowing me to conduct this project with open arms and hearts.¡Gracias Joaquin por todos los años de tu servicio! [Thank you Joaquin for your years of service!]
This paper was developed out of an Ethnography course taught by Dr. Rocio Rosales and Dr. Irene Vega at the University of California, Irvine. I am incredibly grateful to you both for teaching me how to conduct critical and meaningful ethnography. Thank you to Joaquin and the Manzanita residents, I hope you enjoy this piece that arose from the heart. Lastly, thank you to Humberto Flores for the emotional and intellectual support.
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