Meet Three Long Beach Street Vendors

Apr. 23, 2015 / By

With summer coming, it is almost primetime for business for Long Beach’s street vendors. These individuals work even on hot days in the sun, keeping people refreshed with raspados or fresh fruit. They may work seven days a week and for often little pay.

Many set up their own carts and keep all the profits. Some vendors, however, are paid employees using more elegant carts they borrow from the owners who pay them, giving the day’s profits back to the owner. Commonly, the jobs do not come with benefits.

Vendors’ profits vary greatly, depending on how many customers they get, where they sell their wares, and the weather. Many of them are immigrants, often sending back home their marginal profits, which are worth more abroad.

The bells and horn sounds they use to alert pedestrians of their presence are familiar sounds in Long Beach’s immigrant residential areas. Customers interact with them every day, but few pause to get to know their stories. VoiceWaves would like to introduce you to three.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 5.00.51 PMThe Frutero

What he sells: $5 bags of sliced mango, pineapple, orange, honeydew melon, and watermelon spiced with Tajin chile and lemon.

When & where he sells it: Usually Monday through Friday, each day at a different location.

Since coming from Sololá, Guatemala five years ago at the age of 20, Antonio, who did not want to give his last name, lives alone in Los Angeles and sells his fruit in Long Beach.

“Vendiendo fruta? Es saludable (Why sell fruit? It’s healthy),” he said, smiling. According to Antonio, watermelon and mango are his most popular items. “For me, I enjoy everything,” Antonio said.

He’s been a frutero for a year and decided to sell fruit after he experienced extreme difficulty finding a job as an undocumented young person.

“I pay rent, phone bills, and I help my parents” who are still in Sololá, he said. “I send money every month so they don’t lack anything… for they can survive.”

The fruit cart owner pays Antonio minimum wage, $9 an hour. “It’s not enough for everything but it’s more or less okay,” Antonio said. He does not receive any benefits, and said he pays out of pocket when going to the doctor, so he keeps doctor visits rare.

One customer, who knows Antonio and often buys fruit from him, says she has seen many neighborhood street vendors treated unjustly by city workers, who cite and occasionally detain vendors’ food carts.

“Pobre gente (Poor people),” the customer, who didn’t want to give her name, said. To make a living, some women push baby strollers covered with a blanket, hiding their bags of tamales to sell, the customer said. “It’s unjust… being there under the sun selling.”

Antonio, however, has been lucky. He has never had problems with police or city officials.

On his time off, Antonio looks forward to playing soccer at MacArthur Park, close to his home. When he is at home, he plays more soccer on his Playstation. He also goes to Long Beach or Santa Monica beaches to relax.

He makes time to call his parents back in Sololá three times a week. The last time he saw them was seven years ago.

“I ask them how they’re doing, if they are well, and they also ask me if I’m okay, making sure I’m not sad,” Antonio said.

Living in a foreign country alone may sound difficult for a 25-year-old, but Antonio said that is part of life. “I’m already accustomed to living here,” he said.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 4.07.28 PMThe Raspado and Elote Man

What he sells: Raspados (fruit flavored sugared ice), elotes (corn on the cob served with mayonnaise, cheese, and sour cream), and chicharrones (fried pork chips).

When & where he sells it: Every day except rainy days, along 10th Street and nearby areas.

Eliseo Benitez is his own boss. He sets up his own cart and describes his job as “very pleasant.”

“I never have problems with people,” Benitez said in Spanish.

Benitez, 48, is from Ecatepec, Mexico and has lived in Long Beach for five years. His wife and grown children are still in Mexico. “We’re here working to get ahead in life for the family,” Benitez said.

But he does not have papers. “The situation is very hard… I only have enough to eat, clothe myself, and pay the rent,” Benitez said.

To make ends meet, Benitez works from 12pm until 7pm, seven days a week. He even works on Christmas.

“I never take days off,” Benitez said. “I only rest when it rains.”

The amount he makes in a day varies. Some days he makes only $30. On a good day, it can be up to $120. He gets his supplies from Los Angeles, and he then sells the chicharrones for $1.25, elotes for $1.50, and raspados for $2.00.

Benitez’s roommate Guadalupe works cleaning houses in San Pedro, helping with a little less than half of their $750 monthly rent. That leaves Benitez needing to sell about 50 elotes a day, he said, to cover rent and other expenses.

Any extra money he has, he sends to his children back in Mexico. He also helps his wife Maricela, who has cancer and may have six months to a year to live.

Fortunately, it has been hot in Long Beach, and it is becoming prime time to sell refreshing raspados. “Que buena (How great),” Benitez said.

Raspados are Benitez’s personal favorite. They come in flavors including strawberry, coconut, tamarind, gum, and vanilla. The most popular are tamarind and coconut.

Benitez said that he did not come to the U.S. with a plan, besides to “echarle ganas para trabajar (put a lot of effort into working).”

So, when he was first introduced to the street vendor business through a friend, he jumped at the idea. “Let’s do it; why not?” Benitez said.

PEdro1The Ice Cream Man

What he sells: Various flavors and types of ice cream, potato chips, candy.

Where he sells it: On 10th street as well as Cherry Ave.

Though street vendor gigs are commonly immigrant jobs, Pedro Castellanos-Aguilar proves this is not always the case.

Castellanos, 22, rides his ice cream bicycle cart up and down 10th street. His work shirt reads the same name on his cart: “Pedro’s Ice Cream.”

Castellanos, born in Long Beach, is deaf and uses American Sign Language.

The ice cream business, which he has had since 2011, helps him pay his bills, and he also pays taxes for his small business.

However, “work slow,” he wrote in a notebook. Castellanos may have trouble communicating with people, but it is easy for him to make a sale.

This reporter pointed at a picture of a strawberry ice cream, so Castellanos took one out of the ice cream cart. Castellanos then lifted one finger. It cost $1.

In a notebook, Castellanos wrote that he used to work at Chronic Tacos, but after the owners changed, he had to find another job.

Luckily, he also works at a photo and video business now in addition to selling ice cream, and his parents help him with rent.
When it was time for Castellanos to move on to his next customer, he wrote “nice to meet.”

As he was about to ride away, he then turned and pointed to his mouth. This reporter took out the strawberry ice cream he had just bought, which was now a bit squishy from being in the sun. Castellanos took it back and replaced it with a solid one straight from the freezer. He then smiled and rode away.


Michael Lozano

Michael is an editor and multimedia journalist born to Mexican parents who started their own Domestic Violence counseling center in Southeast Los Angeles. His mentorship has provided youth opportunities to share their stories online on NPR, KCET, the Long Beach Post, and other national websites. His articles have been syndicated and translated into multiple languages via New America Media and ImpreMedia, the nation’s largest Spanish-language news publisher. He was a fellow with UCLA's Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies, and has recently been a Votebeat Reporter for CalMatters and the Long Beach Post. Michael graduated from CSULB in 2011 with research honors in Sociology and a Journalism minor. Follow his work @chicanochico on Twitter and @thechicanochicoreport on Instagram.