Street vendors are a staple of Los Angeles culture with an estimated 10,000 sidewalk vendors in the city of Los Angeles. Many of them are undocumented immigrants or just immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves by selling fruit, drinks, and food to bring a little taste of our home countries to the neighborhoods we live in. Unfortunately, they’ve faced many political and economic challenges in the last few years. From having their food thrown out by public health officials to being attacked, run over, and even murdered, street vendors literally put their lives on the line for the sake of survival. Most recently, six street vendors were affected by the November 11 fire on the 10 freeway in downtown LA, which was so massive that it caused Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency. Beneath the freeway was a storage business, which stored vehicles and carts that belonged to fruit vendors Rocio Sanchez, Cesar Gonzalez, Oscar Herrera, Jose Gonzalez, Guiyel Pineda, and Manuel Guachac. Many of the carts were destroyed in the blaze, leaving the vendors without work or equipment and costing them thousands in replacements and repairs, according to L.A. Taco.
“It was horrible, we got there and we were frozen in shock,” Sanchez, who has been vending in LA for over a decade, told L.A. Taco. “My kids always come to work with me and they saw everything burning and the first thing my son said was ‘Mom, how are we going to work?’ I didn’t even know what to tell him, but even he was worried. And he’s right. I keep thinking, ‘how am I going to do it, there’s rain coming, the cold is coming.'”
The Saturday fire raged for three hours before firefighters were able to put it out, damaging the freeway’s guardrails and support columns, and shutting down traffic for days. While the cause was initially unknown, by Monday, Governor Newsom announced that it was an act of arson. For now, a suspect has yet to be found and the repairs for the bridge are currently happening with its reopening planned for next week.
What remains certain is that the lives of these six fruit vendors have been financially impacted beyond belief. Sanchez lost two fruit carts and, while she was able to save a third one, she lost over $3,000 worth of equipment and will likely lose more for repairs. She stated that another unnamed vendor lost seven carts that disintegrated in the flames. A family member of one of the vendors shared a TikTok that showed the aftermath of the fire with the fruit carts burned and charred, and a small fire still burning in the background. As the user stated, no one was physically hurt but all six vendors and their employees have now lost their jobs and a major source of income. For many, vending was their only means of making a living and now they have been forced to start over.
“It has affected us a lot,” Sanchez told the outlet. “I have two other people who helped me sell and worked for me and now they are impacted by this too. We all don’t have a job right now. It’s not just about one of us, those carts were our job, our lives.”
In the meantime, Sanchez in collaboration with the other five vendors have started a GoFundMe to support this difficult transition. Their goal is to reach $15,000 for all six to move forward with repairing and buying new carts. We’re hopeful that they will be able to reach their goal and go back to work with the help and unity of the community.