Every day on downtown Santa Ana’s Fourth Street, store owners and fruit vendors try to persuade passersby to try their products, shouting, “Chicharrones, jugos, sodas, raspados, fruta” with inviting smiles.
On one particular day, I’m standing on the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway helping Aurora, who operates one such stand. It is stocked with chicharrones, sodas, waters, shaven ice, chips of all types and clear plastic boxes of mango, cucumber, watermelon, coconut and melon.
A family of four places an order for chicharrones, otherwise known as fried pork rinds, to be marinated with chile and lemon juice. I hurriedly open the bag and mix in the right amount until Aurora tells me to stop. I shake the bag and open another one. I continuously marinate three bags of chicharrones and move on to serve a cup filled with nanche.
Nanche, a vibrant yellow fruit about half the size of an eyeball, is common in Latin America. I smother the nanche in delicious chamoy sauce, filling the cup until the chamoy sauce is on the verge of seeping out. Adding on the Coke and a blue Gatorade, I charge them $15.50. I hand over the money to Aurora, who puts it in her apron pocket with the rest of the day’s earnings.
As we wait for more customers to buy our delicious fruit and refreshments, Aurora sits in her white chair by the trash can while I make myself comfortable on the ground. Aurora tightens her grey cap over her hair and adjusts her red apron as we both continue to yell “Chicharrones, jugos, sodas, raspados, fruta!”
Love and Strength
Wearing two sweaters, Aurora is not bothered by the 60 degree weather. Aurora calls every man and woman passing by “precious,” every little girl passing by “princess,” and every little boy passing by “prince.” With a grin that shows her two platinum-framed buck teeth, Aurora sweetly starts a conversation to lure people passing by into a conversation that will eventually end as a sale.
Aurora reassures me in Spanish, “You need to always put love and strength in your work, because your health and living situation depends on your job.”
Aurora’s day begins when the sun is shining brightly at 10 a.m. The driver from the company she works for puts her stand and all the necessary refreshments and fruit in the back of the truck before he picks up Aurora. She then spends the entire day selling without anyone to provide her a break.
The security guard that roams downtown Santa Ana watches over the stand if Aurora ever wants to take a restroom break. After six days a week for five years, Aurora still does not have a complaint.
Five years ago at age 45, Aurora arrived in the United States with a visa. Her husband, now a citizen, brought Aurora, while the rest of her family continues to live in Mexico. Aurora admits that her husband always visits Mexico and she stays working most of the time. With an uncomfortable silence, Aurora abruptly tells me she needs to go to the restroom and suggests I should interview someone else.
Before I leave Aurora’s post, I ask Aurora to write down her name for me. She exclaims, “Oh! I am so sorry but I do not know how to read or write.”
Jose and Socorro
The wind picks up as the leaves blow onto the street and the red-brick sidewalk leading to the end of downtown Santa Ana. I come across a stand with a poster of a young man holding diablitos, a popular spicy drink that contains chamoy and ice topped with a tamarind-covered straw, with a menu underneath including mangoneadas, raspados, tostilocos, platanos dorados.
Without noticing right away, I see an older man next to the poster who looks very much like the young man in the poster. Despite the fact that he gained a few more pounds and has much more grey hair, Jose is his own advertising model.
For the past twenty years, Jose and his wife Socorro independently own their stands. Every box of fruit and every bag of chicharrones reflect Socorro’s handiwork. Socorro packages all the chicharrones with specific stickers that indicate the nutritional facts and ingredients.
Every year, Jose renews the permit in order for both their stands to continue operating in downtown Santa Ana. Every morning for six days of the week, Jose and Socorro arrive at 10 a.m. and unload their truck by themselves. This is the routine Jose and Socorro happily undertake.
Although it seems highly unlikely that they are able to make ends meet with what they sell, Jose and Socorro reassure me that they do not have financial problems. Both of their stands create enough revenue and profit to pay for the mortgage, bills, and food. Jose chooses not to specify the amount they earn with both stands, but he makes it clear that while they might not live luxuriously, they live happily.
Jose shows me the artwork he creates when business is slow. With brilliant watercolors or the black ink of a pen, Jose paints the beautiful landscapes of his hometown in Mexico on white paper plates.
Jose looks up while I am choosing which artwork I want for myself and tells me with a beautifully authentic smile, “You know every day is different. Even though we stay in the same spot, there is always something different. People come up to you and bless you and make your day. It’s beautiful.”
Kenia Torres is part of Voice of OC’s youth media program and a UC Irvine student majoring in literary journalism. She grew up in Santa Ana.