People from all over California came to stand on a Santa Ana street corner on Saturday, showing support for street vendors who do business — often with no protection — from sidewalks, busy intersections, and medians.

Such mobile businesses also provide quick and easy food access for many in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

It comes amidst an ongoing wave of attacks on street vendors across California, many of whom are Latinos and immigrants — paleteros, flower sellers, fruit vendors, among others — supporting themselves and their families with the day’s earnings from their push carts and mobile stalls. 

An execution-style murder of a street vendor in Fresno this month drove many demonstrators to come down to stand on the corner of Bristol Street and Edinger Avenue over the weekend — some of whom said they came all the way from Ontario and even Stockton. 

But another recent attack happened right here in Santa Ana. 

Left to right, Erica Espinoza, 25 and her cousin Danny Gamero, 11, participate in the “Santa Ana Unity Stance,” on the corner of Bristol and Edinger. “Many vendors have been killed, and it is not fair that this happens to them. They are vulnerable and need our support,” says Gamero– this is his first public protest attended. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Left to right, Rebecca Bravo, 40, and her daughter Maryjane, drove from Venice for the Saturday morning protest. “It is important to support street vendors, they are just trying to sell food to take care of their families,” says Maryjane. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Ramon Garcia, a 33-year-old Santa Ana resident and vendor, said he lost $350 when he was robbed on Flower Street four months ago. 

He said he’s worried about much more than the money.

“I fear when I go outside sometimes, any car that stops by I get an uneasy feeling even though they don’t mean harm and are just stopping to buy from me, I just fear that another assault is going to happen to me,” Garcia said in a Saturday interview.

While the “Santa Ana Unity Stance” demonstration on Saturday saw many out-of-towners, the city has its own, controversial history with the very residents who make a living this way.

It’s a history marked by officials’ past attempts to crack down on these roadside and sidewalk operations, as well as on food trucks, raising questions over how officials in Santa Ana truly see these workers: 

Do they see them as entrepreneurs, or public nuisances?

“We need areas that are sanctioned by cities that are well lit, where there is cameras and vendors feel safe. Vendors are vending in areas where there is none of that. We need to act now before it is too late,” says Mia Sanchez, 33, a resident of Stockton Calif., “Fear drives a lot of Latinos in the community. Our grandparents were taught to stay quiet, but we are here to say ‘this is enough.'” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“It would be great if the city had more compassion and respect for our line of work,” said Fortunato Castello, a 57-year-old flower seller, who lost his other job a year ago. 

Castello didn’t know about the scheduled protest, but was selling flowers nearby.

“I started selling flowers and was harassed by police continually on Bristol and Edinger. I got an independent peddler permit at the city and now they leave me alone,” Castello said. “That cost me $280. That’s a lot of money for me. This job is hard, I have no shame doing it.”

Jessie Flores, a local fruit seller, said he’s worked along Edinger Ave for five years: “A lot of people come by asking me for money and there have been four attempted robberies on me, the latest attempt was just four months ago.” 

Flores also happened to be selling nearby the protest. 

When asked what measures he would like Santa Ana officials to take to ensure the safety of workers like him, he said: “I don’t really think about what protections we need, I’m too busy working. I’m just trying to make a living.”

Protestors during the March 27, 2021 “Santa Ana Unity Stance.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Santa Ana Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem David Penaloza said his city’s past attitudes toward street vendors has been questionable, saying in a phone interview Saturday that he sees them “as entrepreneurs” who are part of the community:

“I’ve seen full families out there — mom, dad, two to three kids selling flowers. This isn’t all that some of them do, either. Folks I’ve spoken with work 48 hours a week and on weekends and evenings they do this because they can’t make ends meet. They’re just trying to survive.”

Though Penaloza said some types of street vending, particularly people who sell from the street islands between the city’s busy, car-dominated streets, “cause safety concerns.” 

But he said City Hall could “do a lot better” in protecting these workers. One way they could do that, he said, would be finding appropriate areas or safer medians in the city and designating them for street vendors to work safely and securely: “Whatever we can do to help.”

He also looked at the nearly $143 million in Coronavirus federal aid dollars expected to replenish Santa Ana’s pandemic-damaged coffers: “Even now, with the federal Covid-19 relief dollars we’re receiving, I was thinking, a lot of folks out there aren’t getting stimulus checks.” 

Selina Livanos, a Santa Ana resident who owns a local security company that she says has offered services for some local street vendors, organized Saturday’s demonstration.

“Watching all these attacks, and now the recent murder of the gentleman in Fresno that just kicked it off — I was kind of like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Livanos said. “We’re still doing this? Is this still a problem?” 

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.