Editors’ Note: Every year on Labor Day, Voice of OC profiles working people. This year, we showcase the voices of Santa Ana’s street vendors.
On any given day, while driving or walking the streets of Santa Ana you are sure to find street vendors on a corner. Their bright rainbow umbrellas catch your eye, while the smell of their food and the sound of their horns lure you in for a snack.
They are in neighborhoods and on the sidewalks, out in 100-degree weather, and on cold Winter days. These mobile vendors are there to uplift and serve their community year-round.
Long-time street vendor, Sergio, who sells flowers, often finds refuge from the blistering So-Cal sun under a tree on the corner of Standard and McFadden.
For eight hours a day, six days a week, he sits in his wheelchair selling flowers that sit beside him inside four black buckets.
The vendor who is originally from Iguala, Mexico said a typical work day for him begins at 7 a.m. He buys a few bouquets from another vendor for $7 each and sells them for $10 in an attempt to try and make his money back.
“I make enough to eat, I live alone so I don’t need much, but I make about $25 dollars a day, sometimes more it just depends on the foot traffic,” he said. “I can’t move much so that doesn’t help, but I make enough to get by.”
Sergio began his street vending journey partially out of necessity. He first started out selling peluches stuffed animals, and eventually decided to sell flowers. And although he only has two years of selling bouquets he said he has always had an entrepreneurial side and has always loved vending. His first job in Mexico was at seven years old selling epazote.
“My goal is to work but more important than making money is making people happy,” he said with a smile on his face. “This job is not easy, but talking to my community for a few moments every day brings me joy.”
In another part of Santa Ana, street vendor Jose Dominguez rings the bells attached to his ice cream cart as he crosses the street.
He too works six days a week with the occasional Sunday off.
The paletero, ice cream man, has pushed his cart filled with popsicles and chips from 17th street to Center and Edinger.
His most popular locations are Carr Intermediate School and Jarome Park, he said that’s where he is guaranteed to sell out.
If you ever come across him he will always greet you with a smile and a “¿Cómo estás?” “how are you?”
His daily income is $200 assuming he sells all of his ice creams and added snacks. In order to make sure he sells all of his products, Dominguez walks long distances for seven hours a day, for him, pushing his cart around his city in the hot sun is all worth it.
“This is not just a job to me, as a vendor we need to know how to treat our customers too,” he said as he attended to a crowd of hungry middle school students. “I work very hard, and I have to thank my customers and this city for allowing me to serve them, and for letting me make a living doing what I love which is making people happy, gracias, thank you.”
Down on Fairview and Washington Bartolo Huate Pacheco, 75, a local and beloved paletero prepares to begin his daily shift.
It’s 9:30 a.m. there’s already an excessive heat warning in Orange County and his push cart is filled with different flavors of popsicles. Ready to cool down anyone in sight. The paletero from Guerrero, Mexico has been selling paletas for the past 14 years.
During that time he has been robbed four times and was once run over by a car that left him in the hospital with broken ribs and severe injuries That same year, Pacheco caught COVID and also lost family during the height of the pandemic. Nevertheless, he has persisted and has continued to sell, he said being a vendor although satisfying is not an easy job to do.
“I work every day but I can only work for a few hours because now I get tired easily, so by 5 p.m. I’m already heading back home,” he said in Spanish.
When asked how many miles a day he walks he said, “too many to count.”
The vendor who is soft-spoken and a little shy most recently went viral online after a resident in Santa Ana gifted him with a free haircut and $100, he was so touched by the gesture he was brought to tears.
On an average day, he spends about $250 dollars on products but said sales aren’t always guaranteed, this past weekend out of the $250 he bought he only made back $50.
“That’s the hardest part about doing this, you dont know how much you will make in a day, it’s very uncertain,” he said.
Making matters worse some vendors in Orange County, have faced some backlash over the years, with the confiscation of food and supplies happening in 2017. And most recently the city of Anaheim is thinking of cracking down on unlicensed food vendors which often have larger setups.
Street vendor, Maria Morales, 58, has a stand that serves up pupusas, tamales, hot dogs, and other snacks.
The Michoacán native cleans houses during the week and is a street vendor on the weekends, vending outside of a church during mass hours, where she has been for the past 13 years.
In her time vending, she has also experienced hardships, like having fake money given to her and receiving insults from people walking by.
“They insult me for selling on the street,” she said.
However she doesn’t let that bring her down, her love for holding a tradition of cooking in the streets is greater than any insult someone can throw at her.
“This gift and love for cooking and selling was inherited to me by my mother, she sold fruits and aguas frescas, fruit-infused waters, and would take me with her since I was little,” she said in Spanish.
“Im proud to be a street vendor, it gives me stability, I get to feed my community and satisfy their antojitos, their cravings, all at an affordable price,” Morales said.
With $10 you can get yourself two hefty pupusas and a soda.
The tradition that was passed down to her was also passed down to her daughters, one of which started her own business in 2020.
Elizabeth Carranza, 36, is not new to street vending, just like her mother she too sold at ferias, fairs in the 90s. Helping her mother out by being the cashier or serving beverages to customers.
Now she runs a stand called Lizzard Mama’s Golosinas, where she sells her rim paste that is made from fruits and sells her specialty aguas frescas. She is one of a handful of younger generations that are going into the street vending business. Vending at pop-ups, parties, and occasionally from home.
“I was in a position where COVID hit and I needed to make things happen to be able to support my family because I literally could not find a job,” she said. “So I resorted to what is second nature to me which is being a street vendor and doing something food related”.
For months she perfected her rim dip until it was just right. Like her mother, Carranza has a passion for connecting with people and doing so through her products. She said things have been far from easy in her two years of vending and running her business on her own.
“The permitting system is difficult to navigate even for me, it can definitely be intimidating but you give it a try because you want to grow your business,” she said. “A lot of people start off as street vendors and eventually grow.”
For her, what makes it all worth her time is being in community with people of all ages, including her son who often accompanies her. When asked if she had any message for those wanting to support vendors, who often work through holidays with no days off, she said.
“I would say, just try not to low-ball street vendors because we’re not a corporation. We’re small businesses, start-ups,” Carranza said.
“We deserve respect, supporting us is supporting our dreams because it’s something that we enjoy doing. We’re here for our customers.”
And 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.