(Left to right) Edin Alex Enamorado, Assemblymember Luz Rivas and Public Information Officer for the LA County Human Relations Commission Antonio Cowser at the "Expressions of Hate on LA's Most Vulnerable Latino Populations" forum Aug. 19. (SFVS Staff)

It happened at a taco stand in Watts, where an African American woman instigated a violent attack against a street vendor. Before fleeing the scene in a pink Lexus sedan, she hurled profanity, threw a street sign and physically assaulted the vendor for allegedly refusing to serve her, because the woman had reportedly taken tacos from the stand on multiple occasions without paying. 

Fortunately, the incident was captured on video, which eventually made its way to the Facebook account of activist and street vendor advocate Edin Alex Enamorado, who shared the video with his 11,000 followers. As a result, the woman was identified and ended up being charged with battery and other charges, and was ultimately fired by her employer.

“The message that we want to send out to people is that if you’re thinking about attacking a street vendor, you should know that these are the consequences that you might face,” said Enamorado, emphasizing that in today’s mobile device and internet era, it’s increasingly difficult for people to hide their identities and avoid real-life repercussions for their actions. “If you are working for a high-end company … that can be taken away.”

Enamorado recounted this story and shared a video of the assault as one of three featured speakers in “Expressions of Hate on LA’s Most Vulnerable Latino Populations,” a public forum presented Aug. 19 at the San Fernando Library that explored violent attacks and hate speech against Latino street vendors and other vulnerable populations. Participants shared experiences and suggestions for responding to incidents and reporting crimes.

The public event was the third and final panel discussion in a series presented by the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper supported by a grant from the California State Library. The grant is intended to help increase public awareness about the statewide Stop the Hate program, which supports hate crime survivors and measures to help reduce hate crimes.

The two other panelists who joined Enamorado for the forum were Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-43), who represents the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and Antonio Cowser, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. 

Supporting Street Vendors

For Enamorado, his passion for supporting street vendors – and putting a spotlight on those who harass or physically attack them – dates back to his childhood in the early 2000s. He was often left home alone, but a bright spot in his solitude was hearing the ding of the bell when the ice cream man arrived in his neighborhood. That special memory created a deep respect and urge to protect those who make their living by selling foods and other goods on the streets, where they are often targeted by harassers – or worse.

In August of 2022, street fruit vendor Elias Gutierrez was fatally shot in front of his 7-year-old daughter during an attempted robbery in Gardena. To date, the killers remain at large. Unfortunately, the tragedy is part of a growing trend, according to Enamorado.

“In the past 10 years, street vendor attacks have spiked 300 percent,” he said. 

Enamorado’s personal tactics for seeking justice for street vendors are not limited to sharing videos he finds online or receives from others that expose harassment or assaults; he also identifies and confronts some of those alleged assailants in person, records their reactions and interactions, and shares their identities with the public. But before blasting people on social media, he tries to give them a chance to apologize for their behavior.

“There’s times that we try to approach these people to [give them the opportunity] to make amends prior to us putting them online,” explained Enamorado. “But when we see that they’re still unapologetic and it seems like it may happen again, then that’s when we have to expose them. We have to show them that there’s different consequences.”

Those consequences – public shaming and maybe even losing their jobs – seem fitting justice for individuals who are negatively impacting the very livelihoods of street vendors, he said.

“Think about what you’re doing to this person – street vendors are small business owners and they have children to feed,” said Enamorado. “I know some people might not agree with this, but I always remember this quote by Malcolm X where he said that justice for us [is] not going to come through legislation, it’s not going to come through a federal judge … it’s going to come through the community, through the people rising up.

“This is definitely a team effort,” he added regarding those who share and re-share his videos and help increase exposure for the cause. “It’s the community that’s tired of it.”

Community Solidarity

Community members in attendance addressed the panelists during the two-hour forum. Several expressed support for the challenges many street vendors face, admiration for Enamorado’s work and suggestions for effecting change, including the need to understand who you are voting for, especially judges, who can have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Others shared their own experiences as advocates for vulnerable loved ones, like Minerva Garcia, who recounted the tragic story of her friend, actor Vanessa Marquez, who was shot and killed in her own home by police during what should have been a routine wellness check.

“No one listened to me,” said Garcia about trying in vain to get help for Marquez, who had multiple health issues and was on the brink of homelessness. Garcia questioned the practice of police responding to wellness checks rather than health care providers. Following the fatal shooting of Marquez, Garcia has become aware of the many Latino families who have been “vulnerable” and wrongfully killed by police. Members of the audience also gave examples of those in the Latino community suffering from mental health issues, the undocumented and the unhoused as falling between the cracks and not receiving adequate help from those agencies that are set up to provide assistance.

Responding to Hate

Cowser with the LA County Human Relations Commission – which tracks hate crimes and is one of the oldest civil rights organizations in LA County – encouraged everyone to report blatant or suspected hate incidents (such as name-calling or posting hate material) via the Commission’s “LA vs. Hate” program (online or by calling 2-1-1). Past hate crimes (a hate incident that may threaten a person’s safety or property) and hate-related violence can also be reported after police have been alerted and those involved are safe.

“If you don’t report something, then we don’t know it’s a problem,” he said, adding that “hate is an equal opportunity employer” that crosses all racial, ethnic and identity lines.

“We’re seeing the community hate on itself …[and] hate on one another, and I think that this is a bigger social phenomenon that we need to be aware of,” he continued.

Cowser described the Commission as a “big wheelhouse” that addresses and tracks the whole range of possible hate incidents and crimes – involving ethnic, racial, LGBTQ and or other targeted groups – because the phenomenon of hate is “all interrelated.”

“We all need to stand together and remember that we’re all our own best allies, because this is a poison that’s starting to metastasize,” he said. “Hate is always on the move. … I can’t hope for a utopia … but I will advocate for most anybody because it’s all advocating for the same purpose … [and] the bigger we can make our coalition, the more change we can make.”

Legislation and Education

Assemblymember Rivas, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, said she has firsthand knowledge of the culture and “entrepreneurial spirit” of street vendors. Despite how common street vendors are in New York City, for example, she feels that in Los Angeles they always have seemed unjustly targeted not only by bigots, but also by owners of brick-and-mortar businesses who don’t appreciate the competition of street vendors.

On the legislative side, Rivas has tried to help change that by supporting state laws that have been passed to help regulate street vending, with the goal of allowing street vendors to operate without being arrested or having their products taken away by police. In 2018, SB 946 was passed to allow local jurisdictions to adopt programs to regulate vendors, and SB 972 was designed to help make it easier for street vendors to obtain health permits.

“We do get a lot of pushback from local governments [who] don’t want to be told what to do by the state,” she said, explaining that the source behind much of the pushback stems from small businesses that think “we should just get rid of street vending in California.”

“Unfortunately, I have some colleagues that would love to just make this all illegal, completely,” said Rivas regarding some of her fellow legislators with opposing views.

“I mean, this is like the history of our country – people starting their food businesses with a small cart and that eventually led to [the creation] of major corporations in some cases,” she said. “I just don’t think that criminalizing street vendors goes with our values as a country … so we’re still continuing to work on this, and we have a lot of members of the Latino Caucus that continue to work in this area, especially around street vendors.”

Enamorado said he believes that “educating our kids” can help people become more accepting of street vendors specifically, and of other cultures and races in general.

“How can we stop this? I think just through education – educating our kids, educating our next generation – to have that empathy [for others], whether they came here illegally or not,” he said. “We shouldn’t treat different people any differently, and I think that’s basically what it comes down to.”

Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this story

For more information about reporting hate crimes, call 2-1-1 or go to: lavshate.org