The video shows a man knocking over the cart of a Mexican street vendor. It's ignited tensions around street vending, which is both ubiquitous and illegal in LA, and about the racial discrimination vendors say they face face.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Here in Los Angeles, if you go downtown on just about any block, you're going to see street vendors selling tacos, sliced fruit, shaved ice. This week, a video posted online showed one of those vendors getting his cart tipped over by a man accusing him of blocking the sidewalk.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible).
MCEVERS: The video got a big response, and here to talk about it is Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch team. Hey.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So the video basically shows, like, a fight between these two men. I mean, there's a lot of videos like this online. Why was this one such a big deal?
FLORIDO: Well, street vendors are an institution here in Los Angeles. They're a big part of the city's cultural fabric. They're everywhere in the city. But street vending is not actually legal in Los Angeles. So there are some residents of LA that still take issue with people selling food illegally on the sidewalk. And I think a lot of people who love their street vendors in their neighborhoods and their communities saw this video and just thought that it was an attack not only on this one man but on this very important cultural institution.
MCEVERS: And people were so upset that they - I mean, hundreds of them went out into the streets in Hollywood over this. And you were there. What were people saying?
FLORIDO: Well, there were a couple of reasons the people were marching, right? One - the main one - was that they want this city to hurry up and speed up the process of legalizing street vending. A few months ago, the city decriminalized street vending in Los Angeles. In other words, you can't get arrested any longer for doing it or even cited in a lot of cases.
But the city still hasn't implemented the sort of administrative infrastructure to permit it and to basically allow people to do it proactively. And so this video kind of reminded people that these are the kinds of vulnerabilities that people who are vending out on the street still face, and they want the city to hurry up and get this done.
MCEVERS: Why did the LA City Council finally decide to decriminalize street vending?
FLORIDO: Yeah. Well, I mean, advocates have been trying for years to legalize street vending in the city. And what finally made it happen, what finally drove the city council to act was the election of Donald Trump and his promise to ramp up deportation efforts. A lot of street vendors in LA are in the country illegally. And so the concern was that if these people are getting cited or arrested for doing this, for trying to make a living, then that could eventually lead them into the deportation machine. And so the city council said, you know what, we finally have to act legalize it. And they're in that process now.
MCEVERS: I mean, there's another interesting thing going on in this video, right? Both people in the video are immigrants. The guy who pushed the cart is from Argentina. And the vendor who owned the cart - who ran the cart - is from Mexico. What are people saying about that?
FLORIDO: Right. So this very interesting thing happens at the end of the video where the vendor turns the camera on himself and we see that he's a dark-skinned man. And he accuses the man who pushed over the cart of being racist. And the Argentine man says, I'm not racist, I'm Argentine. And I think this surprised a lot of people - right? - because it's hard to say for sure what he meant by that, but what a lot of people have interpreted that to mean is that he felt like because he was Latino he could not be racist.
And this has provoked a lot of response among Latinos basically talking about, can we be racist? We can. You know, there are a lot of sort of dynamics within Latino communities that aren't often talked about, about the ways that skin color and class kind of create divisions among Latinos. And so this sort of incident has pushed that conversation up to the surface a little bit. At the protest last night, I met a young woman named Valerie Mendoza Martinez (ph) who was carrying a sign that said (speaking Spanish), meaning corn sellers? Yes. Racists? No. And she told me that that is what people are really talking about here.
VALERIE MENDOZA MARTINEZ: I feel like they definitely are surprised, especially because he was speaking Spanish. And he was a migrant himself. So people are kind of confused and baffled as to why he would do this to someone like him.
FLORIDO: The fact is, Kelly, that these men, although they were both Latino, weren't - in some ways were not alike at all. I mean, Benjamin Ramirez, the street vendor who I interviewed, told me he's in the country illegally. He's dark skin, you know, which comes with all sorts of different sort of implications for your life in the United States versus if you're a white-skinned Latino. And so these are the sorts of conversations I was hearing yesterday that Latinos are kind of trying to grapple with about, what does this mean?
MCEVERS: NPR's Adrian Florido. Thank you.
FLORIDO: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.