If you grew up in a Latino neighborhood in the Los Angeles area, chances are you may have heard a bicycle horn from inside your home letting you know there is an elote man nearby.
Elote is spanish for corn, which is what these men will sell you on a stick prepared with butter, mayo, cheese, chili and other toppings of your choosing. Martin Gutierrez, 55 of Lynwood sells corn, snow cones and churros to make money and help support his family who still lives in Mexico. “It’s a lot of work, but I like that I’m my own boss” says Gutierrez. At his age he says finding work is not easy but selling food on the street allows him to at least earn around minimum wage. “To earn a dollar you really have to walk” he says. While not exactly sure of the distance, he estimates he easily walks 10 miles a day.
In addition to all the walking he also faces the risk of assault and having his things confiscated by police which have both happened to Gutierrez. “I’ve had knives pulled out at me before, but thankfully I have never been hurt.” There are over 10,000 street vendors in Los Angeles selling food unlicensed, many of which are immigrants. With about one in ten workers undocumented in California, Gutierrez says “We are hardworking people, we don’t come here to start problems.” Although he is grateful for the United States, if all goes well for Gutierrez he hopes to earn enough money to move back to Mexico and open a small business and finally be reunited with his family.