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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Selling food out of an elotero cart can lead to being targeted by cops

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN
Claire Geriak
Food venders can be found all across Santa Barbara County, but recently tensions have risen between locals and authorities, causing distress and fear in the elotero community. Created on Canva.

During the summer of 2023, the news of street vendors setting up their stands on West Side Santa Barbara flooded the streets. Videos and pictures of taco stands serving multiple people every night appeared all over social media, praising the authenticity of the food and drinks being sold, as well as the great prices and availability. 

But, soon enough, the backlash from members of the community not as frequent as visiting these food vendors also started to appear. Police officers being called to shut down taco stands and more bringing more attention on social media to the lack of permits. 

After growing up in a heavily Hispanic populated neighborhood, I never had the childhood experience of running after the ice cream truck after hearing the song from a block away. Instead, it was the elotero horn hanging from the cart’s handle. 

Kids from all over the neighborhood would swarm the small cart, buying elotes, raspados, and papitas con chile y limón. For just a couple of dollars, there would be enough snacks to feed the entire cluster of kids playing soccer in the street next to the train tracks. 

The eloteros still continue their work, stationed around populated areas in town, staying in one place for hours at a time and pushing their cart around to find a new spot. They work all day, every day, even weekends. 

One of these workers, wanting to stay anonymous due to fear of legal repercussions, has worked as a street vendor for nearly seven years, her parents working for more than 25 years, handing over their line of work to her. She and her husband and children live in Oxnard, driving into town every morning in her work van, with her cart in the back. 

 “Desde que llegamos aquí es a lo que nos hemos dedicado, y no hemos intentado encontrar un trabajo dedicado,” she said, meaning, “Since we got here, its what we have dedicated ourselves to, and we have not found another job.”

Being the oldest sibling, her younger siblings are still in school and living with her parents, while she is independent and married. She has been working only in Santa Barbara, already familiar with the people in the neighborhood, who are equally as familiar with her. 

She has had issues with police officers herself, only recently starting up again when the street food vendors appeared during the summer. 

“Cuando empezaron a vender los taqueros, le gente empezó a decir que iban a mover a todos, entonces andamos con miedo,” the vendor said, meaning, “When the taco stands started, people started to say that they were going to be moved, so we started to fear getting moved as well.”

Five years ago, the cops would get called on her every time she would pass by a certain apartment building, even if she would do her best to stay out of sight and not create too much attention.

“En un mes me dieron tres tickets, porque decía el policía que le habían llamado,” she said, meaning, “In one month, I got three tickets because the cops said they kept getting calls.”

Despite her struggles every time she would explain that she was just working and not stealing anything or causing any trouble, she had to go to court more than once after things escalated.

“Dos veces me tiraron mis cosas los policías. Se llevaron todo. Sabores, chetos, todo. Un policía, hubo una ocasión, donde se llevó mi dinero,” the vendor explained, meaning, “Two times the cops tossed away all my things. They took everything, flavors, cheetos, everything. One cop, on one occasion, took all my money I had made that day.” 

When she went to court and claimed the officer had taken her money, she was told because there had been nothing about money mentioned in the official report, so they couldn’t give the money back. 

“Me dijeron que era mi palabra contra la de un policía. Ya no pude hacer nada, no quise entrar a corte por el miedo, que supuestamente en las cortes había migración,” she said, meaning, “They told me it was my word against a cops. I couldn’t do anything, and I didn’t want to go to court again for fear of immigration.”

After the pandemic, she has started to see a decrease in situations like these, no longer stopped as often by the cops. But it has not stopped. 

These people are humble and hard working, either working with a cart full of snacks or a taco stand selling good food for affordable prices. They always wear a friendly smile and treat you like an old friend, contributing to the hispanic community and culture in their own way.

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