Op-ed: Street vendors are the heart and soul of our community

Photograph courtesy of Make the Road Nevada

By Samuel Cano

October 2, 2023

When my family first arrived in the United States, my parents realized they would need to search for means to survive. Witnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of our neighborhood in Las Vegas, my parents decided to venture into street food vending. There are more than 56,000 Street Vendors Businesses in the US, representing $2.5 billion in annual revenue, according to industry reach firm IBISWorld.

I vividly remember my mother taking long bus rides to purchase the freshest ingredients days in advance. She would wake up at dawn every weekend, tirelessly preparing everything for the day ahead. Despite having full-time jobs, my parents would spend their weekends selling their cultural food as a way to make ends meet.

It also united our community, as people openly shared their experiences and offered guidance on starting small businesses. Our neighbors played a crucial role in helping my mom establish herself as a street food vendor.

However, our journey as street vendors was challenging. Initially, our modest operations took place in our apartment, and encounters with the police were mostly friendly, with warnings being the norm. As time went on, our situation became more dire. The police approached our landlord, who knew that most families in the building were undocumented and struggled to make ends meet with their full-time jobs alone. To our surprise, the landlord himself offered assistance as our vendor community tried to organize, navigate the obstacles that arose, and continue selling our products.

Sadly, the situation deteriorated further when the local health department began to show up, forcing us to discard our food. For families like mine, this meant losing our primary source of income. I witnessed street food vendors panicking because of the presence of police and city officials. Mothers and elderly individuals were left vulnerable as they fought to protect their businesses, which harmed no one, and instead promoted entrepreneurship and cultural diversity within our communities.

This vulnerability extended beyond encounters with law enforcement. Civilians felt entitled to attack and show violence toward street food vendors because they believed these businesses lacked police protection.

My mother eventually found herself unable to continue selling food due to her full-time job as a housekeeper. Still, my father persevered, vending every weekend. I have joined him in this business for nine years, cherishing our bonding time and feeling immense pride in our shared enterprise.

Through this journey, I have realized that street vending is not just a means of survival for many individuals; it is a testament to their resourcefulness and determination. I have witnessed my father working tirelessly, adapting to countless threats and challenges, including the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic struck, I saw my father defeated for the first time. It shattered me to witness his dreams and hopes fade away. During this time, I understood the importance of licenses and permits. Still, the reality was that obtaining them seemed impossible for street vendors like us. Despite these obstacles, my father’s unwavering dedication and resilience inspired me to work hard and strive for my dreams.

RELATED: What to know about Nevada’s new street vendor law

It was a moment of sheer excitement and hope when I first heard about Make the Road Nevada’s efforts to pass a bill supporting street vendors like us. State Senator Fabian Doñate’s commitment to this cause was a game-changer for many families, including mine. I felt compelled to share our daily reality by providing testimony and traveling to Carson City to advocate for the bill’s passage, speaking for those street vendors like my father, who cannot leave a day’s work because they depend on it.

When I received the news that Senate Bill 92 is now law, my dad was the first person I called. The excitement and joy he felt were palpable. After the devastating blow of the pandemic, this was an affirmation of his worth as a person and an entrepreneur.

This victory fills me with hope, knowing it is the first step towards bringing street vendors out of the shadows. However, there is still much work to be done. The 2025 Legislative Session awaits us, and we will continue to advocate for the rights and empowerment of street vendors. This struggle extends beyond our community; many street vendors are white, Black, and Asian and they rely on street vending for survival as well.

I am grateful for the opportunity to support the most affected communities, working towards a more inclusive and supportive society. Witnessing my dad’s dedication and sacrifices has given me the strength to pursue my dreams. We must continue supporting and uplifting street vendors, recognizing their vital contributions to our communities and economy.

  • Samuel Cano

    Samuel Cano is a passionate advocate for immigrant and human rights at Make the Road Nevada. He leverages his youthful energy and dedication to champion policy reforms, driving transformative change for marginalized communities.



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