Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: An Honest Hustle

Part two of several stories about Hialeah.

Carlos Miller interviewing a Hialeah street vendor.

The second installment of Yo Soy Hialeah focuses on the city's street vendors. Carlos Miller and I spent a day seeking out the hard working peddlers in some of Hialeah's busiest intersections.  Filming wasn't easy.  We had to dash in between cars and trucks as they pounded the pavement.

None of the men we interviewed spoke English. We have a few explanatory subtitles in the video but you can read about their lives below.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Marcos Estopiñan (a.k.a. "El Manicero," or peanut vendor), is a former trapeze artist from Cuba who worked with Ringling Brothers Circus in the U.S. until an injury halted his career.  He's still quite the performer though, peddling peanuts in a hairy intersection while entertaining commuters with his upbeat personality and singing.

Marcos lives in Little Havana with his wife and commutes to Hialeah on a motorcycle. His daughter is studious and is looking forward to college, although he makes only $50 a day at his job.  Marcos works without an official street vendor's license.

Alberto from Nicaragua sells bottled water and churros (fried-dough pastry covered with sugar) at another busy intersection.  He was fined $350 for not having a license; it took him seven days to recoup that fine. He told us that street peddling isn't easy, because many people who drive by can be nasty, although some are nice.  "It's risky dealing with so many cars," he said.

Despite a meager income, he still manages to help out his family in Central America.  Alberto has been living in the U.S. for five years and became a street vendor because he couldn't find any other kind of employment.

Gilberto immigrated from Cuba in 1994. The former bus driver worked as a welder in the U.S. until a motorcycle accident left him in a coma for eight days and an injured hand. Since the accident took place on the road, he was ineligible for workmen's compensation and other work-related benefits.

Like El Manicero, Gilberto has a positive outlook and banters with potential customers even if they don't purchase any of his wares, which on the day of the shoot were solar-powered dashboard clocks. 

Gilberto had a protégé of sorts -- 18 year-old Johnny who claimed he was from Argentina, although he had no accent. Johnny told us he likes to work hard and make an honest living instead of a dishonest one. "I like to be decent with folks. I try to sell these little things to eat," he added. "Because if not I won't have food." On the day of the shoot, he told us he was saving money to get his $90 street vendor's permit and that he really wanted to go to college.

Documenting the lives of these men was a very challenging; we had to improvise and get these strangers to open up to us.

It was also humbling.

Their determination and fortitude made me gain a new appreciation for hard working immigrants who just want to make an honest living.  This is just as much part of the real America for me, beyond the hallowed halls of white collar kingdoms.

My father, a Cuban immigrant, thankfully found work here as an architect -- he revalidated his license to practice in the U.S. -- but I remember hearing stories about Cubans who were successful professionals in Cuba, forced to step down to eke a living during the initial exodus.  Some would stand on street corners under flight paths to clean windshields.

While researching the topic of Florida's street vendors, I came across a Virginia-based organization that filed a lawsuit against the city of Hialeah.

"In October 2011, the newly created Institute for Justice Florida Chapter filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of street vendors.  These vendors are challenging a law passed by the city of Hialeah, Fla. (located near Miami), that not only makes vendors’ work more dangerous by forcing them to constantly be on the move rather than vend in one location, but also is purposefully anticompetitive—making it impossible for vendors to compete against politically powerful brick-and-mortar businesses."

Read more at the Institute for Justice.

So next time you see those silly looking plastic flower clocks on a dashboard -- they do seem to be ubiquitous in Miami -- think about these hard working men.

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