The colorful umbrellas of LA Fruteros are powerful symbols against development and COVID

I’m looking for information on the rainbow colored umbrellas preferred by Los Angeles but am not getting anywhere. At Home Depot, they are not displayed between the coolers and the epic grill. Anawalt Lumber carries only delicious earth tones. A few days ago I was even crammed under the canopy of a surprised fruit seller near Hamilton Hay in hopes of finding a manufacturer’s badge. There is no such luck. Nor was there any other clue as to where the parasol came from.

What’s the point of the task at hand? I actually do not have a patio, but I feel guilty because I know so little about what I consider to be an LA civic symbol in a few clicks, I can learn everything there is to know about the tulips of Amsterdam or the sausages of Chicago. But there is no wiki page for the sun-bleached parasols that dot this city.

To me, these umbrellas do much more than block the sun. They represent Los Angeles and its amazing soul and gargle. Adjacent to the cart of doubt, they declare that here, in this place, in this corner, there are fresh fruits cut with salt and chili lime powder.

When I watch with skilled hands slicing the ripe produce, I feel close to the best of the city. The conversations are optimistic, usually about customizing order – light on the jikma for me, thank you. Preparation techniques vary slightly: some vendors season the fruit directly on the cutting board; Others lay down the spices as they gather everything.

Next to the entrance to the highway or nestled near a busy bus stop, the Frutro umbrella symbolizes the long hours that vendors spend on their feet, toiling outside under unforgiving sun, rolling with The tides of passers-by – the ones who always Stop and those who never do – and settle for whatever it takes just to serve the pleasure that is a glass of fresh watermelon squeezed lime juice on a hot day.

And that’s why it bothers me to know Zilges about the umbrellas. And why, when I finally got in Gomez produce and milk On the fringes of the wholesale produce market of the city center and recognizing them, wrapped and standing in a barrel, I am almost dizzy. Here’s where Frutros equips their tools – plastic forks, cup towers, oversized bottles, and yes, those umbrellas.

Selling fruit on the Imperial Road.  Photo by Patric Kuh for LA TACO.
Selling fruit on the Imperial Road. Photo by Patric Kuh for LA TACO.
A fruit seller on Robertson Avenue.
A fruit seller on Robertson Avenue. Photo by Patric Kuh for LA TACO.

In a matter of minutes, I’re ruining one of the shop assistants, David, a native of Torun, Covilla. The price? $ 55. And where are the umbrellas from? “La Verdad,” he says, and poor guess, “Todo and Wayne de China.” He opens one umbrella. Again, no tag. Then a co-worker calls from behind, where the shipping crates are piled up. “China,” he confirms. I’m in a hurry to verify what’s stamped on the cardboard: Beach umbrella with cloth carrying case. Color: 8 colors. Made in China. Bingo!

Well, kind of.

My umbrella trip stemmed from a nagging feeling that there were fewer Protestants around. It’s been a while since I saw the guy At the end of the goal parking lot Who has always eaten the sweetest papaya, and when you think about it, I rarely spy on the lady near the gas station on Sderot El Segundo who has piled the fruit extra high. To find out if my feeling is correct, I contact Rocío Rosales, Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Irvine and author of Protros: Street Sale, Illegality and Ethnic Community in Los Angeles (University of California Press, 2020), a fascinating study highlighting the Faisanaja – many Protestants share common towns and send money back to their families – and the evolving challenges of selling fruit in a public space.

“The farther I went east from Westwood, the more I felt at home,” she tells me.

Rosales’ research began when, shortly after completing her undergraduate degree at Princeton, a native of El Paso, Texas, came to Los Angeles to pursue her doctorate at UCLA. “The farther I went east from Westwood, the more I felt at home,” she tells me. On one of her bus rides across the city, she got off near Crenshaw Wilshire and talked to Frutaro. Thus began six years of fieldwork that led her to commissars, backyards, and with the encouragement of Carmen, one of the central themes in Rosales’ book, wearing an apron of a fruit seller for two summers and operating a cart.

For the record, Rosales takes its fruit without salt – “there’s enough tajine” – and prefers pineapple, watermelon and cucumber. Her knowledge of Frutros is exhaustive and expands from the choice of locations – a constant balance between the reward of foot traffic and the risk of a collision in permit enforcement – to the vague impact that transfer payments have on remote cities. (She traveled to tiny Dos Mondos, Puebla, during her research.)

Umbrellas at Gomez Produce and Dairy.
David, who works at Gomez Productions and Dairy, showcases a Protero umbrella. Photo by Patric Kuh for LA TACO

When I ask honestly if there are indeed fewer vendors nowadays, Rosales is clear in her assessment. “Those who are not harmed by COVID are hurt by a drop in sales,” she says, noting that pedestrian customers disappeared during the epidemic, and with them, the foundations of the “immigrant entrepreneurship” she emphasizes in her book. Carmen, for example, built a business of five carts in five different corners. “She’s in one corner and one cart, which she works on her own.”

Her answer makes me think there are two things Frutrus needs to recover. The first is the support of those of us who are arrogant about vendors, beyond purchasing the occasional fruit cup. “We all need to collectively agree that street acquaintances should be legal, “says Rosales, who still has many members in the Frutaro community. Which reminds me that the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act of 2018 did reduce the punitive measures that can be taken against vendors, but full compliance still requires carts to include Multiple sinks are expensive and suppliers will only sell pre-cut fruit.Can anything be worse for business?

What is a civic symbol? It’s the best place to be captured in a resounding visual way. It could be a proudly worn Dudger hat. It could be a glowing twilight on the San Gabriel Mountains. And it can be a colorful umbrella fluttering in the wind.

But along with some more plausible legal steps, we all need to understand that Frutros represents something authentic, full of soul and more and more important to preserve as the city develops. After all, a not allowed The business has always depended on community recognition of the right to entrepreneurship.

In his book sidewalk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), a sidewalk examination of used Greenwich Village magazine suppliers in New York, sociologist Mitchell Donier uses the term “sustainable habitat” to describe the conditions necessary for commercial activity when it is not officially approved. The key to this is the flow of people who will purchase something. In Donier’s study, business improvement groups and real estate corporations have a different vision, not to mention the urban code on their side.

In Los Angeles, the conversation must be about how the two perspectives can coexist. You just have to look around our neighborhoods to see the loss of “sustainable habitat” when mixed-use retail projects and glass-skinned apartments take over previously muddy city blocks. Brilliant and well-designed, these new buildings are guarded, patrolled and secured. Not an environment that Protro, who has just invested in fresh produce for another day, would want to pay Retro (a person who carries the fruit cart) to deliver a loaded cart to her.

Los Angeles has traditionally allowed the Protestants to exist at the edge of the legal spaces, and even – to honor them – on the steps of the Los Angeles County Supreme Court, so that overall they represent part of the city’s essence. Their umbrellas reflect the refreshing palette of the fruits offered. Wait in line, and enjoy some brotherhood as the coconuts and delicate oranges are coarsely chopped while the city is crammed around you in an ingenious embrace.

What is a civic symbol? It’s the best place to be captured in a resounding visual way. It could be a proudly worn Dudger hat. It could be a glowing twilight on the San Gabriel Mountains. And it can be a colorful umbrella fluttering in the wind.

Just last week, I watched one I had never seen before on a section of the Imperial Highway along the southern tip of LAX. The umbrella did exactly what it was supposed to do: it caught my eye. I was hungry, and the fruit looked beautiful. I had to stop.

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