Street Vendors Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Enrique Grijalva

I’m the son of a street vendor. I know the struggle and the daily grind. I know that in order to be successful you must possess tenacity, patience, and dedication, with a healthy business acumen that requires a little luck. Vendors are businesspeople. They’re their own bosses, in the toughest environment in New York City — the streets. Because of this, I will always support our street vendors.

My father had a job when I was a kid, so I was under the impression that we weren’t necessarily hurting for money. But when you’re feeding, clothing, and sheltering two kids in the City, as an immigrant in America — who can’t speak, read, or write in English and has a first grade education — job security is an illusion. So, any extra income was welcomed.

Each summer, my father would sell various goods at a neighborhood street market. They were mostly rare, promotional items or prototypes he would bring home from work, which was either thrown away or given away. Most of it never moved and, at the time, there wasn’t any pressure to sell them.

However, a few years later, when my father lost his job, it was crucial for him to start moving those items. (At the time, my mother wasn’t working and my sister was on her way to college.) But he soon realized that no one wanted to buy any of those novelty pieces he was trying to sell. So he turned to something that was moving on the streets.

In the land before streaming music services like Spotify, before the iPod existed, and before Napster sent music industry sales into a downward spiral, there was a time when the CD player was considered as luxurious as the Apple Watch. During this era, in the mid-1990s, sensing the black market’s advent of the bootleg Compact Disc, the cassette tape was scripting its final chapter.

My father began selling old school Latin American music. It kept food in my stomach, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and it helped put my sister through college.

His customers were loyal to my father, because he had the best quality tapes and he could get his hands on the rarest records — the demand for music was high. My father had cornered the market and became well-known in my neighborhood among old school Latin American music aficionados.

Although my mother had eventually found a good, secure job which included medical benefits, paid vacations, and a 401(k), my father continued to sell music on the streets.

Life has made my father an extremely stubborn man. If he lives to see next month, he’ll be 73 years old. It’s been over 65 years since he last had any parents. It’s been 20 years since he has had a traditional job or a boss. He’s a diabetic, and over the last four years he has seen his vision deteriorate, because he mostly refuses his doctor’s medical advice. For the majority of his life he has not answered to anyone (except my mother). He has always been his own boss, and it made sense that he was most successful (and happy) as a street vendor.

Despite his inevitable death looming over him, he somehow manages to still get out there in the streets, at least once a week, and sell some music. My mother recently retired, I’m old enough to fend for myself, and my sister has her own family. He doesn’t need to work anymore, but he still does. Truthfully, he loves it. He’s never said it in those exact words, but he does. It gives him a purpose (now more than ever).

So, my father spends his entire week preparing for the only day my mother will allow him to go sell some music.

I’m the son of a New York City street vendor.