Fruit of Labor [Fruto de Trabajo]

| October 9, 2004

While once purchasing sliced cucumbers with generous portions of chile, lemon and salt from a pushcart fruit vendor in Chicago’s La Villita, I found myself in a fascinating conversation with the middle-aged entrepeneur. He told me about his start as a fruit vendor in Chicago, all the struggles he has endured in his eleven years working on 26th St. and the new threat of unionized street vendors. He mentioned his concern of losing his corner to someone backed by an established, organized group. He worried of the monopolization of his line of work. In all the years of seeing countless street vendors in La Villita, I did not once consider the seriousness and dedication these people have for what they do until that day.
In the remarkable documentary from Californian Pepe Urquijo, the story of one pushcart fruit vendor becomes the representative voice of many others out there who share the very same American story. Urquijo chronicles the day to day struggles his subject, Santiago “Chago” Cazares, confronts. He is confronted by power mongering police officers, a well meaning, but manipulative union organizer and the cities health department’s demands of legal permits to maintain his business. Chago’s pressures amount financially and emotionally throughout the documentary.
Chago is revealed to be a charismatic and heroic individual with a sincere passion and drive to provide for his family. Urquijo however does not force us to love the pushcart fruit vendor or nor does he try to convince us they’re all as impressive as Chago. We witness one vendor’s own self-destructiveness with alcohol. It becomes a tragic reality as it unfolds.
The street vendor business isn’t romanticized. Chago’s family must wake up in the early hours of dawn to prepare the day’s food in order so that they do not fall behind other vendors. It becomes a ritualistic procedure that takes a toll on everyone. Once they are ready to open up shop, it becomes a legitimate competitive business as vendors work together and compete for customers. For the most part everyone appears to get along and respect each other’s space, but as the street vendor union grows in numbers and many are pressured into joining, allegations of sabotage emerges and forces the cities health department to intervene. Permits become a required necessity to continue one’s business and with only a small amount of permits available, Chago strives and struggles to be one of the few to acquire one.
These types of street vendors are very specific to Latino communities and most noticeably in Mexican neighborhoods. Many of the vendors are undocumented immigrants with little to no English vocabulary. This makes them easy targets for exploitation and abuse from other who can gain from their labor. It takes a strong voice like that of street vendor Santiago “Chago” Cazares and filmmaker Pepe Urquijo to confront and express the injustices that are ignored and Fruit of Labor is just the voice to do it.
For more information on Fruit of Labor and filmmaker Pepe Urquijo visit his site.

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