Seven or eight years ago, there were dozens of vendors like Caridad Vasquez on Breed Street, most of whom congregated at the corner of East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in the parking lot of the now-defunct Big Buy Foods. In 2009, after a series of small crackdowns, the city of Los Angeles finally put its foot down on this illegal street fair: don’t come back, or you will be arrested. The vendors did as the city ordered and did not return.
Except for Vasquez. She is, she says, the last holdout. La última. And she says she isn’t going anywhere. Whether or not she is, in fact, the last of the illegal vendors on Breed Street is not really possible to verify: the vendors are, by definition, itinerant and constantly moving, so it’s hard to say who may or may not be there from night to night. But I visited Vasquez on at least four occasions, and it seemed she was right (Breed Street in Boyle Heights isn’t very long, a little more than a mile). While I spotted a few permitted trailers on the streets, only Vasquez had a regular sidewalk operation, the type of business that the city can, if it so desires, confiscate and destroy at any time: a grill set up on the sidewalk, folding tables and plastic tablecloths, a couple of small benches, a string of lights powered by a Coleman generator.