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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Survival, Economic Mobility, and Community Among Los Angeles Fruit Vendors

  • Author(s): Rosales, Rocio
  • et al.

How do undocumented immigrants survive in a punitive regulatory environment? Drawing upon four years of ethnographic research, this article examines how local repressive policies affect the economic mobility of immigrant fruit vendors in Los Angeles County. In the face of government enforcement, fruit vendors have implemented strategies that allow for short-term survival but fail to bolster long-term upward mobility. The four survival strategies that I analyze include: 1) reliance on kinship and paisano networks; 2) street patrols and alerts; 3) geographical positioning and alliance building; and 4) the performance and maintenance of personal,professional and symbolic hygiene. I argue that the limited gains and continuous lossesexperienced by fruit vendors following health and police department enforcement create a cycle of low income, high debt, and minimal to no mobility. Consequently, fruit vendors have fared much worse than their immigrant informal sector peers (i.e. gardeners, day labourers, and domestic workers). In the end, however, the local regulatory enforcement on fruit vending has not disrupted network-driven immigration nor displaced these informal workers because the survival strategies have fostered a sense of community and reciprocal relationships cemented by financial obligations among the fruit vendors.

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