immigrationthe hot topic of the Summit of the Americas, is present in every corner of Los Angeles: With almost 90% Hispanic population, the neighborhoods that surround the venue of the event reflect the problems of the continent, from inequality to violence of The gang.
A few meters from the Convention Center, where the majority of Latin American leaders will meet this Monday, the places to send money remittances from the US fill the Pico-Union neighborhood, an area also known as the Salvadoran Corridor, where Spanish is heard on every street.
Such is the concentration of Salvadorans, that many inhabitants refer to the area as the 15th Department of El Salvador, a kind of island territory that maintains strong ties with the Central American country.
The dangerous Mara Salvatrucha was born here in 1970, a stigma that carries a neighborhood of working-class families seeking stability despite the uptick in violence in the city, which registered 391 homicides in 2021.
A home-cooked food vendor works in her mobile store in Los Angeles, California. Photo EFE
And it is that if for a few days Los Angeles is going to concentrate politicians from all over the American continent, the rest of the year is already a melting pot of all its cultures.
“It is a city with many opportunities for those who want to get ahead. Latinos and immigrants form a very important part of the city’s economy,” Brenda Montoya, president of the El Salvador Market Vendors Board, told Efe.
Latino and immigrant population
More than 30 years ago, Montoya’s parents immigrated to this metropolis of more than 10 million people.
His story is that of millions of people who populate the second city of the United States: They opened a business here which became the pioneer of an avenue full of food stalls, traditional medicines and pupuserías.
A clothing vendor alluding to El Salvador. Photo EFE
In the days leading up to the Summit, whose motto is “building a sustainable, resilient and equitable future”its owners denounce that a few weeks ago the authorities expelled many merchants to clean the streets.
“They evicted all the vendors to beautify the sidewalk. Right now, in our neighborhood there are more than 100 families who have been left without income,” denounces Montoya, who recalls that street vending is legal throughout the city after activists put pressure on Los Angeles County.
“A person who is 60 or 70 years old is not going to be hired at McDonald’s, depends on his position to live,” he says.
Despite its glamorous image, Southern California reproduces many of the inequalities that plague the continent: The richest areas, such as Bel Air and Beverly Hills, they barely have a 5% Hispanic population while in the much more humble neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, it is 90%.
That is the case of Boyle Heightsicon of the Chicano struggle for equality and place of residence for a good part of the 4.5 million Mexicans who live in Los Angeles, although the significant number of undocumented people makes it difficult to offer an exact estimate.
Away from Hollywood and the powerful entertainment industry, the economy of these neighborhoods is closely linked to Mexican folklore. Its heart is Mariachi Plaza, a gathering place for mariachi groups waiting to be hired.
“El Mercadito” is another popular place in the neighborhood. Packed with taquerias and shops selling religious figureschiles, huaraches and all kinds of traditional products.
View of a sign promoting the sale of pupusas in a store in Los Angeles. Photo EFE
Tere Fuentes attends there, who recognizes that leaving her country was a hard process, but thanks to the “Mexican brotherhood” and her personal “struggle” she managed to “get ahead” in Los Angeles.
Now, based on experience, the shopkeeper originally from Michoacán (central-western Mexico) tries to “prevent the new ones” so that they have an easier path than hers.
Among the newcomers there are people like Rebecawaitress in one of the “El Mercadito” canteens, graduated in Communication Sciences in Sinaloa (northwest) who arrived 4 years ago to seek a better future in California.
“When you come here you have the idea that you will earn a lot of money if you work hard and you can come back to set up a business, but it’s not like thatRebeca said to add that, in the end, many end up staying due to “insecurity and fear of crime” when they return to Mexico.
On average, Latino families earn approximately $61,000 a yearwhile in American households this figure reaches 68,000.
Although many come for a while and end up making a living here, much of the money they generate goes back to their countries. According to the Bank of Mexico, only in 2021 more than 16,000 million dollars came to the country in the form of a remittance from Californiamore than in any other territory of the United States.
“I have always tried to support my family as much as possible. Obviously, my family comes first,” says Tere, excited by the idea of returning.