San Diego’s urban community of City Heights, despite possessing a vibrancy and diversity that sets it apart from other neighborhoods, has an unemployment rate nearly four times the national average. As a response to their conditions, many of the residents of this community—who also happen to be immigrants—have created employment opportunities for themselves by entering the informal economy as street food vendors. While the majority of these vendors are temporary immigrant workers, a sizable group is composed of permanent members of the community with strong ties to it. As part of an ongoing effort to address their work-related health and safety concerns, this year’s OHIP campaign in San Diego continues the work that began in 2013 when interns first reached out to paleteros (pushcart ice cream vendors) and other food vendors in an attempt to document their conditions. In addition to re-establishing communication with this population, the campaign started by Mid-City CAN and the Employee Rights Center (ERC) also sought to guide the study towards the goal of policy change. This meant that the research tools had to be revised and expanded to include data not only on paleteros but on vendors of other foods as well. This move was not without its challenges, however, since documenting other food vendors was difficult due to the level of invisibility that they practice. Moreover, three years of surveying this population have revealed serious threats to their psychical and emotional health that make policy change an imperative for the city. Therefore it has become clear that the OHIP study in San Diego is one that must be policy-oriented—meaning that any data gathered must be utilized to substantiate a campaign towards the legalization of street food vending in the city. We admit, however, that this goal is not easily achievable within the next few years and recommend continued communication between the workers and the ERC—especially since the population being served is vulnerable and difficult to document..
“I realized that the struggle to improve health and safety concerns, and indeed all social movements, take time and effort. This work is not easy, but it is important”
– Bryan Fitzgerald (OHIP 2015 intern)
“Working with the vulnerable population of street food vendors has allowed me to recognize the need to create additional spaces for immigrant workers to discuss their conditions in a safe environment, without risk of harassment or adverse repercussion to their well-being.”
-Marcial Gutierrez (OHIP 2015 intern).