Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico

Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico

Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico

Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico

Synopsis

No visitor to Mexico can fail to recognize the omnipresence of street vendors, selling products ranging from fruits and vegetables to prepared food and clothes. The vendors compose a large part of the informal economy, which altogether represents at least 30 percent of Mexico's economically active population. Neither taxed nor monitored by the government, the informal sector is the fastest growing economic sector in the world.

In Street Democracy Sandra C. Mendiola García explores the political lives and economic significance of this otherwise overlooked population, focusing on the radical street vendors during the 1970s and 1980s in Puebla, Mexico's fourth-largest city. She shows how the Popular Union of Street Vendors challenged the ruling party's ability to control unions and local authorities' power to regulate the use of public space. Since vendors could not strike or stop production like workers in the formal economy, they devised innovative and alternative strategies to protect their right to make a living in public spaces. By examining the political activism and historical relationship of street vendors to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mendiola García offers insights into grassroots organizing, the Mexican Dirty War, and the politics of urban renewal, issues that remain at the core of street vendors' experience even today.

Excerpt

In the early 1970s, a few years after Yolanda Bejarano began selling fruit in Puebla’s downtown streets, she met “El Botas,” a student at the state university who was helping vendors organize. They began dating and fell in love. the young couple had a baby, but soon after, El Botas disengaged from his parental responsibilities. Bejarano became a single mother, selling wares with her son by her side. To this day she keeps photographs of the boy playing on top of the wooden cart she used to transport and display her merchandise. When the police arrived and tried to prevent vendors from selling in public spaces, Bejarano, like many peddlers, could quickly pull the cart, loaded with fruit and her child, and flee. Tired of evading the police and losing merchandise, she became a leading union organizer among her fellow vendors. in the fall of 1973 Bejarano and approximately four hundred others formed the Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors, UPVA). Unlike most Mexican unions the upva was independent from the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI). During the union’s height in the mid-1980s it had some ten thousand members, making the upva the largest organization of its kind in Mexico’s province.

Like their friend Bejarano, Adolfo Corona and his wife, Paula Javier, were politically active vendors. in 1974 they participated in the UPVA’s cultural commission, a group that used art to publicize vendors’ struggles. Corona and Javier wanted to demonstrate how local police officers repressed vendors, so Corona performed the role of a police officer in a . . .

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