A couple of times of week, a man shows up at my place of work. He’s a modest-looking person, and the only thing he has on him is a lunch pail. He walks from building to building on our campus and doesn’t bother anyone but most people know why he’s there — he’s selling a selection of mouth-watering lunch items.
Sometimes he has delicious homemade tamales made by his wife. Other times he has hot soups, or caldos, with crackers. He’s been visiting us for years and still, not everyone knows his name but most do love his food.
On Saturdays, outside the town’s central park and on the main boulevard, if you’re taking a morning stroll, you might bump into a woman with a luggage cart. She’s up to the same thing as that man at work. She doesn’t have a sign. Literally no bells or whistles, but we know what she’s all about. She’s selling some homemade burritos.
Once in a while, outside the gas station, another person appears. This time a man with baked goods — empanadas and galletas. Anyone that passes by knows his stuff must be good because the aroma is heavenly. Yet, on most days, most people that come across these folks are too busy to stop and say hello or to even take notice that someone is there.
I find myself guilty of this regularly. These days, it’s hard to focus on what makes us uncomfortable. It’s easier to look the other way, to be dismissive. We don’t want to do it, but we live in a society that has created walls around the very way of life that existed for generations. Those humble vendors, for some reason, make some of us feel uncomfortable.
The lady that was raised to spend hours making those most perfect tamales should reap the rewards of her labor, so she sells them. It’s the kind of stuff people have done in villages, towns, and even cities forever.
Now, it’s hard to do because of the unintended consequences of rules, laws, and regulations meant to protect us. Did she prepare it in a commercial kitchen? What are the ingredients? Are the items refrigerated? Does she have a permit to sell them? Who is she?
I’m lucky to live in a small community, where we accept that people of economically disadvantaged backgrounds have the human right to provide for themselves. I would love to see these hard-working business people all over town, on every corner. From tamales to homemade scarves, what a beauty it would be to see community members showcasing their talents while being accepted by the rest of us.
They can make a buck or two and go home knowing that the community they walk each day is really their community.
City economic development offices are always looking for vendors to call their place home. They help facilitate farmers' markets. They wave fees as incentive for moneymakers to relocate and open up shop. I think they should hire one of these tamale makers extraordinaire as their marketing directors. A person of the streets that knows the people of the streets.
The walls we put up to protect ourselves have sadly pushed others out. We set up rules to make money in a process that restricts the participation of people who are trying to make money themselves. We don’t mean to, but we divide our community leaving out the have nots to appeal to those that have.
So the next time, I see that guy whose name I don’t know but whose product I do love, I’m going to make sure I buy a little extra to share with a co-worker or family member. This way he goes home with a little extra to provide for his family members.
During the process, a purchase of a tamale or caldo will be enjoyed by a neighbor that I didn’t realize lived next door, and a community will be made a little more united. We will know each other a little better.
That’s what delicious homemade food made by regular people has done for generations.