On Saturday, after attending football game at the University of California, Berkeley, with his children and their friends, Martín Flores took out his phone to film a university police officer issuing a citation to a hot dog vendor and also taking the vendor’s money. By Tuesday, Flores’ videos had gotten millions of views, both on Facebook and other social networks, while a GoFundMe campaign started by Flores had already raised close to $75,000.
Minutes after Flores made a Tuesday national television appearance through Skype, the Berkeley alumnus spoke with Latino USA about the videos, what drove him to film the incident and why he feels his videos will help raise awareness for street vendors.
“Part of those funds [from GoFundMe] is going go towards the vendor [named Beto, also identified online as Juan], the vendor that was captured in the video,” Flores said via telephone. “Another portion of those funds is going to supporting the efforts of street vendors. Whether it is developing a pipeline where they can get access to get their permits, whether it is getting access to get food-handling certification, whether it’s an avenue where they can assistance—all this is organic, this was not a part of a plan.”
“This was all happening as the momentum is growing,” Flores added, “and so the bottom line is that the issue here is that street vendors have been criminalized instead of humanized. And so this is an opportunity to get a voice for those street vendors. An opportunity to advocate for street vendors. It’s important that these funds are utilized in a way that recognizes the face of this issue, which is Beto, Juan, the hot dog vendor, but also—he’s a reflection of this community, which are street vendors.”
As for why the reaction to the video matters to him, Flores told Latino USA that “street vendors are very much a part of our immigrant Latino community.”
“They are an example of that targeted community,” Flores continued, “who have been misportrayed. These are hard-working individuals. These are individuals that wake up every day or every night, and they work hard to provide for their family. At the same time, they are working in environments where they take a chance, where they take a chance of having their carts, their product confiscated. They take a chance of getting a ticket. They take the chance of getting incarcerated. All because they want to provide a legitimate living for their family. These are the vulnerable people that come here to do the right thing and instead of identifying a pathway for them, what we have for them is criminalization.”
Flores did admit that he was surprised to see a vendor getting cited on the Berkeley campus.
“To see that and being able to capture that,” Flores explained, “and being at UC Berkeley, which is supposed to be a liberal campus and conscious and so forth, it was a slap in the face. It is a reminder that this is an elitist university. It is a reminder that this issue is real everywhere. What saddened me as well is that I had my 10-year-old daughter next to me. And she’s observing this firsthand. She’s next to me. Side by side. And when we’re done, right before we leave, she’s like, ‘Dad, I want to give him a hug.”
As for UC Berkeley, a Monday statement from Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy stated that university police are instructed to monitor vendors like Beto who have no permit.
“We have instructed our officers to monitor illegal vending outside our event venues. This action has been motivated at least in part by issues of public health, the interests of local small businesses, and even human trafficking,” Biddy said. “In a case such as this, it is typical to collect any suspected illegal funds and enter them into evidence.”
On Sunday, Flores did have the chance to meet with Beto for a local Telemundo interview from the Bay Area.
“He was grateful to connect. He was happy to see me. I mean, I backed him up in front of a cop,” Flores said about the meeting. “He felt that support.”
The hope, Flores said, is for Beto to get a food truck from the GoFundMe campaign, but also to help other street vendors—a sentiment Beto shared, according to Flores.
UC Berkeley might also meet with Flores and other alumni who witnessed the incident, although Flores said that it hasn’t been confirmed.
Meanwhile, Flores hopes the reaction to the video will lead to some change regarding street vendors, a topic that also made national and global news earlier this year when the video of a Los Angeles elotero being harassed went viral.
“I hope some of our elected officials or policymakers wake up and speak up, and stop hiding behind that desk,” Flores said. “I would love to see elected officials speak up on this issue. They’re representing these communities. It shouldn’t be Martín Flores, an everyday citizen and father of five, who’s got his full-time job and everything else. It should be myself, other community members, elected officials, stakeholders that are speaking their voice.”