The Capitol Riot, which occurred on January 6th, 2022, was President Donald Trump supporters’ way of demonstrating their anger upon his failure of re-election. A mob of almost 2000 unmasked people, flaunting their patriotism with red, white, and blue flags, sieged the L.A. City Hall while hoisting signs manifesting Trump’s famous slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. Others, proudly armored with guns, displayed messages such as, ‘Stop the Steal’ and ‘Drain the “swamp.”
The mob of protesters were enraged by the results of the election during the 2020 presidential contest and began a peaceful march. This conflict-free rally went haywire and transformed into a vicious and frenzied sight wherein physical assault was carried out upon two photographers. Counter-protesters were battered and doused with pepper spray. However, in the thick of such mayhem, an old street food vendor by the name of Gabriel Josè Garcia stood alone with complacency.
This vendor reached his autumn of life at 53 years old and could be seen grilling his food, undisturbed by the chaos. He did what he has been doing for the past 25 years, and he was adamant to carry his weight by marketing his food, one of which is considered L.A.’s most celebrated grub, the Danger Dog.
Donning his usual hat and t-shirt, he had only one thing on his mind, which was to give his family el pan del día (daily bread). In his first language, Spanish, he stated how he had left “it” in the hands of the Lord and how he did not have a single thought about the riot. He was there to earn his living to care for himself and his family.
Garcia said, “I did not plan to go there with the idea of getting hurt or ill. I did not think of the fights happening. I just went there to do my job and earn the money my family needs. Ese día sólo tenía un objetivo en mente y trabajé hasta la noche (That day, I had only one goal in mind and I worked till the night).”
The hoard of Donald Trump patrons noticed Garcia as well and poked fun at him during the event. “What are you doing around this area, amigo?” asked some commenters, “You should be standing over there!” Despite being seen as a nuisance, Garcia felt no danger and stood unafraid in the same spot since the beginning of the day. He set up shop like usual, only worried about getting fined by police or even arrested. His worries increased when he saw how the tension of the rally grew.
A video was taken of Garcia without his knowledge. The team in charge of doing so was representatives of Fox 11 News, and this was screened during their segment, and the clip became virally known in every nook and cranny of social media. The first one to upload this video clip was a Twitter user who goes by the name Edwin Munera. He posted it on his account, unveiling the figure of a masked vendor on the street, Garcia, with a Rams hat on the top of his head and standing unbothered in the cluster that is the crowded rally of Trump supporters.
Munera, on the phone, stated, “I’m only relieved it was possible for him to get the money he well deserved, and that nobody caused any inconsiderate disturbance to him.” Through bated breath, he said, “It’s difficult for Hispanics to get their earnings, or even imagine profits; it’s tough with those people.”
In Garcia’s experience, this was not the first time he witnessed a similar incident. Almost three decades of his involvement in the street vendor scene has equipped him with encounters with several protests and many other huge crowds. Before the Capitol Riot, he saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter processions, which highlighted acts of racism since 2013. Along with this, he was also a witness to the crowds before the electoral results during the Biden-Harris celebration in November.
He continued to stay for a long time during the siege. There was a fight that bloomed among the president’s crowd and the people who criticized him. This was when police officers decided to intervene and handcuff around six people who were part of the brawl that erupted. This fight even reached Spring Street, around the outskirts of the LAPD headquarters. This prompted Garcia to finally thank God for his safety, pack his things, and leave.
Gonzales wore a smile that hid his tiredness. “I don’t feel bothered by criticism; not anymore,” he said, “I’ve worked in this field for a long time, I think you can say I’ve grown accustomed to such situations. The worst part is when police officers arrive without warning and fine us for selling food in this area. It really stings. When there are verbal insults that you hear every day, it doesn’t hurt you. But it’s a completely different thing when you get those ticket fines. A day’s worth of income will be wasted and those sting far greater than any comment.”
He could not earn much money that day, so whatever he had, he pushed down his front pocket and fled the scene. His small red cart was in front of his hands, being moved away squeakily to his usual spot in the Eastern area of Central City. As he was walking away frantically, he recalled hearing the echoes of tear gas going off and fracas echoing in the distance that grew the more he moved forward.
Throughout many obstacles, Garcia works to keep his family well-fed and in school. “It is not what the event is about,” said 22-year-old Juan Garcia Perez, one of his sons. “Prior to the rise of COVID-19, we could travel to different places, even as far as San Francisco or Las Vegas, sometimes even Colorado, to work at soccer games,” Perez states that his father is doing what he does daily, which translates to earning an honest living. However, the clip of him that day during the riot spread fast and wide, and this, according to his family and friends, was a call for concern over his safety.
“I hadn’t even thought about it initially,” Munera said, “I was under the assumption that it would just be a random video of a hot dog vendor. But then it suddenly occurred to me that it was a bloody Trump rally.”
Before the pandemic engulfed the world, Garcia, along with some of his relatives (such as his mother, his mentor and sole introduction to the art of street vending and its minutiae since he was twelve), would go around finding spots to park their little food carts in areas where it was common for a large gathering to occur. The habitual hubs in mind would be at the Staples Center, L.A. Convention Center, Dodgers Stadium, and even outside high schools & elementary schools.
Garcia spoke, “If there was a march held or an event happening, I’d always be there. Whether it’s a buzzing Lakers game or a Black Friday sale at the Staples Center, I’d try my best to show up. No matter what event, I’d be there. Then almost abruptly, these events were canceled and everything shut down.”
Street vendors, who have mostly been those who are of Mexican descent, have fought a long and hard battle in terms of decriminalization of street vendors in L.A. In January 2020, they finally won. However, there was a short-lived celebration due to the problematic permit process pushing vendors to continue illegal vendors without permits.
When the pandemic hit L.A., the unreliable situation of street vendors and their function in the city became significantly worse. “It was disastrous,” Garcia said, “It wasn’t only my problem of course. It was devastating for us all in terms of finance, because I had a huge dependency on events like marches, rallies and such to get my bills paid for housing, food, and everything.”
The family frequently moved around the state due to a lack of finances, endangering their lives and being on the front lines of the pandemic.
Perez stated that five years ago, two residents of Pico-Union passed away after the truck they drove flipped upside down as it was going from San Francisco to Los Angeles. “We grew up together,” he stated, “We sold beside each other. That happened while they were trying to earn money to live, to simply go and sell hot dogs.”
In the previous summer, Garcia encountered three men and was almost mugged while they screamed at him to give them his money when he was trying to sell off his raspados. He had a bright mind and a lucky soul as he ruined their plans when a good samaritan drove by coincidentally and helped him when surrounded by the men.
“That is the tale of every street vendor and their daily lives. How my father has to readjust his plans to make his wages and pay the bills. Sometimes, poverty can be seen as a romanticized narrative, its struggle and hustle can be idealized. But if you look at the bigger picture, there’s layers of hardships.” Perez said.
When he recalls the riot day, Garcia laughs to himself as he tries to decipher his news channel cameo. “Things like this make me too shy,” Garcia said, “If you look closely at the clip, you’ll notice how I moved around. I made attempts to outflank them, but they got me that day. Pero pues aquí estamos (but here we are).”
If you are interested in aiding Garcia and his family, they have come up with a GoFundMe page!