Before making D.C. her home, Mary was a proud business owner in Oaxaca, Mexico. She loved what she did and loved the fact that she was her own boss. Unfortunately, with Mary being the sole provider for her elder mother and four young sisters, her business was not making enough to make ends meet. Mary decided to immigrate to the United States to earn more and adequately support her family. Mary hit the ground running when she moved to D.C. She quickly landed a full-time job and was able to send money back home. However, this changed when Mary became a mother. One day after picking up her two infant daughters from daycare, she noticed one showed signs of physical abuse. Fearing her daughters would be subjected to further abuse. Mary immediately quit her job to care for them and became a street vendor.

At the start of her street vending venture, Mary sold in front of her daughters’ school. She sold taquitos, fruit salad, elotes locos, tamales, and other Mexican dishes. This allowed Mary to be close to her daughters, and gave her access to loyal returning customers until the local international store owner gave her permission to sell in front of the store. After relocating, Mary began to have repeated encounters with police officers. Some interactions involved threats to throw away Mary’s produce with added threats about reporting her to ICE if she continued to vend. Other encounters involve officers just yelling and talking down to Mary to leave the area, which made Mary feel less than human because the officers refused to have a civil conversation with her. Mary has witnessed other vendors experience the same level of verbal attacks and even one encounter where an officer became physical towards a vendor, pushing the vendor to the ground.

One encounter that stood out the most to Mary and continues to haunt her was when Mary was vending with her daughters, an officer approached them and threatened to arrest Mary and separate her from her daughters. Now, Mary lives in fear whenever she leaves her home, even when she is not street vending. She fears the officer will see her and carry out his threat. Additionally, Mary’s daughters are scarred from the day the officer threatened to separate them; they now tense up and cry when they see an officer even if officers are across the street. Some days the kids ask Mary not to leave the house because they are scared the officer will follow through with his separation threat.

With the ongoing pandemic, Mary feels the pressure more than ever to go out and vend enough to make a living. Along with making sure she does not come across officers, Mary fears the possibility of contracting the COVID-19 every time she leaves the house and then passing it to her daughters, whom both suffer from asthma. Additionally, Mary noticed a decrease in sales because fewer people are out buying food and do not have enough to buy as frequently as they did—the decrease in sales places Mary in financial uncertainty like many others in D.C. Additionally, working as a street vendor makes Mary an excluded worker, meaning she is ineligible to receive unemployment benefits and COVID-19 relief. As of now, street vending is Mary’s only option to have a source of income, and she is hopeful that this pandemic will create change in the way street vending is enforced, and she can make her honest living without living in constant fear.