Born in Guatemala, Santiaga lived a hard life in her home country, trying to raise her five children, working multiple jobs and was still finding it impossible to make ends meet. In 2008, Santiaga decided to immigrate to the United States to build a better life and made the even more challenging decision to leave her children in Guatemala for two years until she was able to reunite with her children in D.C. and begin their new lives.
Like many individuals across D.C, COVID-19 has gravely impacted Santiaga’s life and left her in a state of uncertainty. Before the pandemic hit D.C., Santiaga worked a full-time job that provided her financial security and allowed her to spend time with her children. That all changed in March of 2020 when Santiaga lost her job and spent months unemployed, not knowing how she would pay her bills and feed her children. After four months of uncertainty and stretching every cent, Santiaga took it upon herself to become a street vendor and sell tamales, atole de elote, and other Guatemalan plates. Being the sole provider in her household, street vending allows Santiaga to have a source of income and the flexibility to care for her children, who are home indefinitely doing online learning. For Santiaga, street vending is the only option to financially survive the ongoing pandemic because none of the jobs for she has applied to in recent months have responded to her.
As a street vendor, Santiaga wakes up at 2:30 in the morning every day to prepare the food she is will sell and safely package every item. While vending on Georgia Avenue, Santiaga has experienced a mix of interactions with local police officers. At the beginning of her street vending venture, an officer approached her and instructed her to close the door on her cart as required by D.C. vending regulations. This officer did not give her a citation or antagonize her with the threat of arrest. Santiaga closed the door without any hesitation and made a mental note to keep her door closed. This interaction gave Santiaga a sense of security - officers were not out to harass her and understood she was merely trying to make an honest living. Santiaga’s second encounter with officers ended that sense of comfort. During her second encounter, a different police officer instructed Santiaga to leave her post and throw away the food she was selling. Santiaga pleaded with the officer and explained she did not want to cause any harm or trouble, she simply wanted to sell some food so she could make a couple bucks to take home for her family. The officer ignored Santiaga’s pleas and ordered her to leave immediately. This encounter occurred in the morning, and Santiaga only made twenty dollars for the entire day, an amount not sufficient to pay any of her bills or buy supplies to make up for her loss. After the incident, Santiaga’s sense of comfort immediately turned into fear and anger. Santiaga fears she will have another encounter with officers that will be more severe and traumatizing than the last, so now she delivers food plates to those she knows. However, Santiaga still battles with understanding why officers make enforcing street vending a priority when vendors are not bothering anyone and are just trying to make an honest, dignified living.