The night before perhaps the most polarizing election day of all time, they all came to work: the few, the proud, the brave street vendors of Los Angeles who provide their communities with wholesome tacos, esquites, churros, and tlacoyos, just like they would any other night of the week.
Most of them picked up street vending as a way to get by on their own when they first emigrated from Mexico years ago, because they couldn't find work elsewhere. And despite Trump's now infamous statement against Mexican immigrants, they all continue to keep their heads down and work through the long night—just as the thousands of Latino back-of-house cooks, dishwashers, and busboys will do in restaurants all over the country.
"Donald Trump is the modern-day Hitler," an elotero in northeast Los Angeles tells me while smearing mayonnaise and cotija cheese on tender ears of white corn. "He is led by money and his anti-immigrant opinions have absolutely no regard for human sentiment. He has gotten rich off exploiting the American system and others."
The elotero will not be voting today because he is undocumented, though he informs me that if he could, he would vote for Hillary Clinton. "Hillary is going to win it for sure, but if by any crazy chance Trump wins, it would mark the collapse—economically and politically—of the United States."
For a husband and wife team from Puebla, Mexico behind one of the oldest cemita poblana trucks off the historic Whittier Boulevard in East LA, the story is a little different because they have both become naturalized citizens, thought they are still a little nervous.
"The first thing that I'm going to do tomorrow is vote for Hillary Clinton. She is my president," the wife tells me.
She refused to tell me her name or let me take a photo of her, but her Puebla-style tlacoyos—black bean-stuffed griddled masa boats—are among the best I've had in the city. They were crispy and chewy, and the thick, bright red and green salsas layered atop of each was as complex as their home country's celebrated mole. The green one was bright and fiery from the tomatillos and generous use of serrano chiles, and the red was even more flavorful from the burnished chiles and garlic used to emulsify the sauce. Both were delicious enough to help me momentarily forget the election.
"If Hillary doesn't win, I just might move back to Mexico where I am welcome and not attacked," she tells me as I pay.
Another anonymous taquero in northeast Los Angeles who first introduced sudadero—braised brisket—tacos to LA when he came from Puebla, Mexico 18 years ago, echoed the same anti-Trump, working-class sentiment. He didn't learn how to prepare brisket tacos until moving to this country and realized that he couldn't find work anywhere because of his undocumented status, so he went to the local butcher, experimented with brisket, invested in a flat-top grill and a cart, and took it to the streets. "When I first came to US, I couldn't find offcuts like tripas, lengua, and buche. Now I can find these off-cuts anywhere. I feel that I helped create a local market for these meats in my neighborhood with my $1 tacos, along with my loyal customers. You would think that Trump would know our buying power by now and recognize our contribution to the economy, but he chooses to be disrespectful."
He is alluding to the $1.5 trillion worth of buying power that Hispanics residing in the US have as of 2015. This number, along with the unprecedented surge in Latino votership nationwide, suggests that Trump will have a hard time getting into the Oval Office.
Another anonymous, undocumented taquero from Puebla in southeast LA tells me he's going to vote for Hillary when I ask him about Trump—until he starts laughing and tells me he was just kidding, because he can't vote. He refers to him as "El Trompa," which is a play on the word for "pig snout" in Spanish. Nonetheless, he gets serious and tells me he hopes Hillary wins because according to him, "Bill Clinton was the best president of our time." He deduces that if Bill was great, Hillary will be, too.
For dessert, I visit a street vendor who has been selling churros in the same spot in Boyle Heights since 1990. She is warm and conversational at first as I hand over my $5 for the paper bag brimming with freshly piped, yeasty churros, but as I ask her for an opinion on Donald Trump, her face turns white as she sees my big camera. She is undocumented and fears that I am working undercover for ICE, since it is not uncommon for undocumented street vendors to get deported if they get caught. It is understandable, of course, since Trump has pretty much become the mascot for deportation in Latino and Hispanic communities.
"I refuse to give any opinion on Trump."
I sense the fear in her statement, just as I did with the rest of the vendors throughout the night. They are all legitimately scared of the possibility of Trump becoming the next president and how that might affect their ability to feed their families and pay rent.
Fortunately for all of them, today is taco Tuesday—and tacos always win.
Editor's note: The interviews with the street vendors have been translated from Spanish.