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On a hot summer day, a cheerful street vendor named Pedro Castellanos-Aguilar took no breaks to serve a never-ending line of customers eager to get their ice-cold popsicles and drinks. While he wasn’t communicating with words, he did communicate with a series of hand gestures and his smile.
Over 100 people showed up for Pedro’s Buy Out event on Saturday, Aug. 22, organized by the Hood Santa and the Local Hearts Foundation.
The Buy Out Pedro event, a play on “Napoleon Dynamite’s” ‘Vote for Pedro,’ was an idea spurred by Tito Rodriguez, also widely known as the Hood Santa, from the Local Hearts Foundation, who had recently reconnected with Pedro after remembering him and his story.
Pedro Castellanos-Aguilar, 27, is a local deaf street vendor, who has been selling popsicles and other snacks for almost a decade, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on his business.
In a typed message, Castellanos-Aguilar said, “These pandemic days have been the hardest for me because many people don’t buy and I understand."
“Pedro came to my mind, you know […] he’s a street vendor, the pandemic is going on, how is he surviving?”, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez then contacted HJ Chong, co-founder of the Local Hearts Foundation and they decided to do something to help.
“I just said, you know what, we need to do something for him […] and I hit up HJ [Chong] and we decided to do ‘Buy Out Pedro’, which is a bite off ‘Vote for Pedro,'” Rodriguez said.
The flyer for the event even went viral, getting shared by comedian George Lopez and a widely popular comedy page known as Foos Gone Wild where it received over 42,000 likes.
Tito Rodriguez also set up a GoFundMe for Castellanos-Aguilar which has raised $5,065 as of press time.
The Local Hearts Foundation has previously done other community events to help out other local street vendors including Bernardo Nuñez, who’s ice cream cart was robbed. They have also been distributing face masks designed by artist Big Sleeps and pepper sprays to vendors to be able to use for their own protection.
The line for Pedro never stopped in the 90-degree heat. Once it seemed like the tail end of the line was about to pass, more customers showed up to support.
Orders are taken by customers pointing out to the picture of the popsicle desired either on the ice cream cart itself or a menu that Castellanos-Aguilar has, depicting the popsicles and their prices. If one knows sign language they can also communicate with him in that way, otherwise, a thumbs up and a smile will be sufficient to confirm a selection with Pedro.
Castellanos-Aguilar’s family including his father Pedro Leyva-Castellanos and his mother Josefina Melgar-Aguilar were also in attendance to support him.
In an interview with the Signal Tribune in Spanish, Pedro’s father expressed the fear he feels knowing his son is out working late.
“Street vendors can get killed, robbed, they can get hurt or have their belongings be damaged, because they don’t have a safe place where they are working stably, that’s the concern,” said Pedro Sr.
He emphasized that this not only applies to his son but to all street vendors in general.
Just this past June 29, another street vendor, Bililfo Fernandez was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint on 14th and Locust Avenue.
Pedro Sr. pleaded with a message to residents of the city of Long Beach, “I ask the city of Long Beach to support all street vendors, to give them the opportunity to work, I don’t want you stealing from them.”
“We need to take care of each other, there should be no hate, no envy, above all, we all deserve respect,” Pedro Sr. said.
Pedro Jr., the eldest of 5 kids, was born deaf. His parents noticed something was different about him when he was only a few months old.
His sales journey began several years ago according to Pedro Sr., who would give his son money to buy candy, chewing gum, chips and other treats to sell on a small cart that they prepared together.
Pedro Sr. has lived in Long Beach for 55 years. He arrived to Long Beach from his hometown of San Juan Quiotepec in a rural part of Oaxaca, Mexico and has since stayed in Long Beach for the rest of his life.
“I love Long Beach with all my heart,” Pedro Sr. said.
In a typed message, Pedro Jr. said, “Being a street vendor is hard because some days it is very hot and in the rainy days we can’t sell, also because it means risking your life, many of us street vendors get hurt from others, we don’t hurt anyone, we just survive by making a living day by day.”
The Buy Out Pedro event was a huge success. Whether it was customers buying a popsicle and a drink, bringing their own coolers to purchase multiple frozen treats or people simply pulling up to the side of the curb to hand Pedro some money, everyone in attendance did their part to contribute.
“This is proof that we have to use our platform to do good, you know because so many people need it,” Rodriguez said.