honoring dominican street vendors

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Honoring the Dominican street vendors

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Dominican Republic Street Vendors

Heat, perpetual partner of the Dominican on the island, is not a less fierce monster on the other side of the ocean...

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its simply the daily routine

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If you dont believe me, just ask any dominican street vendor

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These people resist, vigorous, the hottest sun, the most burning breeze, the thickest humidity

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all for a measly $5,000.00 pesos (US$146.00) twice a month

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selling newspapers, cell phone cables, calling cards, fruits, anything

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it frightens me to think about what else these people need to do to put some food on the table, and with what energy, after spending the hottest hours of the day baking themselves alive

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In their shoes, the woman waiting for the bus wouldnt think about paying all her sins in this lifetime, she would swear to be living in hell itself

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The Informal Economy

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in the Dominican Republic runs at 20-25%

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But there is another large segment of the population, of people who are employed but whose jobs do not necessarily bring in steady wages

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It is estimated that 40-45% of the population fall under this category of "under employed" people

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Most of these people work in what is called the "Informal Economy"

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Street Vendors are an example of the informal economy

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Workers that struggle every day in this country to make a living

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Far away from executive boardrooms and political trade agreements, the DR's street vendors provide a service to the millions of drivers who take to the streets every day

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It's hard to measure the economic impact that street vendors have on the Dominican economy

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Their sales are almost completely informal, they fill out no forms to establish themselves as legal working entities

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they pay no taxes on their revenues or on the corners they work on and they are almost always on the move, making it difficult to make estimates about this underground economy

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The street vendor culture is governed by its own rules and is defined by its own system of regulations

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Beyond the economic impact, street vendors are part of the cultural makeup of the Dominican experience

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Most street vendors begin their careers on the streets, not by choice, but out of necessity

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The prospect of a source of income as opposed to not eating leads many young Dominicans out onto the streets selling what they can to make enough money for the next meal

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Vendors ply their trade, at times disregarding legal issues that would otherwise deter them from venturing into this hard knocks form of business

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Speaking with some vendors you start to notice a no-nonsense attitude, which drives their efforts to make it through the day

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Julio "Gilbert" Alberto came to Santo Domingo five years ago with the help of his older brother. As he tells it he was just hanging around in his "campo" in San Juan de la Maguana, doing nothing much before he got the chance to come to Santo Domingo

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He wasn't expecting a lot when he got here, but was willing to do whatever necessary to make ends meet

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He soon followed his brother out on to the streets and became one of the many vendors who march up and down the streets and avenues of Santo Domingo selling frio-frio, trying to make an honest buck

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Gilbert also sells baseball flags, rice cakes, caramel pops, and even children's toys. Sometimes he might sell educational tools for kids, books or magazines, cell phone accessories, lollypops, and anything else you can possibly imagine

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Phone card vendors, who sell Verizon, Orange or Tricom cards, walk up and down the streets every day making just RD$7.00 per card they sell, so for them to make RD$400, they need to sell about 57 phone cards in a day. On a good day most phone card vendors can make this amount, but that's only if they are located in a prime area where there is a lot of traffic

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Location is one of the most important parts of the street vendor lifestyle and the vendors with the best locations will obviously make the most money

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Finding a good stop, taking it from someone who is already operating there or defending an area can sometimes turn violent, which unfortunately is also large part of being a street vendor

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There is a code of sorts among vendors. If you are selling a product that no one else is selling, then by all means you are welcome, but don't ever dare try to sell what someone else is already selling

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There is a way to avoid violent confrontations, however. Some vendors will sell the "right" to a corner, or area, for a fee. Some fees, depending on the area, could be between RD$2,000 and RD$3,000.

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In some cases vendors can "rent" an area for a small daily fee. Most vendors, though, are usually unwilling to sell or rent an area because they consider it a gold mine. After so much time in one place vendors develop "friendships" with their clients who in turn will either give them a bit more cash for products or will be generous enough to give them gifts at times

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For DVD vendors and bootleggers, like 21 year old Frank, a route is just as important a street corner or "puesto". Some DVD vendors have a mapped out route that they follow religiously.

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Frank, although knowingly selling bootlegged and illegal material, makes a fairly good living. He says that he buys his bootlegged DVDs for about RD$60 each and depending on the area he can make an amazing profit

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Javier, who's 14, has been cleaning windshields on street corners ever since he can remember. At the tender age of 14 he's seems hardened by the life he leads and the many scars on his face and arms are just stories he doesn't want to recall

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Marcela is an ice cream vendor who has been driving his ice cream cart around the streets of Santo Domingo for ten years now, and it seems that she's willing to go for ten more

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On a regular day, Marcela picks up his ice cream cart, which she rents for a daily fee, and starts pushing it through traffic, stopping at certain corners or when she sees a potential client

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Marcela tries to hit key areas where she knows she'll have clients and if there are events at the parks or schools she makes sure she shows up

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Peanut and coconut candy salesmen have one of the hardest jobs in comparison to other street vendors. Peanut vendors sell glazed peanut brittle or coconut treats at RD$5.00 each, but only make about RD$3.00 per candy they sell

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The peanut sellers go to bakery shops around the city and pick up the treats they are going to sell in a day. As with any street vendor it is tough to really determine how much they make in profits since no official books are kept

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Most vendors have no real clue of how much they have sold or how much they average because they don't need to focus on such details

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Some vendors said they could make between RD$500 to RD$1,000 in a day, but these are just estimates

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And what about shoe shine boys who, for tourists and Dominicans alike, are the most common and at times pesky of the street vendors? The rate for a shoe shine depends on the shiner and on the area he works in, but more and more shoe shiners are being kicked out of the areas they work in because police have labeled them a nuisance to tourists

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Although most vendor jobs are open to both sexes it is important to note that shoe shiners are most often boys between the ages of 7 and 17, but you'll always find the occasional exception. As well as shining shoes it has become common practice among shiners to beg for tips from tourists, which has led to them being chased out by local authorities.

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The unfortunate reality of these shiners, especially the younger ones, is the fact that many are forced to go out at an early age and work for someone else and have to give a large part of their earnings to older guys who run child labor rings

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Sometimes, as drivers, you might be annoyed at the fact that street vendors hold up traffic and cause small traffic jams. At times as drivers you might be annoyed at the fact that vendors will always appear when you don't need anything from them and wonder, "why don't they get a real job?!"

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But the reality is that for these vendors, and the millions like them, this is a real job. A way to make ends meet and keep their families going

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Vendors might not be making million dollar deals affecting the New York Stock Exchange, but remember how important they are the next time you leave home with an uncharged cell phone and you need to call to secure one of those big and important business deals

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The ambulant vendors coincide that they came to this way of life pushed by the increasing unemployment, the absence of opportunities, the economic crisis and the suspense that they feel on their future.

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For these merchants whose point of selling is the asphalt, the stret light is the best ally, because when this one lights the red sign that orders vehicles to stop the ambulant vendor have the opportunity to parade with goods in hand.

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Each light is a small market that awaits the indifferent eyes of many who turned to them or to say no thank you very much