North Carolina "Loncheras" Fight to Stay in Business

Published April 06, 2011

Lunch Truck Pic

A North Carolina group is fighting to modify an ordinance that has put most of Charlotte's mobile food vendors, known as "loncheras," out of circulation in which is being considered a "direct attack" on Hispanics.

Proclaiming that "Carne Asada Is Not a Crime," representatives of Action NC on Tuesday will present to the Charlotte city council a petition signed by more than 250 people supporting the loncheras.

In 2008, the municipality approved resolution prohibiting the loncheras from operating after 9 p.m., requiring them to stay more than 400 feet from residential areas and banning them from remaining in one spot any longer than 90 days.

This resulted in the mobile food vendors being displaced from the main road routes, where they had established their clientele in areas with high concentrations of Hispanics, and forcing many of them to close.

Before the passage of the ordinance, about 50 loncheras were operating in the city and now there are only seven, whereas others must sell their food to their customers as street vendors at different spots around the city, a shift that does not guarantee for some of them earnings as stable as what they were bringing in two years ago.

The promoters of the ordinance in 2008 argued that they were responding to complaints by residents that the loncheras were causing noise, attracting crime and homeless people to their operating sites, situations that are still occurring in those areas despite the absence of the "taco trucks."

According to Hector Vaca, the coordinator of Action NC, the petition seeks to get the municipal councilors to revise the elements of the 2008 ordinance and reach an agreement so that the loncheras may return to Hispanic neighborhoods.

An editorial in The Charlotte Observer on Monday said that two years ago a "ham-handed" decision was made on the loncheras that was arguably "biased" against Latinos.

"After all, food carts in uptown Charlotte are allowed to operate any time," the paper noted.

"(W)e've turned most of our taco truck operators into criminals or run them out of business. So much for devotees of ethnic food, for urban pioneering, for small entrepreneurs. The too-strict taco truck rules still leave a bad taste," the Observer concluded.

Alejandro Gomez, who 10 years ago began operating a lonchera in Charlotte because of his lack of a job and his immigration situation, each day visits at least six locations, including construction sites, offices and factories, to sell his tacos and sandwiches.

"It's a way to survive, to work, to earn for ourselves an honorable living. It's been difficult, we have a lot of inconveniences, but we're offering a service to people who can't spend a lot and avoid using their cars," Gomez said.

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