Selling nostalgia: The emotional labor of immigrant Latina food vendors in Los Angeles
- Citation data:
Food and Foodways, ISSN: 0740-9710, Vol: 25, Issue: 4, Page: 283-299
- Publication Year:
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences, Social Sciences
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The sidewalks of Latino immigrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles are often coded with layers of trans-border informal economic cultural processes that shape and inform the practices of everyday lives in the Barrios. Sidewalks come alive with street vendors selling a variety of “typical” prepared foods from Latin America. Since street vending is illegal in Los Angeles, vendors “illegally” transform sidewalks to ephemeral informal markets that cater to other Latino immigrants. In this article, I argue that productive nostalgia is often used by vendors as an entrepreneurial strategy to keep their food sales up by selling typical foods to customers who consume nostalgic imaginaries of home through food, while activating memories of back home, that are then discussed with the food vendors. For vendors in my study, constantly activating memories from back home becomes unpaid emotional labor, as for some vendors the constant reminder of home while being away from that particular home becomes labor intensive management of emotions. Based on 35 oral histories, 75 interviews, and participatory observation I collected from 2003–2007, I learned that Latina food vendors, in addition to intensive physical labor, engage in emotional labor through productive nostalgia as entrepreneurial strategies.