Cuba’s Street Vendors

Jorge Milanes

They sell for a living.
They sell for a living.

My grandparents recounted to my parents that for centuries, after the Spanish arrived in Cuba, peddling and hawking goods in town squares was considered something quite common.

One could see venders touting their wares through the streets shouting “Peanuts…hot peanuts” or “Mangos…mangos, sweet as sugar,” “Sweet oranges…”

With the passing of time, this tradition has not only remained as a continuation of a custom of the past, but-like the circumstances that first made it arise- the practice continues to thrive.

That’s why you can hear their cries in many towns and cities of Cuba.  In my neighborhood, for example, every day you see vendors, each with their peculiar form of selling.  Some use whistles, others harmonicas or bicycle bells, as long as its a device that identifies them.

My stepfather, who helps make breakfast everyday at home, asked me if I’d heard the baker who passes by daily on his three-wheeled bike with a case full of bread.

“No,” I answered.

He didn’t seem satisfied with the morning’s breakfast, so he asked me if we could wait for him to go to the bakery.

“No, I don’t have time,” I told him.  That would have taken around half an hour and would have made me late for the work.  It was better to have just a cup of coffee with milk, though I’d be starving by mid-morning.

The peddlers solve a big problem for us.  Since the bodega [neighborhood ration card store], the fruit and vegetable markets and the stores are all pretty far away, the vendors save us trouble and time.  Plus, they almost always offer goods that even State-run enterprises don’t have.

They sell for a living, because they’ve found the way to buy cheap and sell a little more expensive.  And since we all we have needs, their presence has become necessary.

One thought on “Cuba’s Street Vendors

  • I remember the street vendors of Centro hawking their wares the summer of 1959. The apartment dwellers opposite my hotel, at the corner of Amistad y San Miguel, would lower baskets from the balconies of their apartments, the vendors would place their wares in the baskets, then they’d be hoisted up. Many vendors had a distinctive, melodious, calls, which I still remember after 50 years! (Have songs ever been written, inspired by these calls?) During recent visits in 2004, 2006 and 2008, I again had the pleasure of listening to these calls.

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