In Latino neighborhoods, eloteros are about as popular as the ice cream man. They ride around in bikes selling corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime, salt, and chili powder. The blast of their bugle bicycle horns are the eloteros’ iconic call to customers.
“They’ve definitely become a part of our Mexican culture,” said Eddie Moreno, son of Mexican immigrants who grew up seeing eloteros passing through his neighborhood in Phoenix.
Most eloteros are immigrants from Mexico and speak little English. Many are also undocumented.
Over the years, they build strong relationships with their customers and earn respect for their honest work. The elotes (corn) they provide are not only tasty treats, but a direct connection to Latino heritage.
That is why it is no wonder why many Latinos rallied behind an elotero who was shot in Phoenix last month.
Victor Gonzales, an immigrant from Mexico and father of three, was selling corn in Phoenix on February 22 when he was shot four times in an attempted robbery. He survived and was recently released from the hospital.
Steven Mitchell, 18, allegedly shot Gonzales with a .380-caliber handgun and took off with his sisters Shaniqua and Shreika Gilliams in a silver Pontiac Sunfire. All three were arrested shortly after the shooting, and each faces a charge of aggravated assault and armed robbery with a deadly weapon.
Many Latinos still are trying to comprehend this senseless crime. They question why anyone would shoot and try to rob an elotero who is simply trying to earn a living.
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Jose Gonzales said his brother Victor was just starting his workday when he was shot — so he only had about $20 on him. On average, eloteros make anywhere from $500 per week during the summer to up to $800 per week during the spring and fall. Eloteros get paid cash, which make them vulnerable to robberies.
“People prey on them because they know that many of them are undocumented and won’t call the police because they’re afraid they’ll get deported,” Moreno said.
Moreno, owner of a screen-printing company called Magik GFX, is one of many Latinos who’ve shown support for Gonzales. He organized a fundraiser several days after the shooting and sold T-shirts he designed that said “I love my elotero” for $25 each. He sold most of them that day and was able to raise $1,740 for Gonzales' medical care.
Moreno plans to make more T-shirts to sell online in the next few weeks to continue raising money for the injured elotero.
“It got a lot of attention,” he said, referring to the fundraiser. “I just wanted to do a small donation to help the family. But in the end, a lot of people came out and contributed. It was a beautiful day.”
Jose said he is surprised by all the support the Latino community has shown for his brother, who he said is doing better and plans to return to work as soon as he can.
“We weren’t expecting all this support,” he said. “A lot of the people who are helping us out don’t even know us. We appreciate all that they’re doing for us. It’s a big help for us.”