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Looking closely at street-vending immigrant families

The stereotype of academics is that they are living soft, comfortable lives with their heads buried in books and abstract thought. Like every other stereotype, it is shattered by reality.

Sociocultural anthropologist Emir Estrada is an excellent example of the academic who doesn't fit preconceived notions. Estrada came to the U.S. from Mexico just before she finished high school. With years of hard work and dedication, she has transformed herself from a girl who struggled with English to a woman studying the roles of children in immigrant families.

Her studies include the roles of kids who work in family street-vending businesses. Estrada worked in her own family's street vending business back in Mexico while her father lived and worked in the U.S. and sent money home.

In the early days of her academic growth in Los Angeles, she commuted by street vendors selling various food items. She observed how the kids were involved in food preparation, cash transactions, errands and more for their parents. She knew then that she had found her research niche.

Today, her studies of street vendors focuses on the gender-related roles the kids fill in those businesses. Girls are often more involved in food preparation, while boys are often exposed to threats and street violence.

"The presence of women in the street-vending markets of L.A. serves as a protective mechanism for male street vendors of all ages," she recently told an interviewer.

Estrada and other academics help us to understand the hardships immigrant families face not only in making a living, but also in dealing with a complex immigration system that often seeks to exclude them.

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