For some residents of Los Angeles, the sounds of the city are traffic and Metro trains and subways. But, for Boyle Heights residents, the sounds of their community also include the cries of pregones, or, street callers – like a local street vendor who sells churros while whistling “Ya llegó el churrito!” (“The churrito is here!”)
César Aguilera, who lives in Boyle Heights, said hearing Eduardo Cuevas, commonly known as the “Churro man,” takes him back to his childhood.
“When I was a boy, paleteros (ice cream vendors) would pass by, and pork rind chip vendors,” the 32-year-old said.
Cuevas’ whistle was inspired by his grandfather who many years ago used a similar whistle to keep the sheep and goats together in herds as they grazed in Zacatecas, Mexico. He remembers noticing how similar the sound was to birds’ calls, which he thought was a bit curious.
“‘Hey grandpa!” the 50-year-old recalled asking his grandfather. “It seems like the birds are mimicking you’.”
For former Los Angeles poet laureate Luis Rodríguez, the calls of pregones are part of the poetry of Los Angeles, along with the cries of wild parrots, the coos of doves and voices speaking different languages.
“L.A. is a great poetry city,” he said. “Birds are doing their own little poems in their own way. Something about their coos is the soundtrack of the city.”
Rodríguez links Cuevas’ whistle to ancestors in Mexico, saying, “Mexicans are known for their whistle anyway, but I think it has that indigenous root – that people used to talk this way to each other.”
An example of this can be seen with the Chinantec people, from northern Oaxaca, who at times would use a form of whistled speech instead of spoken speech, according to a study by David Yetman, a University of Arizona social scientist, for his documentary, “In the Americas with David Yetman.” Only a few Chinantec people still practice whistled speech today, Yetman found.
Rodríguez says Cuevas has found a way to incorporate a form of language from the past in a new form of advertisement. “It’s a way of putting something creative with language, but also sounds,” he said. “It seems to me that what he’s doing is poetry.”
Many Boyle Heights residents already know who is approaching when they hear a birdlike whistle coming their way.
During the week, Cuevas walks around Evergreen Park and East L.A.’s Belvedere Park to sell his churros. Wearing a solid-colored shirt, shorts that reach below his knees and a palm fedora-styled hat, he pulls a small cart full of churros. On average, Cuevas makes $350 a week selling three churros for $1, his only income. Each day, he sells around 200 churros and gives away any leftovers at day’s end.
Cuevas’ unique whistle distinguishes him from other street vendors.
“Recently toasted and very warm,” Cuevas whistles in Spanish to promote his pastry.
He made the whistle his trademark soon after starting the business. After selling his first few churros, he noticed that his whistle attracted more customers.
“It catches my attention and the kids’, too,” said frequent customer Minerva Flores, 29. “Everything edible sold in Puebla, Mexico is announced with cries: corn, pork rind chips (and) yams,” she recalled.
The many congratulations that Cuevas receives on his unique form of advertisement and the way he earns a living give him satisfaction.
“I hope that in the future there are more people like this selling and doing something different,” Aguilera said, adding that he hopes one day hearing a whistle will bring back childhood memories of Los Angeles for his daughter.
Despite not having any accounts on social media, Cuevas is featured in a video on the Facebook page “Los Mejores Memes” (The Best Memes) that has received nearly 150,000 views and 1.2K shares.
Here’s the video on YouTube:
Photo above: Churro vendor Eduardo Cuevas makes a sale at Evergreen Park in Boyle Heights. All photos by Ernesto Orozco.
Jennifer López is starting studies as a freshman at UC Riverside this fall. She is a student journalist with Boyle Heights Beat.