The owner of a popular First Street taquería was arrested Sunday following an altercation with the new managers of the Boyle Heights Community Market, who claim the man assaulted them and used homophobic slurs against them.
According to various sources, the altercation happened when the two brothers who own Street Tacos and Grill found out that their car –which was parked on the street where vendors set up for the market– had been towed away.
“They came running at us yelling, calling us homophobic slurs and started to physically push us around,” said Andre Maldonado, who co-owns El Chaparrito Tacos with Sebastian Condo.
Maldonado and Condo, who have recently taken over the management of the community market from founder Tonie Juarez, said they were setting up for Sunday’s event at around noon when they were confronted by Arturo Aguilar, co-owner of Street Tacos and Grill, and his brother.
“We were scared so we called the police, and as soon as they saw that they got more aggressive, pushed over our portable bathrooms, slashed our truck’s tires and even pushed our pupusa vendor around in front of her little daughter,” said Maldonado.
According to a spokesperson from the Los Angeles Police Department, officers responded to a call Sunday afternoon but found that the alleged assailant had fled the scene by the time they arrived.
The LAPD spokesperson said that at around 2:42 pm, a police sergeant driving around the area was flagged down by vendors at the market and told that Aguilar was inside the nearby Distrito Catorce pub. The sergeant arrested Aguilar for battery and vandalism outside the business.
Despite several attempts, Boyle Heights Beat was unable to reach Aguilar for comment. It’s unclear if he or his brother have been charged for Sunday’s incident.
Maldonado and Condo claimed that Guillermo Pinon, a co-owner of Distrito Catorce with whom they say they’ve had confrontations in the past, was somehow involved in Sunday’s incident.
“We believe that Guillermo was also involved in what happened because he has been harassing us and Tonie [Juarez] for years over us bringing Pride events to Boyle Heights,” said Maldonado, who is openly gay. “He’s called us slurs, openly told us he is anti-gay and that he wants ‘mariposas’ out of his neighborhood.”
Pinon denied making those homophobic remarks and said that his only involvement Sunday was stepping out after hearing a commotion outside of his business, and being turned away by Maldonado and Condo.
Pinon said that when police came into his business looking for Aguilar, he asked them to take the situation outside so as to not disturb his customers.
Photographs taken by the community market vendors show the moment when Aguilar is being handcuffed and taken into custody by officers. Some of the photos show Pinon standing nearby.
The Boyle Heights Community Market is usually held on Sundays on the Eastern edge of Mariachi Plaza, on the corner of First Street and the recently renamed Vicente Fernández Street. On occasions, market organizers hold special events that close First Street to traffic, from Boyle Avenue to State Street. [Boyle Heights Beat regularly hosts a table at the community market and does not pay a fee to organizers.]
According to various sources, tensions between the community market organizers and store owners on First Street have been brewing for months.
Boyle Heights Beat reached out to Tonie Juarez, who runs a nonprofit organization that organizes the community market, but she was unavailable to respond to the business owners’ claims.
In a note sent earlier this week to BHB, Juarez complained about Sunday’ incident and blamed the owners of Distrito Catorce and Street Tacos and Grill for the ongoing situation:
“We have been in this market for about two years now and the only ones that have a problem with it are those businesses. They keep harassing us and our other vendors for simply trying to make a living.”
Nico Avina, a prominent Boyle Heights artist, activist and co-founder of Espacio 1839 – a shop located between Distrito Catorce and Street Tacos and Grill– said other business owners on First Street have voiced concerns about the way the market is managed. Avina said that he was not opposed to vendors profiting from the community market, but said street closures during special events directly affect the brick and mortar businesses.
“A lot of us on this street have spoken up about how the market is hurting us, especially with how we’re struggling to keep our doors open after the pandemic,” said Avina.
Pinon, from Distrito Catorce, called market fees a sort of extortion and accused the market managers of using them to further draw customers away from the First Street storefronts. Pinon recalled a Día de los Muertos event in which a large van from one of the participating organizations was parked right in front of his business. He said the van was left running, which led to exhaust coming into his pub, causing him and his son to be hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Pinon also said that he was asked to pay $15,000 to be included in an “Orgullo Fest” gay pride event, and that when he declined because he couldn’t afford it, the organizers retaliated by smearing his character.
“I work with a lot of people in different communities, and after I declined to pay, because I honestly couldn’t, I had organizations come to me saying they would no longer do business with me because they were told by the market organizer I was homophobic,” Pinon said.
“I support everyone, and we do our own Pride events, and I have people close to me who are part of the community,” he said. “Those sorts of accusations, they can end you overnight, and I just won’t stand for lies like that.”
This story was edited and updated on March 31 at 3:45 pm, to clarify Nico Avina’s position regarding the community market.