The TikTok Star Who's Going Viral For Surprising Street Vendors

As of July 2022, more than 53,000 vendors were lining U.S. streets, selling fresh produce, homestyle meals, services, and art, per IBIS World. Since the 20th century, street vending has gone from being viewed as a disreputable occupation for those on "the first rungs of the economic ladder" to being depicted as a chic career choice, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Historically run by immigrants, some of them undocumented, these outdoor enterprises were hit particularly hard during the pandemic. While some small businesses received stimulus checks and other government assistance, undocumented workers didn't qualify. Mohamed Attia of the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project argued, "Street vendors are the smallest businesses you can find in New York City. They are a real picture of what the American dream should look like for all immigrants who come to this country to try to start their own small businesses" (via ABC News). Legislation has also created difficulties.

The late Anthony Bourdain and The Street Vendor Project have lobbied for New York City to lift permit restrictions that made it more difficult to do business, resulting in a black market. In Los Angeles, vendors have complained about strict regulations and enforcement (via CBS News). Bourdain said, "There is nothing more vital to a city and a city's health than good street food" (via New York Street Food). Perhaps a TikTok star has been trying to improve the health of cities by supporting vendors in Southern California.

Jesús Morales' $1,000 tips

Featured on NBC's "Today" show over the past two years as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Jesús Morales, at just 25, has used his influence on TikTok to donate over $150,000 to Latinx street vendors in the city of Los Angeles. Morales, who goes by Juixxe on social media, has amassed almost 3 million followers. What began in August 2020 as a generous $100 tip to a San Diego food vendor using Morales' own money has grown into $1,000 "tips" to over 90 food vendors around L.A., per Today.

Using cash apps like Venmo to collect donations, Morales randomly selects food vendors to tip. Although $1,000 might already sound life-changing for some people, he has raised more generous tips through GoFundMe campaigns reaching $5,500 and a Venmo Challenge for $10,000. In 2021, Morales partnered with McDonald's to raise $100,000 for HACER Scholarships for Latinx youth. His popularity has inspired celebrities like boxer Oscar De La Hoya and actor Mario Lopez to lend their names to the cause, joining Morales as he surprises vendors.

As the child of Mexican immigrants, Morales knows the hardships that people new to the country can face. He recalls stories from his parents about "sleeping in a basement on a piece of cardboard" when they first arrived in the U.S. The sacrifices they made to achieve a better life for the family have fueled Morales' drive to better the lives of others.