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Every fishball matters

Who does not love a cup (or stick) of street food on vacant periods, after work or school, or when just strolling around plazas?
 
Whether you fill yours with fishball, kikiam or kwek kwek (neon balls, egg waffles, whichever you prefer to call it)—or a mix of everything poured with a combination of the unexplainably flavorful vinegar and/or thick brown sauce, spicy or sweet.
 
Few to none would disagree that it brings nostalgia and comfort that envelope us with warmth on a certain type of day.
 
But have we ever paused for a minute to think about how our every “tusok” or “hirit” of these matters to the vendors and their families?

Ernesto Mercado, a street food vendor at the public utility vehicle terminal just outside the Bantay Arcade across Metro Vigan Hospital, has to provide for his three children and equally hardworking wife who manages the household.
 
His youngest is a four-year-old while the second child is approaching high school. 
 
The eldest, who is a senior high school student in Ilocos Sur National High School, just graduated.
 
Typically, this calls for a celebration, but for Kuya Ernesto, it also signifies the need to earn more in order for his first child to attend a university or a college.
 
Currently, he earns P400 to P500 each day, this goes without mentioning that this daily profit is not stable as this type of business is seasonal. 
 
He said this is just enough to feed his family of five and pay for the bills including the monthly rent at their place at Barangay Purok a Dakkel in Vigan City.
 
As a high school graduate, he said, selling street food is the only job he is capable of doing. 
 
“Saan pay met a nalaka daytoy a trabaho, ado nga anus ti kasapulan (This too, is not easy work, a lot of patience is needed),” he said.
 
Mercado shared that his then-employer brought him from Tarlac to Vigan City to sell street food about a decade ago.
 
He started by earning P200 to P300 a day at the Calle Crisologo when the city was not yet announced as one of the Seven Wonder Cities of the World.
 
He remembers having patron buyers such as the likes of Governor Ryan Luis Singson whom he fondly recalls enjoyed the fishball among others.
 
He used to go around the city with a bicycle, now doing the business on his own, he was able to saved up a certain amount.
 
He said having hundred percent of the profit for himself allowed him to get a motorcycle.
 
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted everybody’s lives, his family had to depend on the support of the government.
 
One he was grateful for was the Social Amelioration Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development which helped fend for his family during the period of lockdowns. 

Ernesto Mercado, an ambulant vendor of street food, driving around the city with his cart. (Photo from Ernesto Mercado)

He said he still needed to find other ways to earn so he learned to make flower pots through YouTube videos and sold them to his neighbors. 

When the restrictions eased, he resumed street food vending as it provides more income.
 
He said, “We need to save more and work harder for the college tuition of my eldest. We are hoping to find a scholarship that could at least help us lessen the burden.”
 
He said he used to wish about being included in the recipients of the housing projects of the government but his priorities changed to his children’s education.
 
“Education is the only wealth I can give my children. It is the only thing I can leave them with,” he quipped.
 
He said his children are not embarrassed by the job he has and they even help out whenever they can.
 
He remembered telling them, “I am working hard to earn money, so you have to study well.”
 
For Mercado, an ambulant vendor whose earnings will finance his children’s college fees and eventually help them build a future, every fishball he could sell counts. (JCR/AMB/ATV, PIA Ilocos Sur)

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Aila Villanueva

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Region 1

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