On Día de las Madres, Chicago street vendors sell flowers and chocolates to passing cars

Street vendors on the South Side are setting up shop for Día de las Madres, which takes place Wednesday in many Latin American countries.

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Nancy León, 40, of Englewood, arranges Mother’s Day flower arrangements for sale at her stand on South Western Avenue and West 51st Street on the South Side, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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At 12 years old, Yulissa Martínez would join her mom to sell flowers every year around this time. Now a 25-year-old college student, Martinez has her own business selling flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries.

She is one of several vendors who will be out in force Wednesday, May 10, when Mother’s Day is celebrated in the Mexican, Guatemalan and El Salvadoran communities.

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“It’s just a very special day for Mexicans and Central Americans,” said María Magaña, who sells flowers in Gage Park. “ … It’s a good opportunity for us to be able to honor this day for moms.”

An undocumented student in her junior year studying accounting at Northeastern Illinois University, Martinez usually sells flowers with other members of her church, Cristo Es El Rey in Little Village.

She actually credits her church community for helping her add the sale of fruit to her flower vending. At a service one day the congregation gifted her the church’s ofrendas, or tithes.

With the money Martínez made from her sales, she opened up a bank account, which she has earmarked for her 2-year-old daughter Sabrina. Martínez said that she brings “passion” to everything she does, and part of that means investing in her child’s future.

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Angelina Matos (from left), Angel Escalona and Yulissa Martínez sell flowers under the bridge at Pershing Road and Western Avenue on Saturday, April 29, 2023.

Ambar Colón/Sun-Times

“It’s amazing to share with people and then share their dreams,” she said of selling flowers with other church members. “It gives you hope and it gives you motivation to be humble because there’s always people who are in need.”

She lives at the church with her daughter and spends most of her time there, as do many of the church’s undocumented members. Some have arrived from Venezuela as recently as December, like husband and wife Angel Escalona and Angelina Matos, who have helped sell flowers.

The group usually sets up around Kedzie Avenue and 31st Street, but on a rainy day they’ll gather under the bridge at Pershing Road and Western Avenue in McKinley Park to sell to cars stopped at red lights.

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Yulissa Martínez sells flowers to stopped cars underneath the bridge at Pershing Road and Western Avenue in McKinley Park.

Ambar Colón/Sun-Times

If you want to do something and you put your mind to it, you can do it,” she says of her success in school and as a vendor.

Five years ago, Magaña and friend Nancy León sold flowers on the side with Magaña’s family as a way to make extra money. They later quit their full-time jobs to start their own flower stand near 51st and Western.

Magaña said that they sometimes sell at different locations, but on Wednesday they’ll be at their usual spot.

Nancy León (izquierda), de 40 años, y su socia María Magaña, de 28, ambas de Englewood, venden arreglos florales para el Día de las Madres el martes 9 de mayo de 2023.

Nancy León (left), 40, and her business partner María Magaña, 28, both from Englewood, sell Mother’s Day flower arrangements at their stand on South Western Avenue and West 51st Street on the South Side, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Their day starts at 6 a.m. and can last until 10 p.m., or whenever their stock sells out. León estimates that they’ll make over $7,000 in sales by Sunday, making this time of year one of the busiest.

Abigail Sánchez and Beatriz Mora Martínez have sold flowers in their neighborhood for the last two years. Martínez, whose son is married to Sánchez’s sister, sells flowers made out of thread and fabric — a gift that is sure to live on long after Mother’s Day is over.

Some of the artisanal flowers come straight from Mexico, they said.

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Beatriz Mora Martinez, 56, of Gage Park, sells Mother’s Day flower arrangements at a stand on South Kedzie Avenue near West 46th Street in Brighton Park, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

They set up shop daily around 10 a.m. On Wednesday they’ll be outside of a Marathon gas station at 55th and California.

Sánchez hopes that selling flowers will help her promote her new business, Dulce Café Cubano. The restaurant opened three months ago at 2824 W 55th St. in Gage Park.

“We hope people want to come visit us and try our food,” which includes Cuban café con leche and sandwiches, she said. Selling flowers gives Sánchez the opportunity to make extra income on Tuesdays, when her cafe is closed.

For the last 10 years in Little Village, uncle and nephew Miguel Bustos and José Núñez have been selling flowers and teddy bears with family members.

Núñez, whose wife runs the business, said they sell exclusively on special days like Valentine’s Day and Mexican Independence Day. They also set up shop during street festivals.

Miguel Bustos (derecha), de 66 años, y su sobrino José Núñez, de 50, ambos de Gage Park, venden arreglos florales para el Día de las Madres en La Villita, el 9 de mayo.

Miguel Bustos (right), 66, and his nephew José Núñez, 50, both from Gage Park, sell Mother’s Day flower arrangements on South Pulaski Road near West 26th Street in Little Village, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He said they’ll be selling their items from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until Sunday on Pulaski Road between 26th and 27th streets.

“Many celebrate,” Bustos said. “Some might make an altar in their house dedicated to their moms following Mexican or Latin customs. And they come here to buy their flowers.”

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Mother’s Day Flores

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Illustrations by David Alvarado


These flowers commonly make up bouquets. Learn more about them and the stories of the local vendors who sell them here.

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