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Deaf Peddler: Chapter Three

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Since negotiation seemed an unlikely avenue, I simply left Los Angeles. My next stop was San Francisco, where I encountered yet another Mexican deaf peddling ring; different peddlers, but they were selling the same novelties as those at LAX … obviously, this was a highly organized and very assertive peddling ring.

This was my first real experience with peddling rings, although I had heard about them earlier in my trip. A peddler organizer, or cow, generally targets deaf people who are struggling. They may be having financial troubles or vocational problems, but they almost always have a limited education. The cow also looks for loyalty, and when he finds the right combination of trouble and fidelity, he will take a deaf person under his wing. “You want to buy a car?” he’ll ask. “Well, sure,” comes the reply, “but how?” He’ll then take the prospective peddlers to his fine home and show them the lifestyle they, too, can acquire.

Perhaps he’ll set a goal for them, a new car like his to entice them to start peddling. For a while, he’ll even let them stay at his home for free. He might supply them with a used car, telling them they must prove themselves to him over a year’s time. Then, he will offer to put a portion of their earnings into a “savings plan,” so they can save enough to buy that brand new car. This type of arrangement is akin to an insurance policy for the cow, keeping the underlings working toward an incentive for the future.

A cow needs to be able to communicate well with different types of deaf people. He has to be good at gaining their trust and making them believe that the arrangement he is offering is a win-win proposition for both parties. In truth, the peddler may be expected to turn over all his peddling earnings, and may even be required to fulfill a specific dollar amount each day. To be sure there’s no cheating, the cow might frisk him to be certain the peddler is not holding back money.

In a different arrangement, the peddler might be expected to turn over 50 to 75 percent of his weekly income (and maybe even a specified amount toward a “savings plan”), with the cow providing the room and board, plus the novelties or cards to be peddled¾not to mention the very generous opportunity to work for him. The cow can earn as much as $2,000 a week from each peddler.

And where does he find these peddlers? I know one man who manages deaf peddlers. He owns his own home and is deaf, but has never actually worked as a peddler. He is very involved in the Deaf community, always attending Deaf events such as softball tournaments. The reason he’s so involved is that it gives him the opportunity to meet deaf people he might then hire. It’s the way cows recruit.

Although some might conclude that a peddling organizer at least offers deaf people with minimal language skills or job training a better chance at making a living, not all cows are benevolent. Any mention of deaf peddling rings wouldn’t be complete without bringing up an infamous case from 1997. State and federal agents raided two apartments in Queens, New York, that summer. They discovered fifty-seven deaf, illegal Mexican immigrants living in two apartments, along with seven people who were reported to be the ringleaders.


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