OCEANSIDE — A local street vendor, whose removal from last week’s downtown Dia de los Muertos event was the subject of a viral TikTok video, is demanding respect, accountability, better access to resources, and policy changes from city leaders.
Jose Felix was operating his ice cream cart without a permit on Oct. 22 at the Muertos festival when event organizer and volunteer Cathy Nykiel attempted to escort him off the premises. A TikTok video depicting the altercation quickly went viral, fueling outrage that resulted in public apologies from Nykiel and groups associated with the event.
Felix and other vendors, including Jose “The Elotero Van,” held a demonstration on Oct. 26 in front of the Sunset Market entrance at the Coast Highway and Pier View Way intersection to demand better treatment.
“Above all, I ask that there is respect for all street vendors,” Felix said in Spanish. “We are also human beings and deserve to be treated with respect.”
According to Friends of Oceanside Dia de los Muertos, Felix had not reserved a permit to vend at the event and was unauthorized to be there. The group’s website states that vendors with prepackaged food would have to pay $260 for a space, noting that there were only 60 food spaces available, and most sold out a month before the event.
Isela Villegas (formerly Talamantes), board vice president of Friends of Oceanside Dia de los Muertos, said the man had been asked “nicely to leave several times and refused,” which prompted Nykiel’s response in the video.
However, Felix said he was never asked to leave until Nykiel confronted him, as captured in the video.
Felix had not reserved a spot to operate at the event but said he received verbal permission from members of one of the 20 to 30 car clubs present at the event before walking through with his ice cream cart. Felix said security guards greeted him and “were under no impression that he was not allowed to sell at the event.”
Members of Por Siempre Car Club, co-organizers of the event, said no one from their club gave Felix permission to vend.
Nykiel, a longtime volunteer for the festival, issued a formal apology for her actions after the event.
“I take full responsibility for my actions at the festival yesterday and am extremely remorseful and embarrassed. I am very sorry for how this affected the little girl and the festival guests,” Nykiel said in her apology. “I hope my actions do not affect the image of the city of Oceanside, Friends of Oceanside Dia de los Muertos, MainStreet Oceanside, Por Siempre Car Club and all of the community sponsors, partners and so many volunteers that have been there for the festival each and every year.”
Nykiel has since resigned from the Friends of the Oceanside Dia de los Muertos board, the nonprofit that runs the event, and MainStreet Oceanside suspended her without pay pending further investigation.
The Coast News has attempted to contact Nykiel for comment but has not heard back.
“While the event was not organized by MainStreet Oceanside, our employee Cathy Nykiel engaged in inexcusable behavior,” said MainStreet Oceanside COO Gumaro Escarcega.
Other community leaders also spoke up against the actions in the video.
“It’s about dignity and respect. We can’t have an event for our community celebrating our culture and not treating our people right,” said Oceanside community advocate Jimmy Figueroa in a statement on Instagram. “One thing about Oceanside is that you disrespect one of us; you disrespect all of us. That’s not something we’re going to stand for as a community. Accountability is what we’re looking for and what we expect.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of the story stated that Jose Felix claimed the Por Siempre Car Club gave him permission to vend at the festival.