Celebrate with SVP at Street Heroes: 21 Years of Vendor Power

18 Sep 2022

The membership of Street Vendor Project kindly invites you to our first annual gala, Street Heroes: 21 Years of Vendor Power!

Join us to celebrate NYC’s heroic street vendors and honor 21 years of Street Vendor Project’s organizing, advocacy and legal services on behalf of the 20,000 vendors who bring our city streets to life.

Enjoy a night of delicious and diverse street food prepared by SVP members including include Jackson Heights favorite Birria Landia; Afghan comfort food Nansense; Bangladeshi street food Tong; long-time SVP friends: Sam’s Falafel, Royal Grill Halal Food, DF Nigerian, and Evelia’s Tamales; Flushing staple Mrs. Wang and Ecuadorian ceviche (Cevicheria Jorguito) among others.

Also on deck: custom inspired cocktails by award-winning beverage consultant Shannon Beck of Full Proof Beverage; entertainment provided by DJ Mickey Perez and our MC, Jaeki Cho of Righteous Eats; dancing; a caricature artist, a raffle – all surrounded by the beautiful art of the Queens Museum. Guests will have access to view the NYC Panorama

The evening will honor our 2022 Vendor Power Award recipients for their on-going support of NYC’s smallest businesses:

  • Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson
  • New York State Senator Jessica Ramos
  • Morgan Stanley
  • The Yemeni American Merchants Association

If you purchase a sponsorship package, we will be in touch to coordinate all details. In-kind and custom sponsorships also available by request from streetvendorprojectevents@gmail.com

Event artwork by Guo Qing Wang, a portrait artist and SVP member vendor in Times Square.

This event is strictly 21+ and older. Festive attire please.

Street Heroes Sponsors:

Street Heroes is presented with generous support from Morgan Stanley, Zevv, North Peak Capital, Justin Pollack, Daniel Gallancy, Mark Fenster, Brooklyn Brewery, Tito’s Vodka, and Vox Media.

Street Heroes Host Committee:

Clay Williams / Laurie Woolever / Nathan Thornburgh / Niki Russ-Federman / Ora Wise / Krishnendu Ray / Justin Pollack / Kelebohile Nkhereanye / Fa-Tai Shieh / Sari Kisilevsky / Cindy VandenBosch / Andrew Gustafson / Karla Henriquez / Cheikh Fall / Elizabeth Murray / Julie Torres-Moskovitz / Mandira Ghai / Sharrod Fredericks / Maxwell Schiano

About Street Vendor Project:

The Street Vendor Project (SVP) is a 2,800+ member-strong organization founded in 2001 that champions the rights of street vendors as small businesses to earn a living and contribute to the culture and life of New York City. Through direct legal representation, small business development training, grassroots organizing, leadership development, and strategic legislative advocacy, SVP builds power and community among vendors. The Street Vendor Project is a part of the Urban Justice Center.

Our work centers on creating a diverse community of street vendor leaders, uniting people across race, class, gender, language and cultural backgrounds. Key organizational accomplishments reflect the power of our membership, legal and organizing teams. In the last two years alone, we have:

  • Advocated to pass local legislation to increase the number of vendor permits for the first time in nearly 40 years
  • Co-founded the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, bringing together immigrant workers from across New York State to win a first-in-the-nation $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund
  • Empowered vendors through our Small Business Consultation and Community Education Programs, which have connected 1,500 vendors to resources on public health, immigration, vending compliance, financial and digital literacy, marketing, and job opportunities.

Throughout the decades, and most recently in the trying days of the Covid-19 pandemic, street vendors have heroically stepped up to feed their neighbors, assist local organizations with food distribution, and organize for equitable relief alongside fellow frontline service workers in NYC and beyond. Your support allows the Street Vendor Project to continue to build and sustain our work.

Post 5: Floreciendo Juntos – Celebrando Nuestro Liderazgo

28 Aug 2022

Blog escrito por Sunehra Subah

Entrevistas en español traducidas por Sunehra Subah y Lorena Modesto

Blog en español traducido por Youssef El Mosalami and Ayan Rahman

“Como vendedores, necesitamos educarnos y saber nuestros derechos y nuestras obligaciones para poder no incurrir en algo ilegal–––que no [la polícia/DCWP] te vengan a poner un ticket o una multa en el cual somos marcados de por vida. 

Porque cuando nos ponen un ticket no se quita, no se remueve y es algo que nosotros no estamos haciendo nada criminal, estamos haciendo un trabajo digno para todas nuestras familias como inmigrantes y vendedores ambulantes

…Y ​​en el tiempo de COVID que yo me ingresé como vendedora [ambulante], fuimos trabajadores esenciales. Fuimos excluidos en muchos aspectos, pero somos las personas que le dimos a este país bastante ayuda.” 

Mientras realiza actividades de divulgación en el Bronx para dar a conocer la feria de recursos del jueves, Alejandra Marín se toma el tiempo de traducir las reglas en español a cada vendedor ambulante con el que hablamos. Nos cuenta de memoria la distancia que debe tener un carrito de la acera, la altura que puede tener un puesto (incluidos los paraguas) y otras restricciones. Alejandra lo dice todo con claridad y mucha fuerza en su voz, y siempre incluye que ella misma es vendedora de mercancía general y sabe lo importante que es que todos se unan en este movimiento para, por ejemplo, exigir que los derechos y las normas se traduzcan y sean accesibles. 

Como muchos otros vendedores, Alejandra empezó a vender durante la pandemia porque no tenía otra opción para mantener a su familia. Sin embargo, su relación con la venta ambulante no comenzó con la tarea de hacer las mascarillas, el gel desinfectante de manos y otros EPI más accesibles a los neoyorquinos. Alejandra es también la hija de un vendedor de flores, y compartimos entre nosotros cómo nos involucramos por primera vez con el Proyecto de Vendedores Ambulantes, empezando por la historia del padre de Alejandra:

“Mi padre fue vendedor ambulante de flores en el cual él sufrió el acoso de la policía. Le quitaron sus flores y se la rompieron. Retiraron los botes en el cual él había invertido mucho dinero en ese tiempo para llevar [el sustento] a la casa de nosotros.

Y fue algo muy injusto porque nosotros no hablábamos inglés. En ese tiempo había más discriminación, más racismo por parte de la policía. Era un delito vender. Fue algo que aún yo, sin hablar el idioma, defendía a mi padre porque él no estaba haciendo algo ilegal. Yo lo consideraba así. No conocía las leyes de este país y estuve involucrada en otras organizaciones de diferentes ámbitos que defienden a los inmigrantes. 

Y es por ese motivo que una compañera me dijo que fuéramos a [el proyecto de] vendedores ambulantes para luchar por las licencias y permisos para los vendedores y obtenerlo así. Y fue como yo estoy ahora con ustedes para seguir luchando por esas licencias y permisos para todos los vendedores.”

Como el padre de Alejandra no tenía a nadie que le tradujera la ley, la agresión de la policía y la destrucción de su mercancía no tenían explicación. Esta experiencia violenta y confusa es la razón por la que Alejandra se asegura de hacer mini-lecciones sobre las regulaciones de la ciudad incluso en nuestra acción más pequeña (esfuerzos de divulgación). Durante nuestro divulgación, Alejandra me señaló cómo una vendedora limpia su sección de la acera utilizando un cubo de agua; está claro que los vendedores quieren hacerlo todo de forma correcta y legal, pero ¿cómo pueden hacerlo cuando personas como ellos, que hablan su idioma, no están incluidas en la planificación de la ciudad? 

“Tomar tiempo de una o dos horas en ciertas actividades, no es luchar día con día. Junto a compañeros de otros proyectos, cada actividad y esfuerzo es llegar hasta Albany, el Congreso. Que se aprueben esas leyes de darnos y otorgarnos las licencias y permisos–––no solamente para uno, sino para todos.”

Además de formar parte del liderazgo de nuestro proyecto, la justificada confusión, la indignación y la pasión de Alejandra también la llevan a NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment), que lucha por evitar la explotación laboral y garantizar que todos los trabajadores puedan trabajar con seguridad y dignidad. Alejandra se reconoce a sí misma como “una de muchas”, y subraya que, si bien siente que tiene la responsabilidad sobre sus hombros de contribuir al movimiento laboral para garantizar que la injusticia que le ocurrió a su padre no se repita, ella forma parte de una comunidad más amplia de inmigrantes y personas de color que están haciendo el trabajo.

“Decidí que voy a estar en la junta directiva, luchando no solamente por mi padre, sino también por todos los compañeros y por mí misma, porque yo represento a uno de ellos [vendedores ambulantes]…”

De forma similar a la historia del padre de Alejandra sobre el acoso policial y el racismo, le hablé de cómo me involucré en la lucha por los derechos de los vendedores ambulantes después de que la vendedora de churros de mi barrio, Elsa, fuera acosada verbalmente por la policía y le confiscaran su carrito en 2019. Elsa también fue objeto de burlas por parte de un agente por no saber hablar inglés, y luego fue detenida brevemente. Lo que siguió fue una serie de concentraciones de vendedores y aliados que se enfrentaron a los policías del Distrito 33 de Tránsito, la creación de un GoFundMe y The Elsa Fund para apoyar a los vendedores cuyos negocios fueron confiscados, y una ola imparable de personas que se niegan a dejar que la historia de Elsa sea ignorada. Heleodora Vivar Flores, una vendedora que ha formado parte de nuestra junta directiva durante más de una década y ha liderado muchas de estas concentraciones junto a Elsa, compartió unas palabras:   

“Antes pasaba casa el dinero que tenían ellos. Lo poco que vendían. Se lo quitaron. Bueno yo creo que un poco parte de nuestra lucha es que eso ya no lo hacen nada más. Les quitan el producto antes si nosotros como somos mexicanos, acostumbramos venderla el atole hidalgo en el club para que nosotros vendamos o te lo tiraba. 

Entonces, ¿cuál es la oportunidad? No nos dan oportunidad de vivir bien–––para sobrevivir, en una palabra. Para sobrevivir. Porque nosotros no estamos trabajando para hacernos ricos sino para hacernos millonarios. ¡No! Para sobrevivir. Para que nuestra familia sobreviva–––esa oportunidad no la tenemos.” 

Cada vendedor que forma parte de este movimiento puede ser “uno de muchos”, pero cada “uno” es fundamental para crear un sentido de cuidado para los “muchos”; podemos construir estructuras de cuidado y poder si nos cuidamos activamente unos a otros y trabajamos juntos. En nuestra Feria de Recursos de Harlem, fueron vendedores como Sofiani y Moussa los que trabajaron junto a nuestra organizadora de miembros de Oriente Medio y África del Norte, Hannah Towfiek, los que atrajeron y animaron a la comunidad local. Una combinación de los meses de trabajo que Hannah ha dedicado a crear confianza en Harlem, junto con la hermandad que Sofiani y Moussa han fomentado al estar en la calle día a día, es lo que hizo que el evento fuera un éxito. 

Sofiani, que decidió vender artículos religiosos y generales, como pasta de dientes natural, aceites esenciales, jabón africano y manteca de karité, después de no recibir una remuneración justa en un restaurante, me habló de su trabajo repartiendo folletos y realizando actividades de divulgación con Hannah, haciéndose eco del “uno de muchos” de Alejandra:

“Conseguiremos que un par de personas te escuchen. De la misma manera que todos ustedes quieren ayudar a estas personas, queremos ayudarnos unos a otros. Cuando se habla de la venta o del mercado, hay mucha gente involucrada; obviamente no se trata de un solo caso individual. Aunque algunas personas trabajen sin licencia, cuando [la policía/DCWP] las trate mal, yo también me sentiré mal. Porque tienen familias aquí, tienen hijos, y sobreviven con la venta”. 

Moussa, que vende gafas y colgantes de cocodrilo y que también se dedica a la venta ambulante para tener más control sobre su trabajo como padre soltero, también añadió:

“Necesitamos a alguien como cabeza de familia, que luche por nosotros. La policía viene, nos cierran la mesa, así es como nos ganamos la vida, como cuidamos a nuestros hijos, el trabajo honesto. Pagaré para obtener una licencia, pero la ciudad lo hace imposible, diciéndonos que no podemos a menos que seamos parte del ejército. Entonces, ¿cómo puedo hacer mi trabajo? Así que estamos detrás de ti. Si dices reunión, vamos. Dondequiera que sea, voy a ir”.

Vendedores como Elsa, Heleodora, Sofiani, Moussa y Alejandra están trabajando para construir e invertir en la comunidad y en las estructuras de atención. Durante nuestro trabajo conjunto en el Bronx, vi cómo Alejandra congeniaba inmediatamente con otra vendedora de flores que había tenido experiencias similares a las de su padre. Y antes de que Alejandra y yo nos conociéramos durante las actividades de divulgación, siempre había sido una cara conocida en todas nuestras reuniones generales de miembros. La conocía como alguien que hacía que todo se sintiera más cercano y seguro, que ayudaba a definir la “comunidad” en nuestro espacio y que siempre saludaba a todos con un abrazo. 

Y entonces, esta semana, mientras hablaba con los vendedores ambulantes del Bronx, un vendedor me señaló y preguntó a Alejandra “¿Ella es tu hija?” Alejandra me acercó a ella y dijo: “No, es mi hermana.”

Este es el sentimiento de hermandad y unidad, de experiencia compartida y de trabajo compartido que impulsa nuestro trabajo. Para el último post de la serie Creating Home in NYC, celebramos a los vendedores que han estado organizando y liderando junto a nosotros, sin los cuales este trabajo no sería posible. Estos vendedores están creando un hogar con cada abrazo reconfortante en cada reunión, cada cuadra que recorren durante las actividades de divulgación, cada volante que reparten y cada historia sobre la que se niegan a guardar silencio.

 

Post 5: Blooming Together – Celebrating Our Leadership

28 Aug 2022

By Lead Vendor Power Intern Sunehra Subah

Interviews in Spanish translated by Sunehra Subah and Lorena Modesto

Blog in Spanish translated by Youssef El Mosalami and Ayan Rahman

“As street vendors, we have to educate ourselves and know our rights and our obligations, so as to not incur something illegal–––so that they [the police/DCWP] do not come to you to put a ticket or a fine in which we are marked for life. 

Because when they put a ticket on us it is not taken away, it is not removed, and it is not like we are doing anything criminal. We are doing a decent job for all our families as immigrants and as street vendors.

…And during times of COVID when I joined as a [street] vendor, we were all essential workers. We were excluded in many ways, but we are the people who gave this country a lot of help.” 

While on outreach in the Bronx to spread the word about Thursday’s resource fair, Alejandra Marin takes the time to translate rules in Spanish for each street vendor we speak to. She rattles off how far a cart has to be from the curb, how much height a stand can have (including umbrellas), and other restrictions from memory. Alejandra says everything clearly and with a lot of strength in her voice, and she always includes how she herself is a general merchandise vendor and knows how important it is for everyone to unite in this movement in order to, for example, demand that rights and rules are translated and made accessible. 

Like many other vendors, Alejandra began vending during the pandemic because of little other option to provide for her family. However, her connection to street vending did not begin with making masks, gel hand sanitizer, and other PPE more accessible for New Yorkers. Alejandra is also the daughter of a flower vendor, and we share with each other how we first got involved with the Street Vendor Project, starting with Alejandra’s father’s story: 

“My father was a street flower vendor in which he suffered harassment from the police. They took away his flowers and broke them. They removed the pots in which he had invested a lot of money at that time [to provide] for our house. 

And it was very unjust because we didn’t speak English. At that time, there was more discrimination, more racism by the police. It was a crime to sell. It was something that even I, without speaking the language, defended my father because he was not doing something illegal. I considered it that way. I did not know the laws of this country and I was involved in other organizations from different environments that defend immigrants. 

And that’s why a friend told me to go to the Street Vendors’ [Project] to fight for licenses and permits for vendors and get it that way. And that was how I am now with you to continue fighting for those licenses and permits for all vendors.” 

Because Alejandra’s father did not have someone to translate the law for him, the police’s aggression and destruction of his merchandise went unexplained. This violent and confusing experience is why Alejandra makes sure to do mini teach-ins about the city’s regulations at even our smallest actions. During our outreach, Alejandra pointed out to me how one vendor cleans her section of the sidewalk using a bucket of water; vendors clearly want to do everything properly and legally, but how can they when people like them who speak their language aren’t included in city planning? 

“Taking time for an hour or two in certain actions is not fighting day by day. Alongside comrades from other projects, every single activity and effort is to get to Albany, the Congress. Let those laws be passed to give us and grant us the licenses and permits–––not just for one, but for all.”  

In addition to being a part of our project’s leadership, Alejandra’s justified confusion, outrage, and passion also lead her to NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment), which fights to prevent labor exploitation and ensure that all workers are able to work with safety and dignity. Alejandra recognizes herself as “one of many,” stressing that while she feels she has responsibility on her shoulders to contribute to the labor movement to ensure the injustice that happened to her father is not repeated, she is a part of a larger community of immigrants and people of color who are doing the work. 

“I decided I will be on the board of directors, fighting not only for my father, but also for all my comrades and for myself, because I represent one of them [street vendors]…”

Similar to Alejandra’s father’s story of police harassment and racism, I talked to her about how I got involved in the fight for street vendors’ rights after my neighborhood churro vendor Elsa was verbally harassed by the police and had her cart confiscated in 2019. Elsa was also mocked by an officer for being unable to speak English, and then briefly arrested. What followed was a series of rallies of vendors and allies confronting the Transit District 33 cops, the creation of a GoFundMe and The Elsa Fund to support vendors whose businesses were confiscated, and an unstoppable wave of people refusing to let Elsa’s story go ignored. Heleodora Vivar Flores, a vendor who has served on our leadership board for over a decade and lead many of these rallies alongside Elsa, shared a few words:  

“Before what would happen is the money had, the little that they had sold, would be taken from them [street vendors]…Well, I think the very little that has resulted from our struggle is that now they don’t do that anymore, they only take our products. Previously, we would sell atole, since we’re Mexican, we’d sell atole and [once they took our merchandise] they’d put bleach so that we couldn’t sell it anymore, or they’d throw the atole away. 

Then, what is “opportunity”? They do not give us the opportunity to live well, or rather, even survive. Because we are not working to make ourselves rich or make ourselves millionaires. No! We are working to survive, to sustain our families — that opportunity is not there.”

Each vendor a part of this movement may be “one of many,” but each “one” is critical to creating a sense of care for the “many”–––we can build structures of care and power if we are actively looking out for each other and working together. At our Harlem Resource Fair, it was vendors like Sofiani and Moussa working alongside our Middle Eastern and North African Member Organizer Hannah Towfiek that brought in and fired up the local community. A combination of the months of work Hannah has put into building trust with Harlem along with the siblinghoods Sofiani and Moussa have fostered from being out on the streets day to day is what made that event a success. 

Sofiani—-who decided to sell religious and general merchandise including natural toothpaste, essential oils, African soap, and shea butter after not being paid fairly in a restaurant—-spoke to me about his work passing out flyers and doing outreach with Hannah, echoing Alejandra’s “one of many”:

“We’ll get a couple people to listen to you. The same way you guys want to help these people, we want to help each other. When you talk about vending or the market, it’s a lot of people involved–––obviously it’s not just about one individual case. Even if some people are working without a license, when they [the police/DCWP] treat them bad, I’m gonna feel bad also. Because they have families here, they have kids, and they survive by vending.”

Moussa, who sells glasses and croc charms and similarly does street vending for more control over his labor as a single parent, also added:

“We need someone as the head of the house, to fight for us. The police come, they close our table, this is how we make our living, how we take care of our kids, honest work. I’ll pay to get a license, but the city makes it impossible, telling us we can’t unless we were a part of the military. So how can I do my job? So we’re behind you. You say meeting, we’re coming. Wherever it is, I’m coming.”

Vendors like Elsa, Heleodora, Sofiani, Moussa, and Alejandra are doing the work to build and invest in community and structures of care. During our Bronx outreach together, I saw how Alejandra immediately clicked and bonded with another flower vendor who had experiences similar to her father’s. And before Alejandra and I got to know each other during outreach, she had always been a familiar face at all of our general membership meetings. I knew her as someone who made everything feel closer and safer–––who helped define “community” in our space and always greeted everyone with a hug. 

And then, this week, while speaking to the Bronx street vendors, one vendor gestured towards me and asked Alejandra “Is she your daughter?” Alejandra pulled me close to her and said: “No, she is my sister.” 

This is the feeling of siblinghood and unity, of shared experience, and shared labor that drives our work. For the last post of the Creating Home in NYC series, we are celebrating the vendors who have been organizing and leading alongside us, without whom this work would not be possible. These vendors are creating home with every comforting hug at every meeting, every block they walk during outreach, every flier they hand out, and every story they refuse to be silent about. 

Post 4: Keeping Puebla York Alive On Junction Blvd

21 Aug 2022

By Lead Vendor Power Intern Sunehra Subah

Interviews in Spanish translated by Sunehra Subah and Daniel Modesto

Blog in Spanish translated by Madi-Cepeda Hanley

“Here in New York, there is a majority of Poblanos—it is even called Puebla York, precisely because the majority of people from Puebla, from all over the state, have immigrated here. 

So, this stand for them—people walk here, the little children walk here and don’t know what is a tlecuile. So the kids who have not had the opportunity to go to Mexico, who don’t know the Nahuatl language, which is an Indigenous Mexican language, now know what a tlecuile is. They stop me and ask ‘what is a tlecuile?’ and I tell them ‘a tlecuile is a base where the comal sits on, the word comes from the Nahuatl language.’ So for me I don’t only bring food [to the stand], but rather I also bring a culture and represent something.” 

Every Friday-Sunday from 6-11 PM, Cleotilde Juarez Ramirez, fondly referred to as Coti by friends, can be found frying chalupas along Junction Boulevard in Corona, Queens. She had been selling this antojito (little craving/street food) in the city of Cholula in Mexico for 20 years until she immigrated to the United States and began taking care of her family as a stay at home mother. But, after the men in her family were left without work during the pandemic and the government failed to support her children, Coti decided to return to street vending to survive. For two years ever since, Coti has been frying tortillas in manteca (lard), flipping them over and over again, sprinkling them with onion and beef, and making her own green and red salsas from scratch. 

“When the stimulus checks started rolling out for families who had become unemployed, obviously we didn’t qualify for that help. I said to myself ‘Ok, fine, we don’t qualify.’ 

But my children were born here, the three of them. So to me, it was like, they [the government] are excluding my kids. Right. And that was my primary motive. 

I said to myself ‘Ok, well if they will not—if the children’s government, which supposedly is representing a free country, is not taking them into account, then I have to do something.’ I am their mother and I will not go chasing the government so that they give me a bag of food or they help me pay rent. No, I retrieved my comales [a type of griddle] from Mexico and I decided to put myself to work. ”

When I first met Coti at one of the Street Vendor Project’s resource fairs in Corona, she explained to me that while selling in a traditional brick-and-mortar store might be easier in some ways, street vending has a very special place in her heart because she is able to recreate memories of her city of Puebla, Mexico. 

When you visit Chalupas Poblanas El Tlecuile, you are immediately welcomed by the guaracha music swelling around the stand. A serape blanket is hung behind the sign advertising their social media (​​@chalupas_poblanas_el_tlecuile on Instagram, Facebook, and (718) 424-3662 on WhatsApp/phone). One group of friendssome of whom traveled all the way from Los Angelesare dancing a little in front of the stand while others sit, chat, and keep a watchful eye on their children. 

“Kids, older, and younger people—everyone sits down to share and talk. And sometimes there’s people who have to wait 20, 15 minutes for an order of chapulas, but they do it with pleasure. 

There are people who have made me cry. There is a man who hasn’t been to Mexico for 38 years, and he says “Do you know what you just did”? He moved me because he says you have returned me to my childhood, for example. And there is nothing else like what you are doing here. I congratulate you because you bring us a little piece of our town and it’s very, well, very moving.”

Coti goes on to tell me that customers traveling from far away and having her stand as one of their must-trys is not a rare thing. She mentions that 15 days ago a family came all the way from Arizona, and others visit from Chicago, Philadelphia, Connecticut, “driving so many hours to come and try our antojo.” She says that the stand is about more than just the antojo, it’s also about how she sets up and presents her stand to remind people of home, even when they are thousands of miles away. 

In my conversation with her, I share a little bit about my faint memories of street vendors back in Bangladesh, specifically of the carts we refer to as “tong.” I explain that while the cart has wheels and in theory is mobile, it’s understood that the tong will always be there in its spot, making Bengali snacks more accessible for people after school or on their way to work.

“It’s the same with the chalupas stalls. There is a neighborhood in the city of Puebla called El Carmen. For the neighborhood’s party, you’re going to see a street like Roosevelt until North Boulevard. That long. You see many chalupa vendors, many carts. Yes, many, many. Everyone sells because it’s like the attraction of that neighborhood, of that fair.

And at masses, when people leave churches on Sundays, it is very important that there is a little late night craving for street food and weekends. Everyday, it’s a craving. It’s a very popular craving in Pueblo. And here it wasn’t.”

Coti explains that her stand was the first to make authentic chalupas in Queens. The love and labor she has put into her stand is her way of investing into Queens, of making it feel like it’s her own, like it belongs to people like her, which it absolutely does. Queens is built and kept alive by the work of immigrants, and Coti specifically expands on how vendors give back to the community’s economy.

“All the products we try to use are 100% Mexican and we move, in some way, the economy here, of the state of New York, of Queens, because everything I buy is from the market and the small store around the corner…people outside of New York come and they spend their money here, while at the same time, I buy from local stores and that moves our local economy. I think that is very important…

Here [vendors] have become as important as the people [other workers] here…It’s like, it’s a tianguis …you can come here to discover everything I come across–––the variety of snacks, variety of foods, low price, fresh things, freshy made…it’s very, very important. Really. I believe this plays a very important role for the economy of Queens…People need to support us because we are very important and contribute a lot.” 

I ask Coti what that support can look like, and what needs to change to allow her to work in safety and with dignity. 

“That they give us the right permits…I speak for most vendors, we are not opposed to paying taxes. We are not opposed to collaborating with cleaning by paying for a car to come. What’s more, we could organize to get a car to bring everything that’s needed.

But they ought to give us the proper permits so that we don’t have to hide. The other day, I was the victim of a robbery here. They took my wallet out of the car and I didn’t even notice. The police came to tell me that not only did I not have permission to sell, but that I had to leave now…I’ve heard of other workers who have gone to the police because someone has robbed them and the same police have told them ‘you know what, no, you took us off the street, so now deal with [the delinquency] between yourselves.’”

As we’ve talked about in previous posts in this series, vendors are actively working with each other and with the Street Vendor Project to organize themselves. Similar to what happened just last week with the Corona vendors, the base meeting with the Jackson Heights vendors this past Wednesday was interrupted by the DCWP/police coming to ticket and inspect people’s carts. Echoing Coti’s words, it seems like the police care more about policing low-income people who are just trying to make a living than actually keeping the community safe and investing in the community. 

“[If] the people who are up there in the government get to work and really see that if they help us, we can contribute more and better and legally to the economy of this country, so we come to work.”

We have citizen children, who will one day vote. I know we are important. We have to be important. They have to take us into account, it’s about time that they stop being so caught up in their things, and they don’t realize everything that happens down here, no?”

When Coti states that the government doesn’t realize everything that happens down in the streets of Corona, she is emphasizing that the city’s lack of knowledge comes from their neglect of families like hers. So she finishes our interview together by echoing what many other immigrant families trying to survive in Queens and in all of New York feel. After we wrap up our interview, Coti puts a bowl of flautas (traditional Mexican tacos made with fried rolled corn tortillas) stuffed with cheese into my hands because she knows I can’t eat pork. The dish is topped with red salsa, cheese, and green salsa to represent the colors of the Mexican flag. I attempt to hand her coworker money for the food, but she shakes her head and he puts his hands behind his back.  

“Family doesn’t need to pay.”

Post 4: Manteniendo viva a Puebla York en Junction Blvd

21 Aug 2022

Blog escrito por Sunehra Subah

Entrevistas en español traducidas por Sunehra Subah y Daniel Modesto

Blog en español traducido por Madeleine Cepeda-Hanley 

“Aquí en Nueva York, está la mayoría de poblanos—inclusive les dije en Puebla York, precisamente por la mayoría de gente de Puebla, del Estado y de todo el Estado, que ha emigrado para acá. 

Entonces, esto para ellos — la gente pasa, hay niños pequeños que no saben que es un tlecuile. Entonces los niños que no han tenido oportunidad de ir a México, que no saben de la lengua náhuatl, que es una la lengua mexicana, ahora saben lo que es un tlecuile. A mí me paran y me preguntan, ‘¿qué es un tlecuile?’ Y yo les digo ‘un tlecuile es una base donde se sienta un comal, es una palabra de la lengua náhuatl.’ Entonces para mí no solamente traigo una comida, sino traigo una cultura y represento algo.”

Todos los viernes a domingos de las 6 hasta las 11 de la noche, Cleotilde Juarez Ramirez, cariñosamente conocida como Coti por sus amigos, se puede encontrar friendo chalupas en Junction Boulevard en Corona, Queens. Coti había vendido este antojito en la ciudad de Cholula en México durante veinte años hasta que emigró a los EE.UU.  y empezó a cuidar de su familia en casa. Pero después de que los hombres de su familia se quedaron sin trabajo durante la pandemia y el gobierno no brindó apoyo para sus hijos, Coti decidió volver a la venta callejera para sobrevivir. Durante dos años desde entonces Coti ha estado friendo tortillas en manteca, volteándolas una y otra vez, rociándolas con cebolla y carne y haciendo sus propias salsas verdes y rojas.  

“Cuando empezaron los estímulos económicos para las familias que habían quedado sin empleo, obviamente nosotros no calificamos para esa ayuda. Yo digo ‘Ok, está bien, nosotros no calificamos’.

Pero mis hijos son nacidos acá, los tres. Entonces me hizo como, excluyeron a mis hijos. Verdad. Y eso fue el principal motivo. 

Digo, ‘Ok, pues si ellos no van a, si su gobierno, que supuestamente es un país libre y no los está tomando en cuenta, pues yo tengo que hacer algo.’ Yo soy su madre y no voy a andar detrás de ellos para que me den una bolsa de comida o me ayuden a pagar renta. No, yo mandé a traer mis comales a México y decidí ponerme a trabajar.”

Cuando conocí Coti por primera vez en una de las ferias de recursos del Proyecto de Vendedores Ambulantes en Corona, me explicó que aunque vender en una tienda tradicional puede ser más fácil de algunas maneras, la venta callejera ocupa un lugar muy especial en su corazón porque la hace capaz de recrear recuerdos de su ciudad de Puebla, México. 

Cuando visitas Chalupas Poblanas El Tlecuile, eres recibido inmediatamente por la música guaracha que toca alrededor del puesto. Detrás del cartel que anuncia sus redes sociales (​​@chalupas_poblanas_el_tlecuile en Instagram y Facebook, y  (718) 424-3662 por WhatsApp/teléfono) guinda una manta de serape. Un grupo de amigos, algunos de los cuales viajaron desde Los Ángeles, están bailando un poco frente al puesto mientras otros se sientan, charlan y vigilan a sus hijos. 

“Niños, grandes, pequeños, todo el mundo se sienta a compartir y hablar. Y a veces hay gente que le toca esperar 20 minutos, 15 minutos por una orden de chalupas y lo hacen con gusto. 

Hay gente que se me ha puesto a llorar. Hay un señor que no ha ido a México por 38 años y dice “¿Sabes lo que acabas de hacer?” El señor me emocionó porque dice tú acabas de devolverme a mi infancia, por ejemplo. Y no existe eso que tú estás haciendo acá. Yo te felicito porque nos traes como, como, un pedacito de nuestra puebla y es bien, bien emocionante”

Coti me cuenta que tener clientes que viajan desde lejos y que consideran su puesto como algo imprescindible no es algo raro. Menciona que hace 15 días una familia vino a probar su comida desde Arizona y otros vienen desde Chicago, Philadelphia y Connecticut, “conduciendo tantas horas para venir a probar nuestro antojo.” Dice que el puesto es algo más que el antojo: también se trata de cómo ella presenta y maneja su puesto para recordarle a la gente de su hogar incluso cuando están a miles de kilómetros de distancia de su país. 

Hablo de mis pocos recuerdos de los vendedores ambulantes en Bangladesh, específicamente de los carritos de llamamos ‘tong’. Explico que aunque los carritos tienen ruedas y en teoría son móviles se entiende que el tong siempre estará en su lugar en la calle, haciendo que los bocadillos bengalíes sean más accesibles para las personas en camino a la escuela o el trabajo. 

“Pasa lo mismo con los puestos de chalupas. Hay un barrio en la ciudad de Puebla que se llama El Carmen. Para la fiesta de Carmen, tú vas a ver una calle como de la Roosevelt hasta la norte boulevard. Así de larga. Si tú ves muchas chaluperas, muchos puestos. Sí, muchos, muchos. Todos venden porque es como el atractivo de ese barrio, de esa feria. 

Y en las misas, cuando la gente sale de las iglesias los Domingos, es bien importante, que es un antojito de tarde noche y de los fines de semana solamente. De todos los días, es un antojo. Es un antojo bien popular en Puebla. Y aquí no lo estaba.”

Coti explica que su puesto fue el primero en ofrecer chalupas auténticas en Queens. El amor y el trabajo que Coti brinda a su puesto es su manera de invertir en la comunidad de Queens, de hacer que se siente como si fuera suya y como que pertenece a personas como ella. Absolutamente lo hace:  Queens se construye y se mantiene viva gracias al labor de los inmigrantes. 

Coti explica específicamente cómo los vendedores callejeros contribuyen a la economía de la comunidad:

“Todos los productos que tratamos de usar son 100% mexicanos y movemos de alguna manera, movemos la economía de aquí, de nuestro Estado de Nueva York, de nuestro [condado] de Queens, porque todo lo que compro lo compro en la marqueta, en la tiendita de la esquina…Le digo, viene gente de fuera, o sea, vienen a dejar su dinero aquí al mismo tiempo cuando yo compro en las tiendas locales y eso mueve la economía local de nosotros. Creo que es algo bien importante….

Aquí [vendedores] se han vuelto tan importantes como la gente [otros trabajadores]…Es como si fuera un tianguis…tú puedes venir aquí si vas a encontrar todo lo que me encuentro–––los diferencia de antojitos, diferencia de comidas, bajo precio, cosas frescas, recién hechas…es bien, bien, bien importante. De verdad. Yo creo que juega un papel bien importante para la economía de Queens…Tienen que ayudarnos a hacer algo porque es algo bien importante que aporta muchísimo.”

Le pregunto a Coti de qué manera debe ser ese apoyo, y qué debe cambiar para permitirle trabajar con seguridad y dignidad. 

“Que nos den los permisos adecuados…hablo por la mayoría de los vendedores, no nos oponemos a pagar impuestos. No nos oponemos a colaborar con la limpieza por pagar un carro para que venga. Es más, podríamos organizarnos, a que viniera a un carro a traer todo adecuado.

Pero que nos den los permisos adecuados para no estarnos escondiendo. Los otros días, fui víctima de un robo aquí. Me sacaron la cartera del carro y yo ni cuenta me di. Vino la policía a decirme que no tenía permiso para venderme, tenía que ir ya…He escuchado a compañeros que han tenido que ir a ver a la policía porque alguien les robó y los mismos policías les han dicho que ‘sabes que, no, ustedes nos sacaron de las calles, entonces arréglenselas como puedan.” 

Como hemos explicado en publicaciones anteriores, los vendedores trabajan entre ellos y con el Proyecto de Vendedores Ambulantes para organizarse. Como la reunión entre los vendedores de Corona que sucedió la semana pasada, la reunión entre los vendedores de Jackson Heights este miércoles pasado fue interrumpida por la policía, que vinieron a inspeccionar los carritos y poner multas a los vendedores. Como dice Coti, parece que la policía se preocupa más por vigilar a las personas que solo están intentando ganarse la vida que por mantener a la comunidad segura o invertir en la comunidad. 

“[Si] la gente que está allá arriba en el gobierno se pongan a trabajar y ver realmente si ellos nos ayudan, nosotros podemos aportar más y mejor y legalmente a la economía de este país, por eso venimos a trabajar. 

Tenemos hijos ciudadanos, que un día van a votar. Sé que somos importantes. Tenemos que ser importantes. Tienen que tomarnos en cuenta, ya es hora de que sigan con sus cosas y ellos no se den cuenta de todo lo que pasa aquí abajo, ¿no?”

Cuando Coti afirma que el gobierno no se da cuenta de todo lo que sucede en las calles de Corona, enfatiza que esta falta de conocimiento de la ciudad proviene de su abandono de familias como la suya. Termina nuestra entrevista repitiendo lo que sienten muchas otras familias inmigrantes tratando de sobrevivir en Queens y en toda Nueva York.  Después de terminar nuestra entrevista, Coti me da un tazón de flautas rellenas de queso porque sabe que, no puedo comer cerdo. Están cubiertas de salsa verde y roja y queso para representar los colores de la bandera mexicana.  Yo intento entregarle dinero a su compañero de trabajo para la comida pero Coti sacude la cabeza y su compañero retira sus manos. 

“Familia no necesita pagar.”

 

Post 3: Preserving Chinese Art, Culture, and Street Signs

14 Aug 2022

By Lead Vendor Power Intern Sunehra Subah

Interviews with Chinese vendors translated by SVP’s Women & BIPOC Business Empowerment Organizer Rui Li

Kun Wu has been selling his calligraphy art in Times Square for about 25 years. His table is decorated with his past work, and while some name plates he’s created have more generic New York touristy scenes, others with Superman and Disney’s Frozen backgrounds are clearly more targeted towards children. Mr. Wu says that many of his customers are younger kids, pointing out how he drew two dolphins to make up the S and one butterfly for the E in “JESSICA.” “Little kids enjoy having their names transformed into a sequence of fun shapes and animals and colorful squiggles.” 

Back in China, Mr. Wu did drawing as a hobby, but his main focus in school was performing traditional Chinese opera, which he continues to teach in Chinatown once a week. He states that everything he does stems from his love for folk Chinese art and culture, whether it’s drawing, performing, or photography. His work as a street vendor is just one of the many ways Mr. Wu has made traditional forms of art more accessible for people in the Chinese diasporaboth tourists and New Yorkers alikewho may feel disconnected with the culture. 

“I use traditional Chinese techniques and styles to write out names in English. This is my way of making a living, of course. I’m a vendor, it’s my job. 

But the other reason I do this is that, for Chinese Americans and the diaspora—and the younger generation too—this is a way to continue Chinese art and tradition”

Mr. Wu’s work becomes even more important in the context of the New York Times article “Manhattan’s Chinese Street Signs Are Disappearing” from March of this year. As a brief history lesson, Manhattan’s Chinatown emerged out of the Chinese community’s need to sustain themselves and survive the violent processes of segregation and systemic exclusion. In the 19th century, existing xenophobic and racist sentiments in the West were heightened by the economic recession, with white Americans placing blame on the Chinese for the unemployment crisis. Due to the spike in anti-Asian violence in California, many Chinese immigrants migrated to the East Coast. Chinatowns “grew both involuntarily and voluntarily” in the East, with Chinese immigrants developing enclaves in places white Americans found undesirable (1).

As written in the NYT article, Chinese street names were written on shop windows and in personal correspondences to make the neighborhood more accessible for immigrants who knew little English. And later in 1969, local organizations fought for the New York City traffic commissioner to officially install bilingual street signs. While some racist groups responded to the signs with violence and vandalism, the community resisted by painting and repainting the Chinese translations–––refusing to be erased. The signs were also very special because they were handwritten by local calligrapher Tan Bingzhong (譚炳忠), and his handiwork can still be spotted in the small variations between characters.

According to the article, “there are about 100 bilingual street signs across two dozen streets in Chinatown today, of the at least 155 bilingual signs ordered in 1985.” In addition to depriving the Chinatown community of a symbol of their historic resistance, the erasure of the Chinese translations signifies the city’s disregard for the beautiful traditional art of calligraphy. But vendors like Mr. Wu are, in a way, preserving what these signs represent through their work as Chinese artists. Mr. Wu is resisting, just as Tan Bingzhong (譚炳忠) did, by continuing to practice this form of art everyday, making cultural and traditional forms of art more accessible, and getting paid for his artistic labor.

And of course, these disappearing signs are also an example of how the city disregards community members who can’t understand English, which is reflected in how non-English speaking vendors are treated. Many vendors I spoke to noted that, as immigrants who just came to the country with very little English, they had to turn to vending because they didn’t have many options for jobs. And a common problem they all spoke about was how confusing and unpredictable the rules for vendors were, especially with a language barrier. 

As one vendor, who chose to stay anonymous, said:

“The main problem is that because there are different restricted streets, different rules, different times we can vend–––it’s first of all, very difficult for any English speaker to remember the rules because it’s very detailed and kind of arbitrary. It’s already really difficult. And for us, who don’t really speak English that much, that’s even more of a barrier, right. That’s even harder.

Vendors also explained that there is no standardization when it comes to police and DCWP enforcement. Some officers are looser and others are stricter, and sometimes vendors are told one thing from one officer and the opposite from another. It’s very difficult for vendors to know what’s actually right and it’s even more stressful and anxiety-inducing when they aren’t being spoken to in a language they feel comfortable with. 

Mr. Wu also added that something that the city could do to better support vendors would be to actually open restricted streets:

“For example, over there on 7th Ave, technically it’s restricted until around 11pm. But there’s not as many people out at 11pm, right, so it makes no sense. So, for me, the biggest thing the city could do is change restrictions. 

Make it so there’s more hours for us to be here legally. Because us First Amendment vendors, we don’t need any other additional licenses or permits or anything. We just want to be able to have more space, have more time.”

The term “First Amendment vendors” Mr. Wu mentions includes people wanting to sell merchandise such as newspapers, magazines, CDs, books and art. These vendors are protected under the right to free speech, and so, as Mr. Wu brings up, they don’t need a license or permit. 

Another First Amendment vendor we met in Times Square was Bin Zheng, who has been a caricature and portrait vendor for the past 20 years. His table acts as his art portfolio, surrounded by pencil sketchings of celebrities and cartoonist bobble-head portraits. Bin Zheng shares a similar story as the other non-English vendors in the area. 

“As someone with limited English, I could have either worked in something like a restaurant or do something like this, where I had more control and flexibility over my schedule. 

And I have a background in art from back in China. I studied art, I went to art school. What I did as a job after was kind of like staging and drawing for department stores. So I had this background and now, being on the street and drawing things everyday, I have a chance to practice after basically not doing it for a while.”

Bin Zheng recounts how his secondary school teacher picked up his talent for sketching and recommended he go into that field. And his natural talent and years of schooling is very evident in his art, with some sketches looking closer to photographs. There is an amazing amount of detail and skill put into every single piece. 

There is something very special about being able to see individual strokes of Mr. Zheng’s pencil when looking very closely at a piece. The bobble-head caricatures are also a very New York attraction that Times Square wouldn’t be the same without, and Bin Zheng echoes this. 

“I just want to add that I am a part of the cultural fabric of the city—not only as a vendor, but as a caricature and portrait artist. In New York, I think, it’s known and iconic that you have vendors and artists out on the street. I am still this very skill-based laborer, I am providing this public good, I am a resource to this city. I’m adding to the cultural and commercial vibrancy of Times Square.

Maybe I’m providing only a small bit of happiness to kids or tourists, but I think vendors are an integral part of New York. And with technology, traditional forms of art are declining. I want to be able to preserve that, and do so by continuing to be out here.”

Our city would not be the same without the immigrant artists who sell their work on the streets. Like Mr. Wu, Mr. Zheng’s work as a vendor plays a crucial role in the preservation of art and culture, just in a different way. Vendors make this city, whether their labor is being used to preserve their culture and the history of their community’s resistance or preserve the classic New York vibe that brings tourists. 

Vendors shouldn’t be feeling constantly nervous and surveillanced while working. And they especially shouldn’t be unfairly ticketed or reprimanded if they’re not given a translation of the rules. Vendors like Mr. Wu and Mr. Zheng are the heart of New York, and the city should start treating them like it. 

(1) “From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace” by Valerie Imbruce, pg 37

Post 2: From Bangladesh to Jackson Heights

7 Aug 2022

By Lead Vendor Power Intern Sunehra Subah

“Everyone over here knows each other well. I met most of the people selling here a long time ago, right after I came from Bangladesh. You just kind of get to know everyone, and people help each other out. 

Even for my previous work, I met someone and asked them if they could get me a job and they said “okay, you can come work for me.” And all the vendors working in front of TD Bank are my close friends”

Colorful hijabs drape over the side of MD Ramij Uddin’s table. Crates full of prayer mats are placed next to rows of prayer beads (tasbihs), azan clocks, copies of the Quran, and random merchandise like face masks. Uddin’s table sits in a corner of Diversity Plaza, surrounded by mini paan shops, Kabab King, the food court Ittadi Garden and Grill, and racks of South Asian clothing floating around the street. 

When another intern Awestaa and I first introduced ourselves to MD Ramij, he outlined a map of other vendors he thought we should talk to, waving his hands to mimic the intersecting avenues and streets around his corner. MD Ramij has an endless amount of knowledge of where people’s usual spots are, including where Afghan vendors are located for Awestaa, who speaks Farsi, to talk to. 

MD Ramij specifically pointed us towards his friends on the block in front of TD Bank. It became clear that this block doesn’t operate as individual vendors, but works more as a unit, with the vendors knowing not only their own businesses, but everyone’s on the block like the back of their hands. One of the vendors working on this block is Kamal Nasser, who filed the lawsuit in 2014 to offer specialized licenses to veterans with mental disabilities. When Nasser leaves briefly for afternoon prayer, his neighboring vendor, MD Munaf, always steps in to watch over his table. Munaf rattles off the prices he’s memorized for each piece of clothing when customers come up to sift through them, all while keeping an eye on his own business.  

The “TD block” is a relationship-based ecosystem of vendors who protect and nourish one another, and this is made even clearer when merchandise vendor MD Nasir Uddin is able to casually walk up to one of the halal carts and grab two free cold sodas. One is for himself and one is for me, serving as very temporary relief for the hottest day of the week while we chat about why he first started vending.

“Before I would work in a supermarket in Manhattan. They wouldn’t give me my hours correctly, some weeks they’d give me 30, 15, 20, they’d change it or decrease it. Here, I can make my own hours.”

MD Nasir expressed how he felt exploited by the supermarket he previously worked at, which would either underpay him for the full hours he’d worked or randomly change his schedule without notice. Other people I’d spoken to also echoed that they started vending for more control over their own labor. Particularly, they are able to step away for prayer on time without judgment, and actually have a strong network of “coworkers” to support them. MD Ramij also added that people with disabilities have greater agency in determining their own physical and mental limits, and don’t have to fear punishment from their supervisor for needing to change their schedules. They are able to actually listen to their bodies, and put their health first (rest is resistance!)  

Rather than having an exploitative and paternalistic power dynamic between boss and worker, the vendors around Diversity Plaza and TD Bank are able to work as a community of workers with respect for one another and care for the streets they work on. While vendors are often blamed for trash, many people I spoke to talked about how they worked with other vendors to collaboratively clean around their area. This coordination is not unique to Jackson Heights either, with the 90 food and merchandise vendors in Corona Plaza also coming together to write up a community agreement on managing trash, make a map of each vendor’s spot to avoid future conflicts, and elect people to form a Corona Plaza Vendors Association. For the Bengali vendors in Jackson Heights, Kamal Nasser and MD Nasir Uddin have been unofficially elected as organizers because of the trust they’ve created with each person on the block and because they’ve become familiar with people’s schedules. 

The Corona Plaza street vendors’ drawn-up map of their spots, figuring out how to share space efficiently

Vendors are putting in the work to organize themselves and share space efficiently. They have invested in and created self-governing systems out of nothing, and have shown up for each other when the city has not. However, it is difficult to make progress with their productive visions of city planning when they are constantly threatened by the NYPD and DCWP. Even just recently, the Corona vendors’ meeting on August 4 was stopped by the police and officials from the DCWP coming to fine vendors. And in Jackson Heights, the DCWP intentionally came to ticket vendors the day before Eid because that is when the religious merchandise vendors get the most business. According to vendors, the DCWP stayed until 6 PM and so they couldn’t start selling until the late evening. Many vendors I talked to repeated that while they appreciated how vending gives them collective power over their work, they obviously do not want to work illegally and in constant fear.

Something that came to mind as I was speaking with the Bengali Jackson Heights vendors was the labor movements documented in “Eat This!”, the Fall/Winter 2000 edition of the South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection. The magazine covers everything from undocumented South Asian workers in New York restaurants demanding better working conditions to self-reliant and sustainable village economies back home in the countries we came from. From Bangladesh to Jackson Heights, the organizing work of vendors in New York City is part of a larger global labor movement to demand work autonomy, and demand participation in the informal economy without fear, policing, or paternalism from larger governing bodies and corporations.

 

 

Post 1: We Keep Us Safe

31 Jul 2022

By Lead Vendor Power Intern Sunehra Subah

“I’ve been a part of many movements in my lifetime. I’m not unfamiliar with having to fight for my rights. I know how it is, so I’m thankful to you all for doing this work. It is really important.

I mean, if we could get permits, then we’re all good, right! But I’m not ready to put down my contact information yet. First I’m going to talk to the other vendors along 37th to see if they’ve heard of the Street Vendor Project, and then I’ll call your number.” 

I met this vendor while doing outreach in Jackson Heights. His table was covered with a variety of merchandise, ranging from hijabs and tubes of henna to baseball caps and face masks. 

Like other vendors I’d spoken to, he seemed more comfortable and open about his experiences selling on the street once I started talking in Bengali. Sharing the same language, the same accents and emphasis on the same words, created a greater sense of familiarity–––in an “I see you, I got you, we take care of each other” type of way. During street outreach to speak with vendors, I’ve witnessed this sense of community care over and over again. One uncle insisted on holding an umbrella open for me and another intern to protect us from the sun while we all spoke. And I’ve had to shove money in tip jars and semi-sprint away on multiple occasions after vendors with major aunty/uncle energy pushed free food into my hands. And this care goes beyond language barriers; vendors are the eyes and ears of the street, watching over each other’s carts and making folks feel safe in spaces that are often overlooked by city planners. In front of neglected train stations and empty storefronts, vendors are there, even after dark, brightening up the sidewalk with their colorful stands.

While shared language and similar identities help create a certain bond and level of trust, when it comes to organizing there is often still slight caution with vendors we’ve just met for the first time. Although the merchandise vendor gave us a lot of useful information on the presence of police and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) in the area, he was still very careful with giving out personal information. Considering how the city targets and over-polices street vendors, most of whom are low-income immigrants and people of color, this distance is very valid and understandable. 

The over-policing of vendors is evident in the ridiculously high fines for small violations, limited number of licenses and permits, number of restricted streets and limits on when folks can sell, and the many cases of police harassing vendors and confiscating their carts. Local Law 18 of 2021 helped increase the number of permits available to food vendors, and helped shift street vendor enforcement away from the NYPD by creating the civilian Office of Street Vending Enforcement; however, there still aren’t enough permits and licenses available to meet the demand, and vendors are still harassed and discriminated against by the police and DCWP. The City’s continuous investment in more police and its campaign against vendors intersects with aggressive crackdowns on homeless folks and fare evasion. This emphasizes how ultimately these campaigns are not about investing in and protecting our communities, but about policing low-income New Yorkers. 

To survive in a world where they are aggressively policed, vendors rely on the relationships they’ve created with one another. When the merchandise vendor responded that he’d check in with other vendors in the area about the Street Vendor Project (SVP), I was reminded of something we do at our general membership meetings. All vendors and allies stand in a circle, throw our hands up together, and chant “Vendor Power!” in various languages.

Vendors are more powerful when they come together; they help each other survive by sharing knowledge and resources, by letting each other know who is safe to talk to, by going through “know your rights” training together, by role playing ‘what to do when approached by enforcement’  at our meetings. “Vendor Power!” is spoken with the same strength, solidarity, and love for community as the chants “Who keep us safe? We keep us safe!” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido (the people united will never be defeated!)” used in protest centralized on Black and Brown people and other people of color. 

There is no one better to lead the fight for street vendor rights than street vendors themselves, because they know the streets and have established trust and care for each other. This is why SVP is membership-based, and why vendors drive our organizing work. 

The struggles of New York’s smallest businesses are a result of larger histories of systemic racial exclusion, anti-immigrant sentiment codified into law, and lack of investment in marginalized communities. Vendors are aware of these histories and are not afraid to fight back, whether they are fighting through the courts, marching on the streets, or just establishing their right to be there by showing up at their spot day after day.

While walking along Junction Blvd or Roosevelt Avenue, I am welcomed by the comforting sound of sizzling oil, by the endless rows of bright scarves and linens, by the scent of familiar spices wafting into the air. My conversations with vendors I’ve known for a while sound like catching up with old friends. And when I check in with one vendor, I usually end up meeting the entire block, being introduced and reintroduced and offered several cups of tea during it all. Vendors are integral to making New York City feel like home —- not just for the communities they serve, but also for each other. In the face of displacement and exclusion, the love and labor vendors put into their work help hold our communities together. This blog will attempt to translate that love and labor into words and pictures, but to truly understand it, you’ll just have to visit all our wonderful street vendors!

Vendor Power Summer Internship Program

12 Jun 2022

 

SVP is looking for three dynamic, young adults (ages 18-24) for our summer internship program, Vendor Power Summer. Vendor Power Summer will provide young adults with leadership development skills and non-profit management, knowledge of food-justice practices in New York City’s diverse neighborhoods, and the various social, economic, environmental immigrant, and racial factors that marginalize street vendors. Through Vendor Power Summer, SVP aims to boost the confidence of young adults in their communities with the hopes of becoming future grassroots leaders who advocate for themselves and others.    

 

Program dates: July 6, 2022 – August 25, 2022 

Application Due Date: June 26th, 2022 at 11:59 PM

To Apply: Email your cover letter & resume to svp@urbanjustice.org with “Vendor Power Summer Internship” in the subject line by application due date.

Ideal Qualifications and Skills 

  • Relentlessly dedicated to building the power of working class, immigrant communities of color to incite transformative social and economic justice movement building 
  • Excited about working across multiple cultures and is flexible and patient when communicating with people who speak different languages 
  • A team-player eager to collaborate with diverse, intergenerational, and multicultural stakeholders to achieve systemic change 
  • Committed to and knowledgeable of SVP’s mission and movement building, and enthusiastic about nurturing leadership growth among members 
  • Bilingual in any of these languages: Arabic, Wolof, Mandarin, Spanish, or Tibetan 

Responsibilities: 

  • Coordinate and implement membership recruitment activities including direct outreach on-the-street and through partner organizations 
  • Support other outreach activities such as phonebanking and flyering 
  • Maintain database for tracking participation and development of members 
  • Translate various outreach, educational, and membership-related materials and communications
  • Participate in legislative campaigns that engage members and leaders with elected officials and win concrete improvements in the lives of vendors 

Benefits 

Each intern will be compensated $20/hour for 20 hours per week, for eight weeks totaling a stipend of $3,200. 

SVP is an equal opportunity employer. We are committed to a diverse workforce that is representative of the communities we fight alongside and serve. People of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ-identified individuals, and folks from low-income communities are strongly encouraged to apply.  

The Street Vendor Project is part of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy to various marginalized groups of New Yorkers 

 

 

 

We’re Hiring: Development Director

17 May 2022

The Street Vendor Project is at an exciting moment of growth and opportunity and is looking to hire someone for a new role, Development Director.  We are seeking a new team member who has the desire to work at a grassroots member-driven justice organization, lead, and implement fundraising efforts for our small and growing worker center.  

Application due date: May 31st, 2022. Applications submitted prior to this date will be reviewed on a rolling basis.  

Start Date: ASAP, or by June 15th, 2022

 

About the Position

The Development Director will play a key, strategic role in leading the Street Vendor Project to deepen its fundraising capacity, and serve as a critical thought partner with the organization’s fundraising team which includes the Director, Deputy Director, and part-time Event Coordinator. Reporting to the Deputy Director, this position will be responsible for all aspects of philanthropic support, including foundation, individual donor, and government fundraising: 

  • Collaborate with Deputy Director to strategize, craft, and implement SVP’s fundraising strategy.
  • Contribute to the development of processes to ensure a streamlined workflow from prospecting through grant closure, including an annual plan to ensure a timely and comprehensive response to existing grant deadlines as well as emerging deadlines for new funding opportunities.
  • Manage portfolio of foundation and government grant proposals and reports, including serving as the lead grant report and renewal request writer, developing budgets and financial narratives.
  • Manage an institutional donor profile, with a focus on deepening partnerships to secure renewed and expanded support.
  • Collaborate with leadership team on the planning and execution of meetings with foundation leaders/staff, and donor advisors, including researching and cultivate new relationships with foundation funding prospects, serving as the lead writer for concept notes, inquiries, and new applications.
  • Maintain grants and contracts calendar; develop and implement systems and strategies to maintain up-to-date information on the status of all existing grants as well as proposals; oversee grants and contracts file management. 
  • Develop the Advisory Board as ambassadors and fundraisers for the organization  
  • Support the Fundraising Committee and Event Coordinator in leading virtual and in person events.
  • Actively analyze and understand emerging needs within the organization and identify prospects and implement approaches to secure new funding.
  • Stay abreast of philanthropic trends and foundation, government, and corporate giving opportunities. Develop strategies to regularly monitor and prospect for new funding opportunities.

 

Qualifications 

SVP is looking for a Development Director who:  

  • Understands the challenges immigrant workers face and is dedicated to movement building.  
  • Brings 3+ years of development experience working with foundations, government, and/or individual donors.
  • Is an excellent writer and relationship builder and can identify and speak to funder interests. 
  • Demonstrates airtight project management skills and the capacity to both plan in work advance and respond to timely new opportunities that may arise.
  • Outstanding attention to detail and accuracy – commitment to work product that is thorough, complete, and polished. 
  • Like most roles in a small organization, this role is flexible, and the exact duties may contain other tasks and duties in keeping with the general nature of the position
 

How to Apply

To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, and two references to svp@urbanjustice.org by May 31st, 2022 at at 11:59 pm. 

Applications submitted prior to this date will be reviewed on a rolling basis.