“They treat us like garbage,” he says. “I’m not garbage. I’m human.”
The ”they” Omar is referring to is the city police, who he claims often harass, arrest, and fine street vendors for alleged violations of street space. The “they” is the city government, which imposes a host of licensing rules that make it hard for low-income workers and immigrants like Omar to turn a decent profit and develop their business. The “they” is storefront restaurants and businesses that vending activists say have been vocal advocates for keeping these restrictive rules in place.
“I’m the economy!” Omar insists. He has bulging brown eyes, slick black hair and the week-old beginnings of a beard. “I give people good cheap food that they can afford.” He emphatically points to the factory-made bulk goods in his cart — the bags, straws, wipes, pretzels, condiments, meats and more. “I buy these things and help to employ the people in those factories,” he says. “I am important. I’m like security, I see everything that goes on in the streets!”
It’s 9 at night and Omar opened his cart two hours ago just as an October chill set in. He’ll stand at the corner of 42nd and 8th until midnight selling cheap drinks and Americanized versions of “Eastern” dishes like kabob and chicken and rice. He knows all the vendors in the area, and many of the customers who go by.
Omar came four years ago from Port Said, a coastal town in Egypt, seeking stability for his family, including four kids. For centuries street carts have been a part of the American immigrant story. Each vendor has a different impetus. For Omar, it’s his family. For them he has learned the ins and outs of a bureaucracy that most Americans never have to think about: what hours and days certain streets are banned, in which zones the police officers are friendlier, how to navigate certain courts for different fines, and more. He’s just trying to make decent money.
Find the entire article by Miriam Berger at Salon.com <here>