Tag Archive | "Jay Devineni"

Ethnic America Goes to the Polls

Reporters from the New York Torch visited polling places in the New York City and Jersey City area to ask first-time voters from ethnic communities about their experiences, opinions and hopes for America.

Click on the pictures to know their stories.

Reporting by Mea Ashley, Yvonne Bang, Magdalene Castro, William Denselow, Shaukat Hamdani, Colleen McKown, Michael Orr, MaryAlice Parks, Nia Phillips, Griselda Ramirez, Rebecca Sanchez and Charlotte Stafford.
Edited by Jay Devineni, Lorelai Germain, Stephen Jiwanmall, Ntshepeng Motema and Christina Thorne.
Complied by Dhiya Kuriakose.

Posted in Election2012, Featured StoriesComments (0)

Language Barrier Creates Problems for Arab American Voters

Written by Jay Devineni

Reported by MaryAlice Parks, William Denselow, & Jay Devineni 

For many Arab Americans voting on Tuesday in Brooklyn, language barriers made it harder for their voices to be heard.  Despite Brooklyn’s large Arab population, there were no ballots available in Arabic.  However, the New York City Board of Elections does provide translations in Bengali, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish.

The Arab American Association of New York has been campaigning since the summer to increase voter registration among Arab Americans.  But members of the organization have found that even registered Arab voters run into problems when it comes to reading the ballot.

“We found that we would either have to write it out or interpret it for them,” said Aber Kawas, 20, a voter registration fellow for the association.

In addition, the voting process in many Arab neighborhoods proved to be difficult on Election Day.

“It’s confusing and people are not very nice,” said Kawas, who voted Tuesday for the first time.  “It can be intimidating for immigrants.”

Kawas grew up and works in the area of Brooklyn known as Bay Ridge, where an estimated 35,000 Arab people live.  Kawas and other Arab Americans in the area were told to vote at Public School 200 at 1940 Benson Ave.  They arrived there Tuesday afternoon, only to find that the polling site was closed.  The school had a sign that directed them to St. Finbar Roman Catholic Church about two blocks away.  Upon arriving there, they were directed to a third polling site, Regina Pacis Housing Corps, which was over 15 blocks away.  The process was confusing for many Arab voters who didn’t speak English, and some couldn’t even take the extra time to vote.

Before Election Day, the Arab American Association’s staff tried to find out if election materials could be translated into Arabic.  In order to do this, they talked to the Kings County Board of Elections, which serves the borough of Brooklyn.  But when they asked if Arabic ballots were available, the Board of Elections was not very helpful.

“People would give you different information,” Kawas said.   “You never really knew if you could get it.”

Upon further research, the group found that translations were available in several languages, but Arabic was not one of them.

“Hindi was the closest we found,” Kawas said in reference to certain areas of Queens that have high percentages of South Asian people and have been granted Hindi interpreters.

Kawas said that if the South Asian community in Queens can get voting assistance in Hindi, then Arab Americans in Brooklyn should be able to get help in Arabic.

“There might be racial undertones,” she admitted, but she doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

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[VIDEO] Sri Lankans on Immigration and the 2012 Election

Dhiya Kuriakose, Sri Lankan Beat Reporter~

Immigrants are an important part of the United States economy. Yet no political party has discussed immigrant issues this election. The Sri Lankan community told Dhiya Kuriakose what they thought should be done about immigration and why it should be an election issue.

Edited & Produced by Jay Devineni

Posted in Election2012, Video StoriesComments (0)

Senegalese Street Vendors Struggle to Make a Living

by Jay Devineni, Senegalese Beat Reporter 

El Hadji Malick Seck, a Senegalese street vendor, waits for customers in front of his merchandise at 37th Street and Sixth Avenue.

As rain clouds begin to gather over midtown Manhattan, Senegalese street vendors make a splash with tourists.  By the time the rain begins to fall, sightseers and shoppers are unlikely to miss the Senegalese merchants trying to sell them umbrellas.

“All New Yorkers have umbrellas, but tourists come, and they don’t have umbrellas,” said Doudou Faye, a Senegalese street vendor at the intersection of 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue.  “It’s an easy way to tell them apart.”

Although the rain one recent afternoon provided a temporary boost in business, umbrellas aren’t the only thing that Senegalese street vendors peddle.  They also sell many different kinds of hats, handbags, scarves, and shawls.  Like many fashion accessories sold in America, most of these items are made in various Asian countries.

El Hadji Malick Seck, a Senegalese vendor at 37th Street and Sixth Avenue, rents his own space on the side of a deli, where he hangs up all his merchandise.  He pays the owner of the deli $300 a week and pays a separate landlord $365 a week to store his goods in a nearby basement overnight.  Seck has been selling wares in New York City for 33 years.  In addition to the usual hats and scarves, he also has space to sell plenty of clothing.  But the extra space doesn’t necessarily mean extra sales.

“From when I got here at 10 to now, I did not make a single dollar,” said Seck as the sun was setting one recent fall night.

Seck said that he gets asked for directions much more often than he makes sales.  A typical hat from him costs $10, while a handbag could cost up to $30.  At those prices, he said, he would need to sell at least 10 items each day just to pay his rent and have money for food.  He also said that business has been slow for a long time, and that he currently owes money to the IRS, the New York State Department of Labor, and the landlord who stores his merchandise.

“Things were good for a while, then after 9/11, they got worse and worse,” he said.

Seck, along with many other Senegalese street vendors who have been struggling, said he thinks that economic hardship and a decrease in tourism after 9/11 are the reasons why business is slow.  Seck commutes from Harlem most days, but he occasionally sleeps in the storage basement to save time.  He said he arrives around 9 or 10 o’clock every morning to begin his workday and doesn’t leave until 10:30 at night.  Despite his long workdays, he said he doesn’t leave to go eat because he doesn’t have any employees to watch his merchandise.

“I eat once in the morning and that’s it,” he said.

Even though the work is difficult, Seck said that peddling is the only thing that most Senegalese immigrants know how do to.  In Senegal, he said, people know how to trade things, and that is the best skill they have in the American job market.  In addition, he said that it is very difficult to change jobs because of the current economic climate.

“There is nothing else to do.  No one can get jobs,” he said.

Faye, however, suggests that the current street vendors might be the lucky ones.

“There is a very long waitlist to get permits,” said Faye.  “It has been like that since something like 1994, and most people never get off it.  You can’t get a permit now unless you’re a veteran.”

In order to sell goods in a public place like many of the Senegalese people do, one must obtain a general vendor license from New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs.  General vendor licenses were once distributed liberally, but now, only honorably discharged U.S. military veterans and spouses or domestic partners of honorably discharged U.S. military veterans can apply for a general vendor license.  These applicants do not have to wait on the waiting list.  In addition, they are not required to pay the license fee.  The license fee is $100 for people who apply from Oct. 1 to March 30 and $200 for people who apply from March 31 to Sept. 1.

New York City law also requires that the Department of Consumer Affairs issues no more than 853 general vendor licenses to non-veterans at one time.  According to a study by the Urban Justice Center, the waiting list has been closed to new non-veteran applicants since 1991, and there are currently 3,133 people on the waiting list.  Faye, who is not a veteran, got off the list in 1992 after years of waiting.

And if getting a license wasn’t hard enough, vendors need to apply for license renewal every year, which costs $200.  They also need to meet certain tax requirements.  Fortunately for the Senegalese community, the Senegalese Association in America, located in Central Harlem, provides resources for them.

“For business people, we have, once in a while, a seminar with Consumer Affairs and the Small Business Administration to help them know how to properly function with their businesses,” said Papa Sette Drame, President of the Senegalese Association in America.

Drame said that many Senegalese immigrants look to the Senegalese Association in America for help finding a job, and about 85 percent of Senegalese workers are street vendors, taxi drivers, or hairstylists.  No matter what the occupation, one thing seems to be true about Senegalese immigrants.

“My people are good people,” said Seck.  “They come here and work hard.”

Many Senegalese immigrants live by the adage, “hard work pays off.”  For street vendors, hard work pays, but evidently not that well.

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Slideshow: Africans Celebrate Heritage with Harlem Parade, Festival

Photographers: Jay Devineni (Senegalese Beat Reporter) and Ntshepeng Motema (Malian Beat Reporter)

People from all over Africa and the African diaspora participated in the Sixth Annual African Day Parade and Festival on Sept. 23, 2012 in Harlem.  From noon to 4 pm, people of African descent strolled, sang, and danced their way down Malcolm X Boulevard wearing traditional garb.  The parade was followed by a festival in Marcus Garvey Park, where everyone was treated to music from native African singers and musicians.

Posted in Featured Stories, Photo SlideshowsComments (0)

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