Tag Archive | "Manhattan"

High Latino Support for Obama in Spanish Harlem

Latinos most concerned with economy and immigration

By Griselda Denise Ramirez and Mea Ashley

A constant flow of people entered a public school through a fenced-in playground in East Harlem on Tuesday to cast their votes — most of them Latinos who said they voted for President Barack Obama.

The preferences of the highly Latino-populated community, sometimes known as Spanish Harlem, mirrors the results of a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center released last month.   The study found that registered Latino voters favor Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 69 percent to 21 percent.

Lida Cabeza, of Colombia, voted at Public School 72 located on East 104th Street.

“I am very interested that Obama wins because he truly is with all the people that need the most help – the elderly and children,” said Cabeza. 63. “He provides lots of help for the poor.”

Omar Batista walked about a block from his home to P.S. 72 to vote for the first time. Batista, 31, said he was excited to vote for Obama.

“It is great,” said Batista. “I feel like I now count.”

Batista, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has been living in Manhattan for the past 22 years, made his voting experience a family affair. His mother and two uncles accompanied him to the voting poll.

His main concern: the economy.

“It worries me that someone who wants to increase taxes for the middle class gets to be president. That troubles me,” said Batista. “As the middle class we have to work really hard for our money.”

According to a Pew Research Center study, 54 percent of Hispanic voters cite jobs and the economy as the top issues on their minds.

Daniel Olivarez, also from the Dominican Republic, voted for Obama a second time.

“There are many Hispanics who are part of the high unemployment rate,” said Olivarez, 48. “I hope that in the second term the president can resolve that.”

Olivarez said he has a few family members and relatives who are not yet American citizens. He said he hopes Obama wins so he can implement the immigration reform he promised in his first term.

Amid the high number of Obama supporters who voted at P.S. 72, there was at least one Romney supporter– Nancy Padilla, 65. Padilla, born in Puerto Rico, said Obama hasn’t done much in his four years as president to minimize the deficit, which is $1.1 trillion.

“I like all of Romney’s qualities,” said Padilla. The reasons she gave echoed the concerns of Obama voters. “He’s promised a lot of good things – education, helping immigrants and the economy,” she said of Romney.

According to the Pew Center, nearly 24 million Hispanics are eligible to vote, an increase of more than 4 million since 2008. Hispanics represent 11 percent of the nation’s eligible electorate, up from 9.5 percent in 2008.

Olivarez said that he and his family plan to watch the election returns at home on Tuesday night as they eat a traditional Dominican Republic dish of chicken, white rice and beans.

“Now let’s wait to see what happens,” said Olivarez. “Then we’ll celebrate.”

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Nightmare commute between Manhattan and Brooklyn for thousands

By Shaukat Hamdani

Brooklynites are notoriously tough characters, but the post-Sandy traffic mess got to many of them. “Nightmarish transfer” and “I ain’t doing this tomorrow” were just a few comments passed by thousands of commuters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as they waited in line for a special shuttle bus to Manhattan on Thursday.

Hurricane Sandy had stuck New York City earlier in the week and had sent the public transport system into chaos. While limited service had resumed across the city by Thursday there was still no subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. To add too that the New York state government, fearing a gridlock in the City, had announced that only cars with carpool would be allowed to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan through the bridges.

This meant a lot of people would be using the free shuttle service from multiple locations in Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to work. The scene at the Barclays Center confirmed that notion. It took me around three and half hours to get from South Beach, Staten Island to Columbia University. The major point of delay was at the new Barclays Center where I had to wait for more than an hour to get onto the bus. The line extended a full circle around the stadium and three-quarters of the way back.

The huge line frustrated many commuters who were already getting late for work.  A man who identified himself only as Victor was commuting from Bay Ridge Brooklyn to 59th Street in Manhattan. “I am about to give up on the line, I am frustrated” Victor, 41, exclaimed. But he understood the situation that the MTA was facing. “What they gonna do, their trains are flooded,” Victor added. He arrived in his car but he was not allowed to cross the Manhattan Bridge because he was alone. The police were only allowing cars with three or more people to pass. Victor made sure he had pictures to show his boss. “When my boss asks me why are you so late, I can show them to him and say this is why,” Victor joked.

Another frustrated commuter was overheard regretting that he hadn’t thought of picking up  “ two random people” and driven over the bridge.

Most people in the line patiently, or impatiently, waited their turn, others tried to push ahead or cut the line. This lead to some explosive situations with a lot of colorful language being exchanged between the annoyed travelers. Eventually more police and MTA officials had to be deployed to ensure that people do not skip in front of the lines.

While the chaos and increased travel time was bothering many commuters, Dayshawne Sullivan said that he expected this to happen. “You can get mad but you know it was going to happen when the hurricane came,” said Sullivan, 22.  Sullivan was commuting from New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn to Grand Central station. He wasn’t happy about the wait, but he did express appreciation for the MTA’s decision to waive the fare for Thursday and Friday.

“It shows consideration for the city’s people and it’s their way of saying sorry,” Sullivan said. “ They are saying go through this and you can ride the bus for free.”



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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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NYC Marathon: One of Many or First and Last?

By Jaslee Carayol

For many, running a marathon can be an addictive experience. They finish one marathon and they dream of the next.  Though this was true for several of the newly crowned finishers of the 2011 New York City Marathon, that’s not so for Maggie Nguyen.

Nguyen, who works with databases, said this was her first and last marathon.  She also works as a home chef, specializing in Vietnamese cooking, and created a section of her website, “Maggie’s Meals,” with a feed friends could update with her location during the race (marathon.maggiesmeals.com.)

“I was as ready as ever,” Nguyen said after finishing the New York City Marathon on Sunday in 5 hours, 31 minutes and 46 seconds.  “It was tough beyond belief.”

It was her job that brought Nguyen to the marathon.  After participating in and enjoying a 3-mile run through the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge last year, Nguyen decided to enter the “Marathon Monday” lottery that followed the 2010 race.  Marathon Mondays are an annual occurrence, a day for runners to celebrate post-race.  The day includes a special contest that runners can enter to win guaranteed entry for the next year’s race.  Though Nguyen would not find out if she was one of the winners for months, she began training.

“I ran all the races,” she said of her preparations.  That included eight weeks of outdoor training with the New York Road Runners in the dead of winter and following the 18-week suggested schedule with her boyfriend, Harry Woods.  The couple crossed the finish line together.

“He’s faster than me, but it didn’t matter,” Nguyen said.  “It was more important to be together.”

Another runner, Kevin Pugh, who ran the race in 5 hours, 54 minutes and 20 seconds, has definite plans to run many more marathons. The New York race was the 10th he completed.

“I want to run one in each state before my 50th birthday,” said Pugh, who recently turned 40.

Pugh, the Dean of School Culture at a charter school in Longmont, Colorado, grew up in southern New Jersey.  New York was an important part of his 50 state quest.

“It was not my fastest,” Pugh said of his time.  “I wanted to do it for the experience. It was a party the whole way.”

By “party” Pugh meant the “unbelievable” crowds and diversity of neighborhoods in New York.  He described this particular marathon as “overwhelming” and an “experience unlike any other.”

Pugh adds a personal touch to each of the marathons he runs. On Sunday, as in the past, he brings ashes and a photo of his late dog to each race he completes.  It was through caring for his beloved pet that Pugh began running in marathons.

When he and his wife adopted the dog, a Siberian husky, they were told the breed was like the “world class athlete among dogs.”  So the couple alternated taking the dog out for exercise.  But twice-daily runs couldn’t tire their pet out.

“It turned my wife into a triathlete and me into a marathon runner,” Pugh said.

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Commemorating the Filipino Victims of 9/11

By Jaslee Carayol

Two days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, members of the Filipino American community gathered at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop in Chelsea and held an evening vigil to pay tribute to the 20 Filipino and Filipino Americans who died that day.

“We show our endless support to the families that are still grieving and healing a decade later.  We exemplify the resilience that sets us apart as Filipinos, as Americans and as New Yorkers,” said Kevin Nadal, who organized the vigil.

Following Nadal’s introduction, readers from the Filipino community took the stage in succession to honor each person lost.  Framed by a slideshow with names and photos of the deceased, the community members read biographies of each person compiled from The New York Times and Philippine news outlets.

The biographies summarized the life of each person, including how they came to America or how they ended up at the World Trade Center that day.  Mostly college students and young professionals from the sponsoring organizations, few of the speakers had personal ties to the people that were killed in the attacks.

Mark Habana recounted the life of Ramon Grijalvo, who worked as a computer analyst on the 23rd floor of the North Tower.  The biography included facts about Ramon Grijalvo’s life such as his Philippine birthplace, mechanical engineering degree and 11 siblings.  After Habana read a quote from the Grijalvos’ daughter, his wife Nenita Grijalvo took the stage.  A petite woman wearing a flowered blouse and pearls, Nenita Grijalvo was tearful and fought to compose herself as she quietly spoke of her husband.

“My husband actually died September 15, 2001.  He was still alive when he was brought by the ambulance,” Nenita Grijalvo said.  Ramon Grijalvo was placed in the hospital’s burn unit.

Recounting her husband’s death, Nenita Grijalvo said that someone from the hospital came to tell them the news.

“When we went to inquire they told us he was not there,” Nenita Grijalvo said.  “It took us 10 days to recover his body.  He was given to a Chinese family.”

The tribute readers and members of the 15 Filipino sponsoring organizations were distinguishable from the families and friends of the victims by their seating and dress.  The readers sat closer to the podium while the families and friends were further back.  The readers wore somber colors and pinned white ribbons to their shirts, while the families and friends were dressed more colorfully.

Ryan “Hydroponikz” Abugan, 25, took the stage to perform a song called “Strife,” which was about overcoming life’s troubles to become stronger.  Abugan, whose girlfriend’s father, Hector Tamayo, was honored, said the song is “not just about death and about trouble, but it’s also about the lessons that are left behind.”

“My girlfriend had lost her father in 9/11 and it just impacted me so much,” Abugan said.  “And for the past 10 years I’ve just been sort of waiting to get involved and help out, but the only thing I could really do was write music so that’s what I did.”

A slow hip-hop song with the chorus sung by a female artist, “Strife” had been in the works for eight years before Abugan wrote it.

“That piece actually is only two years old,” Abugan said.  “It just goes to show that I never forget.  The feeling has sat with me for a long time.”

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