‘More churros, less cops!’: New York food vendors feel the heat

NEW YORK: For two decades, Guadalupe Galicia has been waking up every day at 4am to make tamales and rice pudding to sell on the streets of New York.

She is one of thousands of vendors, many of whom are undocumented migrants, who hawk yummy treats in the Big Apple, but they are facing a litany of problems, from weather to assaults to arrests to even deportation.



"One of their biggest fears is the police, and that's why they are extra vulnerable," Julie Torres Moskowitz, from the Street Vendors Project (SVP) support group, told AFP.

A street vendor sells tamales in Queens – many vendors are undocumented migrants, and can face deportation if they are arrested and their papers are not in order. (Photo: AFP/Bryan R Smith)

New York is known for hot dogs, pizza, bagels and pretzels, but the food scene is way more diverse.

From Venezuelan arepas and Ecuadoran baked piglet to Middle Eastern falafel sandwiches and Tibetan momos, the city has it all.



Galicia, an undocumented migrant from Mexico and single mother of six children, sells tamales stuffed with all sorts of fillings for US$2.25 each in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn.

"We are only making enough money to support our children," says the 40-year-old, who also sells champurrado – a hot, thick Mexican drink made with chocolate, corn flour and spices.


Inclement weather is a problem – temperatures regularly drop below freezing during the winter months – but so are assaults, robberies, fines, confiscations and arrests, according to SVP.

The women vendors are particularly vulnerable, they say. Arrests can result in deportation if a vendor's papers are not in order, which they often aren't, the group says.

Moskowitz, who sits on SVP's advisory board, says some attacks and thefts go unreported because of fear of dealing with the police.

Bad weather can be a problem for street food vendors – but so can assaults, robberies and arrests, with women particularly at risk. (Photo: AFP/Bryan R Smith)

To sell street food, vendors require a license that costs about US$50 and a permit for the cart that costs another US$200.

It's very hard to obtain a permit, though: although there are more than 10,000 vendors, the number of permits has been capped at 2,900 since 1983 – meaning many operate at their own risk.

There are some 2,000 additional permits for temporary workers but that isn't enough for everyone.

The result is a black market in permits, with owners subletting theirs for US$25,000, often through intermediaries, several vendors told AFP. Fake permit scams happen all the time, they say.


Outside Manhattan, in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, street food is mostly sold by women.

SVP says they endure more harassment from aggressive customers than their male counterparts.

They also are more likely to be fined by police, the group says.

Most of the female food sellers, like Galicia, are the main breadwinners in their families.

Mexican Guadalupe Galicia, 40, has been selling tamales and rice pudding for more than 20 years in New York. She has paid about US$12,000 in fines for not having a permit to sell food. (Photo: AFP/Bryan R Smith)

The early hours suit them so they can take care of their children after school, Moskowitz says.

In November, a video of a policeman handcuffing an Ecuadoran woman selling churros in the subway, where the sale of food is prohibited, went viral on social media, prompting outrage.

Afterwards, graffiti that read "more churros, less cops!" appeared on the subway.

It was also in protest at Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to hire 500 more police officers to monitor the subway.

Mexican Sabina Morales, 62, has been selling fruit and vegetables on the street in New York for over a decade. (Photo: AFP/Bryan R Smith)

For years, Galicia worked without a license. She estimates that she has paid about US$12,000 in fines. Several times, her food was confiscated.

"The city has to give us work permits because we are also paying sales taxes," she complained.

The fines can sometimes be up to US$2,500.

"There are only two options: Leave the family without eatRead More – Source