An Earful of Immigrants at Work

Feet in 2 Worlds has a collection of “audio postcards” in which Media Studies students at the New School interviewed small business owners and workers on the job who were either immigrants or from an immigrant family.

With 36 percent of New York City’s businesses under immigrant ownership, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the audio clips give a more intimate look into the lives of a restaurant owner, a taxi driver, a food store owner, a concierge and a laundromat owner, among others.

Sahadi’s started out as a Middle Eastern food store but has expanded into a store that sells products from around the world. (Photo by JolieNY via Flickr)

Some highlights:

  • Lebanese-American Charlie Sahadi of Sahadi Importing Company, a Brooklyn food store started in 1948 by his father, recalls the day after Sept. 11, 2001 when he saw people outside his store in the morning. Being of Middle Eastern descent, he began feeling “apprehensive.” But, it turns out those neighbors wanted to give him a hug and, as he put it, they “read past the headlines and treated you as a human being.”
  • Luis Quintero, originally from Venezuela, has been here for 28 years and owns El Cocotero, which has been around for 9 years. He mentions that the “gringos” now walk in with authority and know what Venezuelan dish they’re ordering.

Greenpoint’s Peter Pan bakery. (Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr)

  • Alexandra works at Peter Pan, an over 60-year-old bakery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Polish donuts, called pączki (or “pączek” in the singular form) are sold on Fat Thursday but, like the “gringos” with the Venezuelan food, she says that many Americans buy the Polish donuts too, calling during the week asking if they still have any left.
  • Elizabeth Lopez used to send her earnings back to her native Mexico but in 1999, she stopped “because I don’t go back” and started saving her money instead, telling her husband, “let’s invest.” Despite the concerns of those around her in starting a business of their own, she took the plunge. Now she’s the owner of Cafe con Pan in Brooklyn, where “nobody has this kind of coffee, in the neighborhood, it’s very popular.”

Visit Feet in 2 Worlds to listen to the six postcards.

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