As I was walking from the 6 train station to school after a nauseating commute, the smells of the city began hitting me from all different angles. The overwhelming smell of the early morning was that of the Halal food trucks. It was 8:15am.
The aroma was obvious and present which made me think, “if they’re already populating the streets with their smell at 8:15am, what time did they have to wake up? What time did they get here? How did they get here? How long did they sleep?” All these questions puzzled me on my walk to class.
This project is not just a way of us getting the inside scoop of halal carts and everything that goes into that business, it is a way to broaden our understanding of the city and its people. Halal cart workers are just one example of those immigrants that absolutely bust their behinds in order to make a living. They are everyday reminders of where most of us came from and how we got to the places we’re at right now. The answers to many of the interview questions that we conduct are the same answers that my parents would give to a question like “why are you doing this job?” The hard work, dedication and resilience of the workers are all traits that stretch among the line of those that came here to achieve the American Dream, even if it seems like a steep hill to climb. However, the fact that these workers are on the streets and attracting people of various demographics, making money, and coming home to their families is an American Dream in and of itself.
The project is raw, intriguing and eye-opening to us who are conducting it and hopefully to the prospective people that are going to read it.
As a Jew, I spend my Friday nights with family sitting around the dinner table observing the Sabbath. Last night, my family was among one of the many invited to a family friend’s house to share this dinner together. Usually during Shabbat dinner, we talk about our past, tell stories of how we overcame hardships and how we got to where we are now. There was a man sitting at the table who started talking about his “typical immigrant story.” His parents were immigrants from Poland who came here and began working in the textile industry. Eventually after years of experience, the father decided to manufacture his own clothing and opened up a business. From this extremely bold and risky move, he provided the means of his four kids receiving the highest level of education. Three/four sons became doctors who went to only the most prestigious medical schools while the fourth son went to law school. My family had an awe-inspiring story as well although their coming here was by different means. My family came here as refugees from Uzbekistan. They brought their respective relatives along by chain migration. Over 10 people lived in one little apartment, a typical image one associates with immigration. My father and mother worked many different jobs to sustain the household. My grandmother, who was a doctor back in Uzbekistan, became a home-attend. My grandfather who was an engineer became a taxi driver. After years of schooling, they dropped it all and took whatever job they were offered for any amount of money in order to put some food on the table. We, as descendants of immigrants, very much undermine the bravery and selflessness of our parents and grandparents. Just imagining dropping everything we ever worked for, moving to a completely different country and diving into the unknown; not knowing the language, the culture, or if a better life is even guaranteed is a scary thought and something that I assume most of us would never think of doing. After reflections like these, we realize how blessed we are to have such a strong backbone and how grateful we should be for everything that was invested in order to get US in the place that we are now.