Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Category: Week 13

The Work Ethics

On early Wednesday morning when I was walking to Baruch College from the 6 train subway station, I saw many New Yorkers lining up to buy Halal food. The most noticeable Halal cart, however, was located right near the entrance of the 6 train subway station, and immediately after leaving the station I laid my eyes on that cart. However, I’ve also noticed recently that there would be a morning Halal cart that would serve breakfast to New Yorkers, such as bread and coffee. I have been eating at Halal carts for as long as I can ever remember, and I’ve always thought that the Halal cooks and workers only sell their food during lunch time and dinner time because they would use the early morning to prepare the ingredients and check over the functionality of the cart. However, now that I see these Halal cooks and workers begin to sell breakfast I begin to really appreciate the work ethics of these immigrants. In order to earn more money to support themselves and their families, they’re willing to work all the busiest times of the day. From then I thought that the entire Halal cart project is very meaningful, because it not only educates us about the New York City and its people, but it also somehow makes us realize that owner and operating a food cart/restaurant isn’t as easy as it seems.

Immigrants Across the Board

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.

The Halal Guys

While looking for Halal Carts to interview, I walked upon the most famous one of them all: The Halal Guys.  Beginning as a food cart in the 1990s, The Halal Guys has become a fast casual restaurant that has taken over the world. There are now approximately 70 carts/stores and many more opening throughout the world. People in countries as far as the Philippines are now franchising The Halal Guys to serve people a platter of chicken over rice.  I got the chance to speak with the Director of Operations/Manager of the first original cart on 53rd St. Now, there are roughly 7 Halal Guys carts in approximately a 100ft radius all serving hungry customers. There is a never-ending line of awaiting customers that only gets longer at night. The manager was very nice and told me a fascinating anecdote about how he started working for The Halal Guys in 2004 as a dishwasher. Throughout the years with his dedicated hard-work, he was able to rise the ranks and ultimately be at his high position he is at today in the corporation. I think this anecdote goes along well with the general attitude many newly-arrived immigrants hope for – the mantra that if one were to put in the dedicated effort, then one will eventually see the fruits of one’s labor. The story has a nice ending to it, but I also interviewed Halal Cart workers who are on the other side of the table. 

At another cart just a few blocks away from, a worker explained to me how he sold only $10 worth of food in nearly 4 hours! I was shocked. This cart is a few blocks away from The Halal Guys, so no one really buys from it. Business was terrible for this newly immigrated worker who faced the negatives of capitalism.


Immigrant Sacrifices

On Wednesday, we discussed the daily routine of halal cart workers. From my research so far, I’ve only found that an arduous day of labor awaits halal cart employees. From waking up at 5 or 6 am, to standing on one’s feet for eight hours in all weather conditions, halal cart workers truly have to be resilient and have some degree of passion towards what they are doing. This, in turn, makes me wonder about the general working conditions of immigrants.

More often than not, immigrants face not only longer hours and lower wages, but also a high chance of not working in a field for which they earned an education. Just the other day, I was speaking to one of the workers in my building. He is a handyman who immigrated quite a while ago, whose job is to fix things in the building. He complained about his hard day of manual work, but his eyes immediately lit up when talking about his son. His son is, coincidentally, transferring to Baruch next semester to pursue a finance degree. With excitement, he announced “My son is going to become somebody.”

I think this conversation illustrates the core of the American Dream, the reason why immigrants put up with whatever work conditions they can find: so that the next generation can be in a better place. I’d like to find out more about this as it relates to halal cart workers, but this is a theme that’s resurfaced all semester. I can personally relate to this kind of immigrant sacrifice, as my mom did the same for me when we immigrated—and I am eternally grateful.