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Esperanza Del Barrio: Helping Immigrants Make a Living in Manhattan

By Nila Salgado, Harlem, NY

On a typical summer day in any New York City neighborhood one might see vendors selling mangos cut into the shape of a flower, "coquitos" (similar to Italian ice in Dixie cups), "piraguas" (ice shavings flavored with juice) or even batteries on sale for a Dollar. When the weather begins to cool off in fall, vendors start selling handmade sweaters, hats and bags.

Many vendors are undocumented Hispanic immigrants trying to make an honest living. However many of them have problems with law enforcement due to not having the necessary license to sell their merchandise. Police officers sometimes confiscate vendors' merchandise or report the vendor to the immigration office.

According to an article in the New York Daily News (7/18/04), there are a limited number of vendor licenses issued per year. In order to apply for a vendor license a person must show proof of citizenship or residency. Despite the obstacles, unlicensed vendors continue to sell their merchandise in order to support their families.

Due to the growing number of vendors, an organization called Esperanza del Barrio (Hope for the Neighborhood) was established with the goal of helping immigrant women who are vendors access services. These services include legal assistance, health and educational programs. Esperanza del Barrio staff advocate for changing vendor laws to increase the number of licenses distributed and to eliminate the legal residence status required in order to qualify for a license. Esperanza del Barrio staff also provides advice and translation for consumers on their rights when vendors are arrested.

Related Resources

Esperanza Del Barrio is an advocacy organization for immigrant women who work as street vendors. For more information contact Ms. Flor Bermudez, 213 E. 115th St., New York, NY, (212) 289-9025,

New York Association for New Americans (NYANA): Provides services including legal assistance to immigrants. Multilingual staff.

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