Urban Fold

What Leads to Occupational Cliches?

In New York, occupational cliches such as the Irish policeman, or more recently, the Pakistani cab driver, have existed for generations. NPR looks at one current niche - Senegalese sidewalk vendors - to trace how such associations are established.

According to Philip Kasinitz, a sociologist with the City University of New York, "social capital - family connections and contacts - created those occupational associations, and still does, even as the immigrant groups change." One interesting, and highly visible, association is between Senegalese immigrants and the mobile tables or carts selling umbrellas, handbags, hats and scarves "on sidewalks all across the city."

Those caught without an umbrella in New York in a downpour are surely aware of the prescient ability of vendors to prepare for such events. Of course, as NPR describes, there's a science to their business. "'We know ahead at least five days,' says Cheikh Fall, who set up his table near Radio City Music Hall on a recent afternoon. Since the sidewalk vendors depend on the elements, he says, they follow the weather forecasts religiously."

"Fall says he can support his family doing this, but there's no money for extras. So he's trying to move up. Like so many of the city's pushcart peddlers before him, he's taking his business indoors; he and his wife have opened a shop in their Harlem neighborhood."

"Perhaps in a generation," notes NPR, "vendors like Fall will all be shop owners, making the Senegalese sidewalk vendor as archaic a cliche as the Jewish tailor and the Italian greengrocer."

"When asked to speculate about what newer immigrant group may soon fill a new commercial niche in New York's vibrant melting pot, sociologist Philip Kasinitz says Tibetan women are quickly moving into the child care business."

Full Story: With Hats And Umbrellas, Senegalese Fill A City Niche


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