Monday, January 13, 2014

Immigrants: The True Entrepreneurs in New York City

I Love New York. I first sat foot in Manhattan in May 1971. We were most recently in New York from January 1-5 this year for a conference. It’s been a long three years since we were last in the Big Apple. I remember what it is about New York: the skyscrapers, the museums and historic sites, the crowded subways, the babel of tongues, but most of all the drive and energy of the New Yorkers as the teeming masses race the Sidewalks of New York. They say “if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “ Every successive class of immigrants has made it in New York. The City, starting with the Dutch, brings out the entrepreneurial spirit in the newcomers. They make it in New York. New York is continuously recharged by new waves of immigrants. The Irish were the first wave after Independence. They made it in New York. They embedded themselves in the commercial, educational, and political systems in the city and state. They came to dominate the police and fire departments. Then they all came: the Italians, Greeks, the Jews, Chinese and then other Asians and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, East Europeans, and most recently the Dominicans. They come from Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Waves of new immigrants replace the earlier immigrants who have moved up the East Side, to the suburbs, or the rest of America from the Lower East Side, the historic melting pot of America. They often come with the shirts on their backs and dreams for a better life in America, They achieve. They all come “Looking for America.” Lady Liberty greets them and says “Prove yourselves.” And they do. Some entrepreneurs, such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, the Rockefellers, and the Guggenheims made it elsewhere and moved to New York. Fortunes were made by real estate entrepreneurs, such as Donald Trump, Larry Silverstein, Steve Ross, Harry Helmsley, Harry Macklowe, and Mortimer Zuckerman. Family fortunes include the LeFraks, Dursts, Tisch’s, Tishman’s. and Vanderbilts. The real entrepreneurs though are the immigrants and their sons and daughters. The small entrepreneurs, often immigrants, are everywhere in New York City. Over 200,000 small businesses exist in New York City. Immigrants own 40,000 of them. The Jewish peddlers of a century ago have been replaced by the pretzel/food carts and newsstands of today. They open bars, restaurants, snack bars, pubs, taverns, bistros, and dives. They run storefront grocery stores and bodegas as well as neighborhood discounters. The cabbies and limo drivers hustle for fares. Messenger services dart through the city with their deliveries. The barkers and hawkers are reaching out to you. Street vendors sell souvenirs and trinkets, apparel, and books. New Yorkers also sell fake watches out of jackets. The psychic readers and fortunetellers foretell the future. The repair shops, auto mechanics, clothiers and tailors fix the present. The franchisees feed us. Thee street artists and musicians entertain us. The arts, music, and theatre, the sciences flow from the immigrants. City College shows the way. The doormen, bellhops, valets, janitors, maintenance workers, and maids are earning for themselves while pushing their children up the ladder. Their sons and daughters become educators, investors, politicians, broadcasters, accountants, lawyers, judges and doctors. The American Mafia sprang out of the Lower East Side. New Yorkers pull out cross county skies when it snows. That is New York.

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