New York Digital Magazine

Mohamed Attia, director of the Street Vendor Project gives immigrant workers a voice

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When Mohamed Attia took a trip with his stepfather to New York City from their native Egypt in 2008, he never imagined he would stay and become a community leader for immigrant workers.

The then-20-year-old had been studying mathematics at Alexandria University and planned to spend only a few months in the U.S. on a tourist visa. But the political situation in Egypt worsened during the 2008 and 2009 global recession, and Attia decided to overstay his visa and began working at a bodega in Harlem.

“You can imagine how difficult the transition was,” he said. “But I learned about New York City life, and soon after that, I met a street vendor I was buying halal food from, and he introduced me to vending.”

Attia began working at a food cart in Times Square, selling hot dogs and pretzels. After marrying his first wife—whom he met while vending—Attia obtained his green card. But he grew distressed by the way he experienced local law enforcement treating vendors and by his perspective that city policy restricted their ability to legally expand.

After meeting with an outreach team at the Street Vendor Project, Attia said, he knew he would join their ranks.

“Just hearing about the organization’s existence—that there is somebody out there that defends street vendor rights—was very inspiring,” he said.

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