Fall 2015 is just around the corner, and Hostos has a lot of great new educational materials. One great video available for viewing provides a glimpse into the somewhat difficult and complicated world of street vending. Titled, “Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor,” the independent film was the subject of a special screening at the College on May 4, 2015, hosted by the Center for Bronx Nonprofits (CBNP).

Organized by CBNP Director Eileen Newman, the event included a discussion with the film’s director Zahida Pirani, as well as its subject, Judith Ruano. Newman said after seeing the film, she thought a screening would make for a special experience that she hoped professors would consider bringing into the classroom. The film is currently available to screen, thanks to the Hostos Library’s Media Services Unit.

The event was co-sponsored by the Hostos Health and Wellness Center. The Center’s Director, Fabian Wander, explained that it is important for Hostos students to be aware of some of the current challenges that street vendors are experiencing.
“Watching this film can evoke changes in perspective on how someone may view a street vendor and perhaps create change in the community that would support a better quality of life for them,” Wander said.  

The short but powerful documentary explores Ruano’s life, from her birthplace in Guatemala to the streets of New York City, where she sells homemade food from her homeland from a shopping cart.  She works practically around the clock to support her family, and Pirani’s film exposes many obstacles and struggles she and her fellow immigrant vendors face daily. Ruano eventually becomes a community organizer for the VAMOS Unidos, which has worked to lobby for reform and better working conditions for street vendors across New York City.

With Zahida interpreting, Ruano told the audience that the most important thing for her was simply “living with dignity” and being able to provide a better life for her family. Thanks to her determination, Ruano has been able to open a small restaurant to support both her family and her extended food vending family, which is often in need of a place to cook food.

For Zahida, the film is an extension of her experiences as a community organizer herself, having worked for immigrant and worker rights issues in New York City. She is the former Director of the New York Civic Participation Project (NYCPP), a project of La Fuente Inc., which is a community-labor collaboration that works with various immigrant rights organizations and labor unions in New York and surrounding areas.  

It was clear at the screening, and in a discussion afterwards, that the two women had formed a special bond.
Zahida has also taught as an adjunct professor at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Her film was made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

About Hostos Community College
Eugenio María de Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change that has been transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities since 1968. It serves as a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, as well as a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs. The College’s unique "Student Success Coaching Unit" provides students with individualized guidance and exemplifies its emphasis on student support services.
Named one of the top 10 finalists for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Hostos offers 27 associate degree programs and two certificate programs that facilitate easy transfer to The City University of New York’s (CUNY) four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions. The College has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development that offers professional development courses and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. Hostos is part of CUNY, the nation’s leading urban public university, which serves more than 500,000 students at 24 colleges.