María Falcon has been a street vendor in New York City for 14 years. During the summer she sells mangos and other fruit to commuters passing through Broadway Junction. During the winter, it’s churros. Late last month, Falcon was arrested by the NYPD as part of a crackdown of alleged quality-of-life violations by the [Eric] Adams administration. She was brought to the NYPD station in handcuffs, and then strip-searched, while all of her belongings were destroyed. She was released a few hours later with a summons.
“I would get hassled by the police, sometimes they would throw out all my products, but I had to fight for my daughters.”
Falcon says that she sells fruit in the subway station out of necessity. After a video of her arrest, taken by her daughter, went viral over the weekend, Mayor Adams told reporters that New Yorkers must “follow the rules,” and that people might start “barbecuing on the subway system,” if vendors like Falcon weren’t criminalized.
Hell Gate spoke in Spanish with Falcon by phone on Monday night. The interview has been translated and edited for clarity.
When did you come to New York? And why did you migrate to the United States?
I came in September of 2007. I’m from Ecuador. The truth is that I came to work and fight for my life. Back home, I was suffering from extraordinary poverty. We had nothing. My husband, he left me—and we had two daughters. I had to migrate. If you worked all day in my country, you’d make around $5 a day. My two daughters needed to eat, needed clothes. We had to come to the United States.
One of my daughters is now 27. The other is 23. I have another daughter that’s 13. I also have four grandchildren now.
When did you start selling fruit on the subway?
I started in 2008, selling ice cream in the street in Brooklyn. On Eastern Parkway, also in Prospect Park. Wherever I could. In 2009, I started selling fruits in the train stations, and during the winter I would sell churros. I would get hassled by the police, sometimes they would throw out all my products, but I had to fight for my daughters. I had to keep fighting.
How much do you make on a good day?
On an average day, I make between $70 and $80. On really good days, between $90 and $100.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love to be a vendor because I have a daughter that I need to take to school and that I have to pick up. I also have three grandchildren now that I help take care of. I’m able to take them to school, then I can go work, then I can pick them up. For that reason—the flexible hours—I’m able to help my children and grandchildren. One of my daughters doesn’t have a husband. She has a 3-year-old and she needs to work—sometimes until three in the morning. So I have to be there for them.
What’s the worst part of your job?
When the police come. The other day, they took everything. Chocolates, mangoes, my cart, absolutely everything. They left me with nothing. Then I need to go buy everything again. A cart, all the fruits, everything.
I want them to understand that we can’t stop working, we’re not hurting anyone. I’m poor—but I work. I can’t go back home to Ecuador. My family needs me here. For this reason, I keep working.