Where Are You From? A New York Puerto Rican (Nuyorican) Muslim Cab Driver's Story
By, Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani
I have a bit to say about the cab industry in New York City, since I have driven cab there. In the summers when I would come home from studying in Saudi, I would go drive cab on the streets of NYC. I did not have time to go to all these conference, translate books, or give classes like other brothers were doing. I was too busy trying to feed my family. I drove yellow cab which is based mainly in the street of Manhattan.
While the "cabbie" of the past consisted of working-class White people, most today are non-White and Muslim. I could not help but stigmatized with being an other from passengers. Most of my customers were professional upper-class White who came to NY from some other part of the country. They would always ask me, "Where are you from?" When I would reply New York there would be a shock and sort of confusion. There would also be some denial on the part of others. Here I am a native New Yorker and simply because I may "look like a foreigner" whatever that means, and I had outsiders from other states denying my authentic New Yorkness.
As most Puerto Rican, my family has been in New York since the 40s. Puerto Ricans have contributed so much to New York’s economy, culture, music, and society. They helped to bring salsa (actually Afro-Cuban jazz) to the world and are co-originators of Hip-Hop. So because was rocking a beard I have somehow become a "foreigner," an "Arab," a "Pakistani," i.e. THE OTHER. What right do these people have to question my American nationality or my New York authenticity? Most yellow cab drivers are Muslim West Africans, Pakistanis, Haitian, and leftover Puerto Rican and working-class White from the 80s. In the outer-boroughs the cab industry is quite different. In the Bronx and East & Central Harlem most cab drivers are Muslim West Africans, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and a growing number of Mexicans.
In Manhattan’s Lower East Side (Loisaida) there are various Latino cab drivers. Queens has a lot of Arab and Pakistani drivers. Brooklyn also has a lot of Arab, Caribbean, and Latino drivers. Throughout the cab industry, you hardly see any African-American drivers despite the fact that they are one the largest ethnic groups in New York City. In Yonkers (a city just north of the Bronx), where I am from, Latinos represent about 85% of the drivers. Dominicans used to dominate but now Mexicans do.
Despite the fact that non-Whites are the "cream of the crop" of the industry; they do not run the industry. The industry is runned by one of the most draconic and oppressive government agencies in the U.S. - the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Ethnically Jews have a big say on the direction of the industry. I can only assume that this is because must own medallions. That is another thing; most yellow cab drivers do not own the actual medallion and pay about $100 for a 12-hour shift. The industry is highly regulated. Most of these regulations originated during Rudy "Adolph" Giuliani’s dictatorship. He messed up the industry. I no longer have my license, due to some complications I won't get into, but I still remember driving around the streets of NYC.