The commonly misunderstood New York City teen hustle

I just finished getting my NYU ID. Prior to that I was completely distraught. Ever since I received my acceptance letter I was tormented by the idea that my acceptance would be revoked. Even three days before my summer class starts, my mind swam with the possibility that I would get kicked out.

Throughout high school, the only reason I was able to afford the bagel and cream cheese from the corner deli was because I sold red-velvet cupcakes at school, despite the constant threats of suspension.

My cupcake business was beyond successful: I was able to buy myself an iPhone, a four-day stay at Orlando and an 8-day stay in Los Angeles (I even went to the Coachella Music Festival and the MTV Movie Awards).

Now that I graduated, I (seldomly) work part-time at Aeropostale and sadly had to bid my cupcake business goodbye.

The entirety of my walk from the station to the NYU campus was consumed by my fear of getting kicked out and not having my successful, albeit illegal, cupcake business to support me. I was pestered by the thought that I’d end up working at Aeropostale until death do me apart.

Distracted by my worries, I lost sight of what was happening before me: a handsome young Latino man stopped to compliment me on my beauty. Concerned with getting to my destination I didn’t realize he was talking to me until I walked passed him and he kept calling out that I’m beautiful, but that a beautiful woman shouldn’t be disrespectful and not accept a compliment. I smiled while I continued walking but didn’t turn my gaze back to him because I thought by then it would be too awkward. Maybe a part of me also felt like, “I’m getting my NYU ID, therefore I go to NYU and I don’t want to associate myself with someone of a lower socio-economic background,” an assumption that I immediately chastised myself for making.

After I got my ID, I proceeded to take the train back home. I wore my ID around my neck with pride (as a pre-Freshman would) and sat down hoping people would see the acronym “NYU” on the purple card around my neck.

Shortly after a group of boys entered the train asking the passengers if “anybody would like to buy some candy” as they were trying to “keep a honest dollar in their pocket.” Of course at first I got annoyed by them — these very loud, rowdy boys claiming they needed the money for their basketball team.

Being in downtown Manhattan, most of the passengers were white. The white man sitting next to me asked the boy for an Oreo, and he bought the last one. The boy calms down as he was conversing with his customer and thanking him for his donation. After asking, “Would anyone else like to buy?” and receiving no response, the boy sat down. The boy changed to his more comfortable urban vernacular tone.

I was still high in my own head with my NYU ID wrapped around my neck. I dissociated myself from the way he was speaking and thought little of his mannerisms.

But then I shortly realized that I am him. I am the urban speaking, lower-class person-of-color riding the same train (uptown) to where I truly reside. The only reason I’m going to NYU is because I got a full scholarship for being a woman from a low socio-economic status, and for busting my ass in high school to break the stigma associated with Latina women.

I took off my NYU ID and tucked it away in my purse. I instantly felt like myself again, no longer someone trying to impress others because of my new-found status. I listened intently to how the boy spoke and how happy he was in his own world.

He said, “They ain’t buying our candy. I’ll be damned”, going on cussing and talking about how he was a hustler and he how sees other sellers as competition. He went on about how no one was lining up to buy his candy and so he wasn’t about to pay some kids who are probably making money to give to some “OG” (which, while a wild assumption, is very plausible). He continued so say that he’s “’bout this money,” and that when he’s older he’s “gunna have bands”.

“If I ain’t make it as a ball player, I’ma have my own business boy, you gunna see me as an older man and I’m gunna be racked up boy, ya heard, I’ma be racked up with this money.” I admired his persistence.

I said, “You ain’t making no money selling these Oreos and candies boy. Sell cupcakes at school. I’d make up to 110 dollars a day, I deadass went to LA — I made 1,500 dollars in like a month.” I exaggerated the month part just to motivate him a little bit, but even just having 1,500 dollars at his age was motivation enough.
“Oh nah, LA? Yo! You went to LA? Oh nah you poppin’. My school don’t let me do that cupcake stuff though,” He lamented.
“Ha-ha, me either, I was always in trouble.”

“How’d you do it then, you would like hide it in your book bag?” He asked still stacking his singles.

“Yeah, I’d keep it in my locker, but I still always got caught. I just graduated high school, that’s how I paid for everything.” He looked at his friend and said, “Yo you here this. She made bread with cupcakes boyyy.” Then he looked at me and said, “But my friend can’t cook.” His friend, who was silent this whole time, said, “Boy I can cook more than you, shut the hell up,” in a high-pitched, not-so-joking voice.

The chocolate seller said, “Boy, Corona and eggs ain’t cooking,” which was rewarded with laughter from several adults who’ve been listening the entire time.

The train got to 125th Street and the boys got off and that ended my encounter with two young impoverished children like myself. The only evidence of his existence on this train were the empty boxes of chocolate he left under the seats. Hopefully his existence becomes more prominent — hopefully he does become a ball player or a business man.

This encounter lead me to learn that I have to remain humble and know myself.

I am Shirley. I am Afro-Latina, I am Confident, I am Persistent and I am Passionate.

NYU will give me the means to succeed, but I give myself the motivation. I’ve realized that I have to take ownership of every situation- and that through this ownership I make every situation “legendary.”