From The New York Times, by: K. Semple…
Ricardo Rodriguez did not arrive lightly at his decision to become a cartoon character.
Before stepping into the Times Square bustle of Elmos, Minnie Mouses and Batmen who pose for photographs and coax customers for tips, Mr. Rodriguez spent a week studying the competition. He analyzed tourist behavior. He calculated potential earnings. And in the absence of anyone masquerading as a certain Nickelondeon star, he spotted an opportunity. Thus was born SpongeBob SquarePants Rodriguez.
On his first day in Midtown Manhattan he made $80 in five hours, a better rate than the series of temporary jobs he had held since emigrating to the United States from Ecuador in March.
“I never imagined I’d be doing this,” said Mr. Rodriguez, 35. “But if you think about life as a rich experience, the money will come.” In recent years, these costumed characters have become ubiquitous. To some critics, they are little more than colorfully attired panhandlers and a chronic nuisance at the Crossroads of the World.
But interviews with the men and women behind the masks reveal a loosely knit population of freelancers that has turned one New Jersey city into an enclave of Mickey Mouses and supported a brisk trade in Peruvian-made costumes. But it also is a world unsettled by low-level tension, pitting fluffy cartoon characters against sleek superheroes.
Most of the performers are immigrants and many of them undocumented, living day to day, struggling to negotiate a fraught relationship with the police while supporting families in the United States and in their home countries.
The performers have come under even greater pressure since a confrontation between a Spider-Man and a police officer. The man was arrested after fighting with the officer, who had responded to the man’s aggressive solicitations.
The episode was the latest in a series of unpleasant encounters. Two other Spider-Men were arrested in separate episodes in June, one charged with groping a woman and the other charged with assaulting a woman (he was found not guilty but was fined for harassment).
The performers say they make a lot of people happy, and that they should not be judged based on the actions of an errant few.
“We aren’t all the same,” said Manuel Fernádez, 24, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. On a recent evening he was impersonating the Statue of Liberty, holding a plastic torch and wearing blue-green robes.
Veteran performers say the first cartoon characters began to appear in Midtown Manhattan by the early 2000s. One seasoned performer, Berta Guerra, 50, a Mexican immigrant, made her debut as Elmo a decade ago in addition to working two factory jobs.
The population exploded in 2011 after the creation of the pedestrian malls.
Many of the performers live in working-class neighborhoods in new Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York.
“Next door there are five Elmos,” said Miguel Lezama, a 27-year-old Mexican who lives in Passaic, New Jersey. He pointed in another direction: “On that side, a Cookie Monster and a Minnie. In front, a Winnie-the-Pooh and a Minnie. Up on Main Avenue, there are lost more.”
He paused. “I live with a Cookie Monster.” After arriving in the United States in 2007, Mr. Lexama found work in landscaping and construction. But he followed a friend into the street performer business. He invested in an Elmo costume, buying a used one for $150 from a Peruvian acquaintance, who had imported it from Peru, where some of the best knockoff costumes are from. (New Peruvian-made outfits can cost as much as $400 in the U.S.)
City laws govern where the performers can work and what they’re allowed to do—there is a fuzzy line between collecting donations and aggressively panhandling, which is illegal. Few performers seem to fully know the rules, in part because of language barrier: many do not speak English.
A quiet, low-level animosity simmers among the groups. The cartoon characters blame the superheroes for ruining the community’s image. The undocumented immigrants say the American citizens, not worried about deportation, arrogantly flout the law. And the veterans blame the newcomers, saying they are just clawing for money with no respect for the trade.
“We are street artists,” declared Mr. Fernández. “But the majority doesn’t have a sense of art. They simply put on their costumes and make money.” He suggested that the work can approach the sublime. “Treat the tourists well and they’ll feel like they’ve been treated well by the actual Statue of Liberty,” he said. “It’s a precious, beautiful memory of the United States.”
So, we have more than two views here: those who are in it to make the bucks, those who took street performing seriously, and those who just wanted those IMMIGRANTS deported, but hey, had you ever considered, that the reason why your countries are so built up is because of those OUTSIDE immigrants? Hello, and, weren’t those Chinese migrant workers who were the ones who LAID out those tracks to the railroads that span across the U.S.A. from centuries ago? So, DO have MORE tolerance, because we’re ALL working hard, to make our separate ends meet, and, don’t be a stingy tipper, if the next time you see a street performer, under the scorching sun, wearing a THICK costume, after all, even though, they ARE at the bottom of the “food chain”, without them, how will you get on top? Exactly!!!