Entitled “Racino: The End of an American Dream,” the documentary weaves narratives of vendors and activists who tried to assist them in an effort to remind people of their rapid, and what many call unfair, displacement.
The release comes in conjunction with the casino’s opening on Friday, October 28, and tells numerous stories of long-time vendors, many of whom were unsure of their next move.
“We saw some powerful and compelling stories working with the vendors,” said Richard David, executive director of the ICA. And they were stories he believed needed to be told.
David and others involved in the documentary felt that there was an unfair portrayal of vendors as “undocumented, non-tax paying illiterates, working at a place not worth saving.”
“However, through the documentary we get to see that many of the people working there lived in the country for 20 to 30 years; they're law abiding and they're as American as anyone else,” he said. “It also shows how little information was provided to this group although they worked there for almost 25 years.”
The ICA helped organize a rally by the vendors late last year in an effort to save the flea market, and though the rally received media attention, ultimately the fate of the vendors never changed for the better.
Many were forced to move to other flea markets in areas like Coney Island, New Jersey, and the nearby Merrick Flea Market on Merrick Boulevard in Springfield.
According to the documentary, many vendors were not aware there was a plan to remove the flea market, and they were given short notice they had to leave.
“We basically found out through newspapers,” said Tommy Walker, a former Aqueduct Flea Market field manager, who has since moved some vendors to Coney Island. “If the vendors had more of a voice in this decision, we may have had different results. Nobody ever officially came to us and told us what was going on.”
Then-Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, along with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and State Senator Joe Addabbo, had said they would work on finding a new space for the vendors. A space at Flushing Meadows Park was on the table, but ultimately nothing came out of it.
According to Genting, the parent company operating the RWNY casino, the flea market could not coexist while construction was going on, as it would negatively affect the vendors.
In the documentary, vendors like Shazad Khan, who worked at the flea market for years, state they didn’t know what their next move would be or how they would support their families.
Residents and frequent long-time shoppers express their fears about the new casino and the loss of what was an affordable, easily accessible shopping outlet. Many lament the then-potential closing of the market, and all echo each other in saying that the market has been a savior to many low-income residents.
Work on the film began at the height of last winter, with many narratives from the vendors filmed a few days before Christmas and the permanent closure of the flea market. Filming was wrapped up last week.
“If people come face to face with what's been lost, the opportunity to see the impact of the project on the community will be evident,” said David, adding that their hope is that full-scale gambling, which is now being considered, is delayed until they can measure the impact on the community.
The documentary can be viewed at the Indo-Caribbean Alliance's website, indocaribbean.org.