This is contributor Jessica Hall’s weekly column, in which she interviews the street and homeless people she meets around the city.
I met Constant when he was performing on Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Center. His golden silk costume was shimmering in the sun. Constant is an artist and an athlete, entertaining passersby by balancing on one hand while playing the harmonica. He agreed to an interview, and as I sat on the sidewalk to speak with him he was emptying the cash out of his big red bucket.
Constant, 28 years old
Wow, there’s a lot of money in that bucket!
Yes, I already emptied it several times.
Is this a family profession?
Not family. My family have encouraged me to be a very independent, hardworking person and from that I have developed some skills that God put in me. Everyone has a special skill, in order to get to that skill you have to look at it by persistence of hard work. Especially discipline. You have to have discipline of the mind and heart and determination. Without discipline and determination wealth is nothing.
When did you start this practice?
I started during my childhood, when there were a lot of children taking advantage of me because I had a limitation. I decide to prove to myself I can’t let myself go down. I used my hand anytime I have some confrontation. I watched a martial arts movie, there was a lot of practice being done with the hand; that means I can use my hand for a lot of things and make my hand a weapon and that’s when I decide to join a martial arts club.
How old were you?
I think I was between 12 and 13.
Where are you from?
Central Africa, Cameroon. I’ve been in the states six years now.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have more than 11 brothers and sisters. I am the seventh child. They all live back home. I grew up in both the countryside and the city. My father was a traveler doing business.
How did you get here?
Just like everybody else, I get a visa and get on the plane. I didn’t have no family over here. Iâm a survivor. Ever since I was born I knew I was a survivor when every time I have to eat something I have to cry to get it. Everything I need I have to go upstairs to get it. I have to work hard.
I’m trying to put my talent on an indoor show. People on the street like my talent, some producers like my talent, but they seem to have trouble getting me in the show because of my color and my disability and where I am from also.
People need to see something that can inspire them.
I look in the street like someone who’s begging for money. But I’m not begging. I’m working.
What are some of the challenges of being a street performer in New York City?
I have lots of challenges with police and business owners: sometimes they just don’t want someone in the area of their business. I just don’t know why. Like, [because] you have a business you own the pedestrian street? I think the pedestrian street is supposed to be public. I really don’t understand; if people can walk then people can stop. I’m just one of those people who decided to stop.
What I’m doing on the street is not too comfortable. I’m just wasting my talent because I can’t put it where it belongs. I have to reach people, I have to touch people, I have to let people see. The place I belong people just don’t want me. I have received auditions with Cirque Du Soliel, Universal Soul Seekers and also with Brown Entertainment in Kansas. What I have is something very unique.
Do you have an agent?
I don’t have an agent, I have tried to look for an agent but the agent will encounter the problem I always bump into. Do you know the Paralympics are going on now? No TV channels want to show that. What do people want? Disabled people to go have a country for ourselves, to move to another planet or something?
Everybody have to have something different to make this world move along. When you look down on somebody who’s doing something different than you it’s just being stupid. What you have, you didn’t buy it nowhere. You don’t have no choice to be what you are. We happen to be what we are, the nature choose us.
I wonder why we’re being chased by others. I’m asking myself, does that person ever think of being in my shoes? Does that person ever think, If I loose my job, where will I be?
I spend September, October and November here and then I go to L.A,, they have a very special street, 3rd Street in Santa Monica, that belongs to street performers, and we attract tourists from all over the world. No car is allowed to pass through. Sometimes, it’s not everybody that can afford $200 for a show. It’s not everybody that has a possibility to choose to be in a show. We put it on the street and people love it. I won’t be able to tell you how many kid have hold their momma’s hand and say, "I wanna see." How many kids have said, "I wanna kiss you.” "I wanna give you a hug."
Sometimes I realize myself, is it any country that allows a disabled person to express his talent? Because if the United States has difficulty, then which country?