Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ASTORIA, QUEENS IN NEW YORK CITY: THEN IN 1980 AND NOW…

ANOTHER BANGLA CITY IN THE MAKING…WITH NO ETHNIC STRIFE AND LOTS OF UNDERSTANDING AND MUTUAL RESPECT AND ACCEPTANCE…
By Mansor Puteh


The truth is America badly needs to have more people of color and shades to make it a happening country, the united states of diversity, so that its new citizens can add to what it had achieved thus far which it can further enhance and benefit especially those who would be in specific positions to determine what the other countries can also get and experience.


The tide of refugees from Europe and Eastern Europe because of persecution from the Nazis during and after the Second World War had got America into some mess from recent history. And this can only change no by its political and media leaders pandering to some old-fashioned beliefs that has not benefit the country and its own people much.

It is Old Hollywood which is now America’s savior without which America would be in the same league as Finland in the eyes of many in the rest of the world.

No doubt, America and also the world need a New Hollywood.

* * * * * * *

I first arrived in Astoria in the Borough of Queens in New York City in 1980, when some friends invited me to stay with them because they had a spare room to let out, so I readily accepted the offer, so I could also be able to mix with the other Melayu students from Malaysia who live in this area.

America then was the one I had imagined all my life growing up in Melaka in Malaysia and watching the many Hollywood films and television programs mostly alone and not saying anything but to learn how not to speak English with a local accent.

Fortunately, I had never spoken in the language in any accent that the average Americans could not understand; and was surprised each time I spoke with an American on the phone they thought I was a local.

The first call I had to make upon arriving in New York City and America, was such an experience. ‘No, I am not American; in fact, I have just arrived in your country today!’ I would say. ‘And my name?’ That explained everything to the American at the end of the phone whose number I had to call to get some information. 

Astoria was a nice area, quiet and peaceful in 1980, but a bit too far from the Ditmars subway station. So I had to stop there and take a bus to return to the apartment, which was then owned by a Malaysian Melayu who was a long-time resident of the city and America having been here since the 1960s who operated an upholstery store in the same area.

I had then stayed in another apartment in Sunnyside, Queens which I thought was better as it is not very far from the subway station from where I could take it and then change at Times Square to take the Number 1 train to the 116th Street or Columbia University station to go to class at the Film Division.

Astoria, in 1980 was a typical working class area, not very trendy or fashionable. But further up there was the office of famous American architects Buckminster Fuller and his colleague, Isamu Nogouchi, and further still, the Astoria Studios which were the center for the production of films in America before it moved to Hollywood.

Astoria Studios are now a film museum. And there is a field from where we could see the Queensborough-Verazano Bridge which is now the Robert Kennedy Bridge.

So this place was not only quiet but also safe even late at night when I had to walk in the cold of winter to return to the apartment because I often chose to walk from the Queensboro station one and a half kilometers to the house and froze by the time I got to my warm room in the apartment.

There were stores in Astoria I would go to then to buy stationery and food stuff, with a convenience store at the Five-Corners Grocers and Deli near the apartment. And there is a strange-looking triangular-shaped building where judo or karate classes are conducted.

And this was in 1980.

I returned to Astoria each time I was back in the city and America, the last being in April, 2014. And what astonished me was how the whole area had changed.

Astoria is no more like what it was in 1980.

There are now more Bangladeshis, Pakistanis living there and one can see them everywhere, even at the subway stations offering free local newspapers.

And the convenience store is now operated by some Bangladeshis, and my Malaysian friend’s upholstery store is now a convenience store operated by some other Bangladeshis one of whom said he had worked in Pulau Pinang (Penang) in a factory for nine years.

But unfortunately, he could not speak much Melayu because he said his Chinese employer or towkay spoke with him in English, albeit, Chinese-style English which he could not use in America.

And the stationery store at the strange-looking building is the Bosniak Islamic Cultural Center. And beside it is the Astoria Islamic Center. And judo and karate classes are still being conducted or offered in the strange-looking building.

And across the street there is a Pakistani restaurant called Roti Doti, I visited for the first time I was there in April, 1999 to have some food which could translates as ‘roti’ or bread and dough to ‘doti’.

I took the bus a few times when I was back there in Astoria the last time and found myself standing at the bus stop in a small crowd of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and also Arabs with one or two white men or women.

This is the Astoria in Queens in New York City that I had never imagined could be in 1980. It was not like that in 1990 when I returned to this area for the first time after leaving it in 1982 to return to Malaysia.

It was also a surprise that I could see myself sitting in the plane heading for Kennedy Airport also in Queens with a crowd of passengers who are all colored with one or two white ones; whereas in August 1978, there were only so few colored passengers in the plane; with the others being white.

I hope to be able to return to New York City and America soon so I can make another return trip to Astoria and also Sunnyside in Queens to see how they are like now.

I am sure Astoria is fast becoming the new Bangla City like what they have now in Brick Lane or Luton in England.  

But the best part is that this area is still relatively safe and peaceful, with no untoward incident happening.

If it can happen here with the new demographic change in the society then it can happen all over the city and country, America, too…



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