•    Jackson Heights   

    Go to: Jackson Heights Tour, Hispanic Presence, South Asia and South America in Jackson Heights, Sensory Overload, References, Jackson Heights Media

    Jackson Heights first started a suburban planned community in the 1910s and 1920s. The buildings that were built were designed to let in a lot of light and air.1 These were designed to bring in residents from Manhattan.2 Many of the buildings were built by the Queensboro Corporation. Some of the first buildings built there were greystones that line 80th street between 35th and 37th avenues.1

    One of the many greystone apartment buildings of Jackson Heights. Their constructions was inspired by the early 20th century 'Garden City' movement in urban planning, which emphasized open public spaces, decreased crowding, and neighborhood self-sufficiency.

    These older buildings, and others that were built around that time, have been marked as a part of the historic district of Jackson Heights and consist of 36 blocks. Some of the co-ops that are a part of this area, like Hampton Court, have many shared private gardens. Many were also built around the perimeter of street blocks, creating a wall.2 There are also one and two family “English Garden” homes.1 These historical buildings are protected by the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a nonprofit community organization which organizes neighborhood events and sends appeals to city officials in order to maintain the quality of life in   Jackson Heights. They can be reached through their website.
    Jackson Heights Tour (back to top)
    360 Tour
    Roll mouse over arrows to navigate through scenery. Click on arrows to go frame by frame.

    A Trek through South Asia and South America (back to top)

    Although there is a great Spanish Presence in Jackson Heights, there is also a smaller area where one can experience South Asian culture and traditions. Within these few blocks around 74th st, the countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India are represented. While walking through the streets, you see a variety of groceries, restaurants, clothing stores, and jewelry stores. Grocery stores, similar to Patel Brothers Grocery, have South Asian products. Restaurants, like Kabab King, serve food that is customary in South Asian culture. The clothing stores that are there carry saris.

    If you take a walk down one of these streets, you will notice that one thing which really stands out is the large number of gold jewelry stores that line the blocks. On our adventure around this part of Jackson Heights, we stopped in one of these stores on 74th st. From the outside, it looks like a normal jewelry store you’d see anywhere, but once you step inside its regal nature is unveiled. The store itself is very glamorous and appealing to the senses. The shiny gold jewelry laying in the glass cases glimmers from the light. We had the pleasure of speaking with one of the female workers there. Her name is Avani Patel and she moved here from Gujarat, India about eight years ago. She told us that they have a variety of customers, including Americans. Ms. Patel also said, “Most of our sales are in gold jewelry. People buy it for weddings and as an investment. People also buy jewelry for holidays like Diwali, the Festival of Lights.” Diwali is an Indian holiday.

    As we learned from Ms. Patel, gold jewelry is very often bought for weddings. It plays an important role in a traditional ceremony. The jewelry is 22 karat gold and there are all kinds of pieces that can be bought such as filigreed necklaces, tiaras, anklets, armlets, bangles, and rings. The basic items are called the rani haar, or queen jewelry. It is a set of earrings sold with a large, matching necklace. The jewelry is 22 karat gold because it is purer than gold that is more commonly sold in the United States. It is important that it is this way because the jewelry is a part of the dowry. The stores work with suppliers from all over Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Britain and often end up having more a selection than in large cities in South Asia. Shopping for the jewelry is an all day family affair. Weekends are especially busy with the streets filled with future brides and many of their family members. There is a lot of looking around and then often a lot of bargaining. Sometimes, people even make a pit stop in Jackson Heights from other parts of the country on their way to Asia for the ceremony.
    Tastes in weddings have recently been changing in South Asian communities. Many choose to celebrate their weddings here instead of going back to their parents’ home countries. Since the wedding is here, the traditional jewelry does not play as much of a role. This is not good news for jewelry shop owners here in Jackson Heights.

    A Barnard student, Neharah Gill, was telling us a little bit about this area of Jackson Heights. She was in Patel Brothers Grocery getting information for a presentation she has to do for school. Neharah was born in Bombay and came to the United States when she was 8 years old. She said that Jackson Heights is a multicultural place and that this part of it is the best imitation of India in America. We asked her to name some differences between India and the United States. Ms. Gill said that the education system is different and that here they are more outgoing and that there is a greater emphasis on the individual. Also, the four seasons that we experience here are quite different from the constantly warm climate of India.
    Sensory Overload (back to top)
    Nothing defines Jackson heights more than the sheer intensity of the aroma that pervades its atmosphere, hanging overhead like an invisible cloud. It is this aroma, the literal sensory overload that can be smelled from blocks away. Jackson Heights hosts a galla of foods from the Indian subcontinent. Everything from kebabs, to sweets to Tibetan dumplings can be found within the four, five blocks that make up the desi* part of the neighborhood.

    One restaurant amongst the dozens that caught my eye was Merit Kebab and Dumpling Place. It is a small restaurant bustling with busy customers all transfixed by gyrating hips beamed all the way from India to a TV set on the wall.  The restaurant is like every other Indian style restaurants in Jackson Heights, except for one small difference. In the back there is small counter, with a banner draped on top. The banner reads, “Tibetan Dumplings.” That counter explains why the restaurant is called a Kabob and Dumpling place.

    Tibetan Dumplings

    *desi is a word similar to the word Latin or Latin American. Desi refers to anyone who comes from the cutural Indian Subcontinent. Literally, desi means nation; someone from “the nation” is called desi. Desi is not limited to just the identity of a person. It is a cultural term.
    Hispanic Presence in Jackson Heights (back to top)
    Jackson Heights, as well its surrounding neighborhoods, has a large Spanish presence. There are many different Spanish groups present, such as Colombians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Peruvians and Argentinians. This is seen from the types of stores and restaurants in the areas. Walking through the neighborhood, one may pass by restaurants such as Pollos A La Brasa Mario and Pio Pio, which cater to the Spanish residents of the area. Many businesses of the area require their employees to speak Spanish as well as English. In a job offering on the internert, JP Morgan Chase listed that bilingual Spanish is required to apply for the job. Stores, such as Despana Brand Foods, carry specialities that residents of the neighborhood may look for. There are also significantly large corporations such as the headquarters of the Colombian broadcaster RCN –TV.  This represents the neighborhood’s large Columbian population.

    References (back to top)

    1. Roleke, John. “Photos of Jackson Heights Historic District.” About.com. Web. 1 May 2010. <http://queens.about.com/od/photogalleries/ss/jh_coops.htm>.
    2. “Historical Jackson Heights.” Thirteen. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Web. 1 May 2010. <http://www.thirteen.org/queens/sites5.html>.
    3. Zoepf, Katherine. “The Jackson Heights Gold Rush.” The New York Times 23 Mar. 2003. The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Web. 10 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/23/nyregion/urban-tactics-the-jackson-heights-gold-rush.html>.