Did you ever experience a situation where you pass by a place everyday, but if asked to describe it, you realize you cannot fully describe it? You know what it functions as, what it stands for and why you pass by it, but when asked what writing is on the surface of its window, you are dumbfounded? That is how I felt when we first began researching different neighborhoods in Astoria. I have grown up in this neighborhood, experienced all the ups and downs in this area, yet when asked to give detailed information about specific regions, I found my self to be unsure. I have been to most of the places that we explored in this project, yet the full history behind them and the progression of each community was unknown to me. In my research of the Arab community in Astoria and the Bohemian Hall, I found myself unearthing the whys and hows, rather than the whats and wheres of the places in question.
My experience during this project was one of pushing out of my comfort zone and realizing that there are things I can learn about my neighborhood. My first real interview, where I was the interviewer occurred during this project. I was able to experience the power of steering conversation and understand how important the art of speaking is in an interview. This project introduced me to different places in Astoria that I have never heard of before. It might be hard to believe but I did not know the merits of the Bohemian Hall that made it unique until I was given the topic. I did not know that there is a hookah lounge in 28th that was run by a former banquet manger of Hilton near JFK. The recurring theme of the close-knit communities and the importance of distinct ethnic establishments in bringing people together were astonishing to me. Of course people of the same ethnic background usually congeal together in one area, however in Astoria, the establishments such as restaurants and cafés have a special ability of allowing the ethnic groups to mix with other groups. Examples of these are places like Bohemian Hall, which is run by Czechs and Slovaks, but many people frequent it that are of different ethnicities and network with each other. The hookah cafés also tend to attract people who are not Middle Eastern, therefore introducing people of other cultures to the Arab culture. In my research I have come to conclude that although New York City in general is known as a melting pot for cultures, Astoria exemplifies the same analogy in a smaller scale.