The Indian Community: Flushing’s South Asian Surprise

As we explored Flushing, we wanted to get a better feel of what its like to live there. We walked along Kissena Boulevard and away from the chaos and bustle of Main St. As we ventured deeper into residential Flushing we found that the apartments of Flushing are home to a large middle-class South Asian population. Many of Flushing’s immigrant residents feel that Flushing offers a peaceful and comfortable environment that supports a family oriented community. Flushing is also connected to jobs in Manhattan by the world famous 7 train. While exploring Flushing we found that it has a large population of students. Queens College, John Bowne High School, Flushing High School, and I.S. 237 are among several educational institutions that are scattered around Flushing. Flushing also boasts beautiful parks like the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Queens Botanical Gardens, and Kissena Park that provide recreation for residents. The presence of these facilities within walking distances from homes appeals to many of Flushing’s immigrant residents.

Religion plays an important role in Indian households and Indian parents emphasize traditions.  Indian children are often encouraged to get involved in temple activities and take classes on classical Indian music, Indian languages, and religious texts. Located on Bowne Street, The Hindu Temple in Flushing is one of North America’s oldest and largest Hindu Temples. Not only is it the center of Flushing’s Hindu community, the Temple draws thousands of devotees from across the tri-state area. It unites the Hindu community through many exciting festivals that make Indians feel at home in Flushing. The Temple’s canteen is also widely known in the Indian community to serve the most authentic south Indian food in New York. Many other Temples have emerged in the area such as the Hindu Center on Kissena Boulevard, the Swaminarayan Temple on Bowne Street, and The Saibaba Temple on Robinson Street. These Temples continue to strengthen the Indian community in Flushing and appeal to many Hindus who plan to move there.

The Hindu Temple's Popular Canteen

The Hindu Temple's Popular Canteen

A small commercial spine is also emerging on Cherry Avenue and Main Street for the South Asian community in Flushing. A prominent Indian grocery chain, Patel Brothers, has a store located in Flushing. The store stocks the same fragrant foods and products found in stores in India. Many Indian restaurants, like Dosa Hutt on Bowne Street, are also growing in popularity among New York’s Indians.

Patel Brother's on Main St.

Patel Brother's on Main St.

In order to gain an understanding of the modern Indian immigrant community of Flushing, we interviewed Aparna Gokhale, a 19 year old student at the Macaulay Honors Program at Queens College, who has lived in Flushing now for eleven years.

Where are you from?
I am from Mumbai, India, but I’ve lived in Flushing for the last eleven years now (I think).

Why did you come here?
I came with my parents. My dad’s company transferred him to work in New York for a few years.

Do you have family here or are most of your relatives in India?
Most of my relatives are back in India. My family (my parents, my sister, and I) are the only ones here.

Why did you decide to live in Flushing?
Like I said, my dad’s company sent him to New York and we got our first apartment through them and it happened to be in Flushing, mainly because Flushing is an immigrant neighborhood and has easy access to transportation to Manhattan. Then, we just ended up staying here because we liked the neighborhood; there are Indian stores and restaurants and other things nearby.

Has the Flushing community helped you to assimilate? How or how not?
Hm, I guess for me since I feel like I basically grew up here (I came here when I was seven), I never felt like I underwent the process of assimilation. But I do remember that the first time I went to school here, a lot of the kids were also immigrants or not native English speakers, so I never felt ostracized for being from another country. Also, Flushing has a lot of benefits for immigrants, from community centers to religious centers and even the Flushing library tries to take into account that a lot of people who live here are immigrants.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?
A lot of the “American” stores were replaced by Asian stores. So across the street from the library, there used to be an Associated (or whatever that supermarket is called) and now it’s a giant Chinese supermarket. Near where I live, there used to be a stretch of Main Street called “Brown Town,” where a lot of the Indian restaurants and stores used to be and those are slowly being replaced by Chinese/Korean stores. A lot of Flushing is being developed now, so there’s a bunch of new malls and shopping centers on Roosevelt and Main Street (the cross-section that would be considered the heart of the commercial district in Flushing).

What institutions do you spend the most time in?
I spend a lot of time in the Flushing Library (I legit think its the best library in all of Queens) and the parks I guess.

In those institutions, people of what ethnicities and economic levels spend the most
time there?
Mostly East Asians and South Asians and since Flushing has people of all income levels, I would say that there isn’t a specific economic level that i can think of.

How would you describe the cultural environment in Flushing?
I honestly love Flushing a lot and I think everyone who lives in the city needs to come here at least once. I think Chinatown has become increasingly gentrified and tourist-ified so if you want to eat authentic, cheap Chinese/Korean food, you need to come to Flushing. There’s also a lot of different community centers for various immigrant groups, which I think is really useful for people from those backgrounds. And a lot of the institutions in the area have made a big attempt to reach out to the immigrant population. So like the Queens Botanical Garden will host a Diwali festival or a Chinese New Years festival.

Are most people who work in Flushing from Flushing, in your observation?
Yep, usually.

How do you see this neighborhood developing – particularly in terms of gentrification?
Hm, well Flushing is becoming more developed in recent years, but the development seems to have been led by Asian companies. So usually in neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn (and now Astoria), gentrification was led by white, middle to upper class yuppies moving in followed by like Wholefoods. Flushing is always undergoing constant renewal, so nowadays I see a lot of bigger and shinier Asian stores, but that’s about it.

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