There is a large number of South Asians present in or near Flatbush. For example, there is a community of Bangladeshis near Church and McDonald Avenues. A Bangladeshi immigrant, Ansar A. Lovlu, describes the change in the area from when he immigrated in 1995 to now. At first, he recalled, there was a handful of Bangladeshis beginning to settle in. Now, the entire area has become dominantly Bangladeshi. Everyone speaks the native language. More than 74,000 Bangladeshi immigrants live in New York City, according to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, a 20 percent increase since 2009, making them the 11th-largest foreign-born population in the city. Bangladeshi activists have even tried to rename a stretch of McDonald Avenue after Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh, and to anoint the intersection Bangla Town.[1]

There has also been a large community of Pakistanis growing on Coney Island Avenue in a section now referred to as “Little Pakistan,” home to the largest Pakistani community in New York City. Before this community developed, the area was primarily Jewish. However, by the 1990s, a wave of Pakistani immigrants had moved into the area and in the last decade, Pakistani-owned businesses started to multiply. Pakistanis, as well as Bangladeshis, are better educated than the average U.S. population. They also have median incomes that were greater than the U.S. median.[2]

After the World Trade Center attack in 2001, this little area experienced turmoil as its residents faced suspicion and prejudice. Pakistan-born residents came under increased scrutiny, causing many to leave New York for good. Federal and local agencies came into many South Asian and Muslim communities looking for suspicious people, which sparked fear among residents. “Before 9/11, you used to see hundreds of people walking on the streets,” said Nadeem, a local resident of “Little Pakistan.” “The FBI came knocking on people’s doors and asking questions. People were scared. Business dropped more than 50 percent.”[3] In September 2002, the Department of Homeland Security launched a special registration system, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEER, requiring male citizens over 16 years of age from 25 countries (mostly Muslims from countries in Africa and Asia) to register with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Although the system was terminated in April 2011, many law-abiding Pakistani citizens fell victim to it. “All of a sudden there was a sweep of almost 500 people in the community,” said Mohammad Razvi, the founder of the Council of People Organization or COPOUSA, a non-profit community organization based on Coney Island Avenue that supports South Asian communities. “It was basically based on names. Just having a certain name led these people to become victims of brutal treatment. Persons with names like Mohammad or Amid. Many people were swept up under suspicion.”

Razvi’s COPO had a mission to promote understanding and help community members integrate into the mainstream society. It has worked with other community groups, such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, through the We Are All Brooklyn to encourage better relations among the area’s religious and ethnic groups.

Among the organization’s many services, English as a second language has topped the list. Citizenship classes, healthcare education and legal services are also popular. In order to advocate on behalf of the Pakistani community, Razvi built a relationship with the FBI and immigration officials. He advises both these agencies on how to be culturally sensitive towards his community. He also went through an FBI citizens’ academy, where he was able build contacts that could help him at times of crisis in his community. Despite the hardships faced by the community, many people have begun to move back into “Little Pakistan,” and today it is flourishing as businesses are expanding.[4]

[1] Kirk Semple, “Take the A Train to Little Guyana,” New York Times, June 8, 2013.

[2] “Select Diaspora Populations in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute. select-diaspora-populations-united-states

[3] Larry Tung, “A Decade after 9/11, Little Pakistan Bounces Back,” Gotham, , September 9, 2011.

[4] Cindy Rodriguez, “From Businessman to Community Activist.,, September 8, 2006.