Heavily frequented by the Russian and Chinese immigrant communities, activities that take place in Seth Low Park are largely separated and dispersed by two major categories: Immigrant Groups and Age Groups.
The various age groups who visit the park are separated based on location. The playground, home to the young children and toddlers visiting the park with their parents, is by far the most diverse area of the park. Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern and Spanish children alike happily mingle and interact with one another while their parents, much less integrated, sit on the benches nearby looking on.
Behind the playground sit the baseball field and the basketball and handball courts, which are mostly frequented by teenagers and young adults, and already the ethnic divides are much more noticeable. The courts, just like the playground, are frequented by many different nationalities, yet there is much less interaction between the groups.
On the basketball courts, a game is almost always going on. The groups playing are largely Spanish and Chinese, but they usually play separate games on opposite sides of the courts.
The handball courts seem to be less divided. Russian and Chinese teenagers can be seen playing together. A Russian teenager who says he often frequents the park says he plays with “Asians, Russians, and just plain white people.”
The Russian teenager also pointed out the baseball field, which seems to be the most divided of the sporting areas. He mentioned that it is used a lot for baseball by organized leagues consisting of mostly white children. He also commented that, “Mexicans play soccer on the baseball field”. He says that no one else but that group plays soccer and that they always speak Spanish to each other, acting very inclusive. It is interesting that since there is no soccer field at the park, the people who want to play soccer, the minority group, have to wait until no one is using the field for baseball in order to play.
On the other side of the park are sets of benches, which are almost always occupied by older Russian and Chinese immigrants. Large groups of Russian men congregate around a few tables on one side of the area playing Dominoes and deep in enthusiastic conversation. On the other side, similar groups of elder Chinese immigrants are huddled around tables playing Chinese Chess, just as enthusiastically as the Russian immigrants just a few steps away. This area is by far the most segregated area of the park, and while these groups may seem to have the most in common – both comprised of older, mainly male immigrants coming together to play games and relax – it is as if there is an invisible wall separating them, and they do not interact whatsoever.
The Russian men are at first hesitant to talk, but warm up once one mentions one is of Russian descent as well. They say they are not fluent in English, so the only way for them to easily communicate is in Russian.
When asked how long they have lived in America, one man answered for the group, “a long time,” and that they have been coming to this park for just as long. They are here everyday they say, and they come to the park to “talk and feel at home and comfortable,” since they are among “their own people.” When asked why the Russian people play Dominoes, one replied, “Because we are bored.” Most of the players are in their 60’s and 70’s and already retired, so they use the park to pass time. However, on the weekends, they are joined by younger Russian immigrants who presumably work during the weekdays but come to the park on the weekends to get a taste of home. They say that the park is always busiest on Saturdays and Sundays and that the best games occur on the weekends. They say that they used to play Dominoes back home in the Soviet Union, and that the game has always been used as a way to get together and socialize, which is what they use it for now as well.
The Russian immigrants proudly assert that there is a strong presence of their community in the park but also, less enthusiastically, acknowledged that there has been a strong influx of Chinese immigrants visiting the park as well. They pointed over to the group of Chinese immigrants just a few feet away and said that now the Chinese men are here just as often as they are. However, when asked if they ever interact, there was a unilateral “no” from the entire table. They stay on opposite sides of the park and never bother each other. The Russians elaborated how the Chinese men never speak or acknowledge them either, and that is how it is everyday.
Older Russian women do not usually take part in the games, as it was not customary in their culture back in the Soviet Union. So they often sit on another set of benches by the side of the park and talk to each other while the men play, some with their grandchildren, who play at the playground. Speaking to a group of these women, they said they have lived in America for 22 years and that they too frequent the park often. They said there has always been a large number of Russian and Chinese immigrants at the park, but lately there has been an increasing number of Spanish and Albanian immigrants as well. Reaffirming the earlier observation, they point out that the children never seem to mind the different immigrant groups, and that everyone on the playground gets along, but it’s the older immigrant generations who are more inclusive and do not interact with one another.
On the opposite side, Chinese immigrants similarly huddle around several tables, entranced in games of Chinese Chess or card games. Just like the Russian immigrants, they are not fluent or comfortable talking in English, and it is easiest to converse with them in Chinese.
The Chinese men come to the park all the time and most are retired as well. When asked how long they’ve lived in America, they replied, “many, many years.” When asked if they play the game for money, their answer revealed a lot about their relaxed attitude towards the gathering. They said that they play for fun, and that if anyone has a chess set, they can come and play too. Or if they want, they can also play cards at the the table next to them. “You can also go play dominoes with the foreigners,” one man said, as he pointed to the group of Russian immigrants on the other side. It’s clear that just as for the Russian men, Chinese Chess is a casual way of socializing for the Chinese immigrants, and the game is always welcome to newcomers and any Chinese immigrants in the area who want to feel at home. They play all day, from the morning until the sun goes down. They also play all year, even if it is raining or snowing. The man pointed to a closed building behind them and said that when the weather is bad, they play inside there, but that it is unfortunately closed on weekends.
Around the park, especially on the weekends, groups of elderly Chinese people also sit along the area by the benches and play Chinese music and sing along, creating a festive and social mood that is reflected in their games.
Here is a look at the park near the evening hours. It is also drizzling a little bit so the park is nowhere near as crowded as it was during nicer days. People were either in a rush to leave and avoid the imminent rain, or really preoccupied with playing sports. The photos here show the segregation between the different ethnic groups, depending on age.