30-year-old Marino Diaz works at the O & R Grocery owned by his
brother-in-law off of Roosevelt Avenue in Corona. He immigrated in
1988 because his family and friends were already settled here, and the
“social and economic situation wasn’t good” in the Dominican
best way Diaz could describe why he and many other Dominicans came to
New York City or to Queens is by word of mouth, like “friends
telling other friends about the better future over here.”
the corner at “Piqueteadero El Corrieutazo” restaurant in Corona
resident and Colombian immigrant Olga Arango who is preparing food for
a regular customer and friend of her husband, who is sitting and
chatting in Spanish.
Thalia Spanish Theater in Sunnyside brings Hispanic culture and
Photo by Ira Cohen
23-year-old son, Danny is half Colombian and half Puerto Rican. He
grew up in Flushing and attended Bowne High School for a time, but
also lived in Colombia for five years beginning when he was 11.
He spoke about the difference between his home and his
mother’s native country, which has been uprooted in political and
economic turmoil. “In Queens, it’s very different. Over there,
people really live in the ghetto…there are starving people and
people getting killed.”
and raised on 109th Street in Corona and a product of parents who both
were American-born, Alfredo Rodriguez, 22, said, “I love Queens.”
Rodriquez attended Flushing High School, and just recently
graduated John Jay College.
His true goal is to become a cop like his brother and sister
have already done and “protect people, save the City, and
response to getting representation for the Hispanic community within
local politics, Rodriguez said, “It doesn’t matter who it is, it
just matters that they do the right job in that position.”
the first Hispanic Queens Councilmember to be elected – Councilman
Hiram Monserrate – said that having Hispanics in office is
significant. He feels it is important that elected officials are in
place “who understand the interests, speak the language, and know
the community,” as well as provide young Latino people with positive
role models who hopefully will want to “do good things for our
society and emulate that.”
admitted that his parents – immigrants from Puerto Rico – voted,
but were not particularly politically active while he was growing up
first in Manhattan, and soon after in Jamaica, where he attended
Jamaica High School. He later attended Queens College.
said, “We have made incremental steps this year, [but] we are still
working towards adequate representation as far as numbers. We are the
largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the City, and the numbers
of elected officials do not specifically correspond to that growth we
are working this year.”
this year, according to Monserrate, there is room to be optimistic,
including this year’s victory for Jose Peralta, the newly-selected
State Assemblyman for District 39.
to the Census 2000 numbers, Hispanics – Mexican, Puerto Rican,
Cuban, and “Other”categories – comprised approximately 25
percent of the total population in Queens.
Republic born Diccia Pineda-Kirwan, who has been appointed the first
Latina Queens Supreme Court judge and backed by the Queens Democratic
party, suggested that she doesn’t like to be seen singularly as a
minority or a woman, saying, “I’m not only representing women or
Dominicans, but everyone,” continuing that she just happens to be
from a different background.
conceded that the Hispanic community is seeing a breakthrough in the
political process over the long run. She said, “I am surprised how
long it took to get representation, representation of the community,
as far as elected officials, and representing us, it took a very long
family came here when she was nine, moving first to Spanish Harlem and
later settling in residential quarters of Hollis, where she said
growing up was
predominately German, Italian, Irish, Mexican and Puerto Rican.
said that her family came here to flee political oppression in the
30s, and for a better opportunities, and to own a home.
attended elementary school P.S. 35, St. Albans Junior High, and
Jamaica High School, and growing up she remembers her father who
worked as a farmer in the native country being in the service
industry, though he rarely talked about his job.
Pineda-Kirwan recalled that her father was a very proud man.
grew up involved and “thrived” in the Dominican community, often
attending Spanish theater and shows, saying that she felt
Past Not Forgotten
spanning four generations in the United States, president of the
Puerto Rican Society Betsy Davila’s family came for a “better way
of life” in the 20s during the Great Depression, and moved to
Manhattan and then to the Bronx.
It was only in her 20s that she and her newlywed husband
settled in Astoria.
Davila also remembers some of the days when forms of discrimination
were blatant, like when the City would redistrict neighborhoods to
segregate entire populations.
“The moment there were many Puerto Ricans or Hispanics, they
would redistrict the schools just so you had to go to a particular
absurd discriminatory practice she encountered was that she, “being
light-skinned,” was less discriminated against, than dark-skinned
we moved out here, we were accepted. Perhaps if we had been dark we
wouldn’t have been accepted so readily,” she said, adding that
“no legislation” could counter that type of prejudice.
she also remembers the gang fights that broke out between Italians and
the Puerto Ricans along the section of the Bronx called El Barrio,
where she said many Puerto Ricans lived.
Simultaneously, she had also seen a lot of intermarriage
amongst Puerto Ricans and other ethnicities like Irish, Italian, and
Davila said that progress has been made.
initially raised her kids, then took up an entry-level administrative
job at the Housing Authority then got her break working for the Deputy
Commissioner in the New York City Police Department – the “third
man” in the ranks – who needed someone both Spanish and
English-speaking. She returned to the Housing Authority to assume a
management level job, and remained there for 23 years.
Call For Unity
Davila wishes that more Hispanics would “get together” and be more
solidified, so she began her organization, after reaching out to
Queens Hispanics, particularly Puerto Ricans.
did it because I enjoy almost all Hispanic things in Queens, and
Hispanic parades in Queens – everyone touted their horn except the
Puerto Ricans in Queens.”
Astoria, she said “we don’t have a large concentration in this
area,” and the Puerto Rican population is decentralized and spread
out over the borough, Davila said.
Monserrate added that Hispanics are “one of the most unified, and
diverse ethnics groups,” adding that some of the elements of
including language and culture commonly shared differs from other
cultures that do not have the same language.