South Asian populations grew more than any other
Asian ethnic group in New York City during the
last 15 years. The census confirmed their numbers
more than doubled to 214,146 in 2000 from 88,247
South Asians are more scattered across Queens
(and the rest of New York City, for that matter)
than other ethnic groups. Queens has a larger
concentration of South Asians than any other county
in the country. The group is more scattered because
they’re less likely to settle in receiving
areas like Flushing, Elmhurst, Richmond Hill,
and Jackson Heights. South Asians have moved to
various parts of Queens, including Bayside and
other Eastern parts like Jamaica and Jamaica Estates.
They Got There
South Asians from India came in a first wave of
immigration during the mid-1960s. They were predominately
professional with high levels of education and
knew the English language.
The second wave of immigrants in the 1980s and
onwards marked a gradual widening of class and
status, and included family and relatives of immigrants
from the first wave.
South Asian immigrants come from countries like
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
and Afghanistan. But the cultural group is not
limited to these ethnicities, since “South
Asian” peoples have generally not lived
by exacting political boundaries, but rather a
cultural assignment, and that can extend to the
islands of Trinidad and Guyana as well part of
Africa, where Indians were sent to be laborers
over 150 years ago.
Who They Are
Even though political tensions still exist between
countries like Pakistan and India at home, national
identities tend to become blurred once South Asians
come to Queens.
Education, religion, and family, are three elements
strongly emphasized in Indian culture.
South Asians maintain their culture and
share it with the rest of Queens with
such public celebrations as the annual
Phagwah parade in Richmond Hill. Tribune
photo by Ira Cohen
74th Street in Jackson Heights, the strip commonly
known as Little India, is testament to the prosperity
many South Asians have tasted over the last thirty
Ramesh Havani set up an ethnic clothing store
there in 1976, and was one of only two businesses
of the kind on the block. Now, it’s grown
into the 4,000 square foot India Sari Palace,
and takes its place among dozens of similar ethnically
inspiring stores in the neighborhood.
National identities cause plenty of friction from
time to between peoples of South Asian ethnicities
back home. But it’s a problem Havani says
is slowly dissolving on the streets of Jackson
“Politics which exist back home don’t
exist here,” Havani says. “We have
so many customers who are Pakistani, or from Bangladesh.”
“The beauty of the American system is that
you’re at the mercy of the landlords,”
he says, noting how tough it is to fight when
everyone has bills to pay.
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