THE RULING CLASS:
The Queens General Assembly
Members of the General Assembly perform at a Dec. 7 farewell. Tribune photo by Jeff Feinma
By Jeff Feinman
Because Queens is the most diverse county in the world, it is only fair that all people within the borough be appropriately represented. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall formed the Queens General Assembly to allow some of the cultures and ethnicities of Queens the chance to exchange their different ways of life and hold frank discussions about issues within the community.
“My appointed delegates meet on a regular basis to engage in cultural sharing, and to discuss quality of life issues that affect us all,” Marshall said. “By reporting their experiences in the Assembly to their respective communities, the delegates help to promote greater understanding throughout Queens.”
The 28 delegates appointed by Marshall serve a one-year term for the General Assembly and attend monthly meetings at Borough Hall. Each of the 14 community districts is represented by one community board member and a representative from an immigrant group. Delegates serve for only one year so that higher amounts of people have the opportunity to speak their minds in front of the borough president. Within Marshall’s term, there have been two different groupings of delegates, with the third set to take the reigns in early 2006.
“Delegates are required to go back to their communities and report about what they’re doing in the Assembly and share that information with people in their community,” said Community and Cultural Coordinator Susie Tanenbaum. “A big piece of this is information sharing.”
Dream A Little Dream
A small dream that Marshall has for the borough of Queens is to have it resonate a positive view for the rest of the world. “Here, we have a unique opportunity to live in a borough that is a model of tolerance, pluralism, and mutual respect,” she said.
Marshall asks those on the Assembly to attend events held by other cultures so that they may experience the ideals of foreign ethnicities. Tanenbaum pointed out that in Marshall’s term, Borough Hall has for the first time held festivals such as Phagwah, a Hindu holiday, and Phillipino Independence Day.
Another interesting note about the Queens General Assembly is that it’s comprised of both long-time residents as well as new immigrants, ensuring that all peoples have a say.
“We frequently discover that we have more similarities than differences,” Tanenbaum said. “One way our delegates see that is by talking about community issues and seeing that they sometimes share similar difficulties, such as in housing and education.”
Each year, the General Assembly is visited by the NYPD, which lays out the methods by which one can report a hate crime or other immigrant abuse. NYPD officials have said that immigrants can sometimes have a great fear of police and that they need to understand how to report violence to their community leaders.
On Dec. 7, the Assembly’s outgoing delegates set up a cultural performance called “Queens: The House We Live In.” At the performance, Marshall said, “We’re building an army of good will.” Many different ethnicities then had the chance to show off specific customs, clothing and food. There was even a dance performance by girls from the Bangladesh Institute of Performing Arts.
“Queens: The House We Live In” was the second such display put on by outgoing delegates. The first term delegates set up a similar event last year that was called “Festival of Lights,” which focused on the theme of the importance of light in many different cultural holidays.