Last stop on the “International Express,” first stop of a cultural journey: Flushing, Queens

Written by Rebecca Kaebnick


Walking down Main Street in Flushing, Queens, feels very much like walking down the street of an entirely different city than the Big Apple — something actually very characteristic of New York. The signs are primarily in Chinese, Korean, and other languages, with small English lettering at the bottom. Small, bustling shops and larger grocery stores such as Hong Kong Supermarket and H Mart line the sidewalks displaying heaps of fruit outside, and specialty Asian foods and kitchen appliances inside.

The appearance of this neighborhood points to its demographic: today, over two-thirds of the population in Flushing are foreign-born, and 80 percent of the foreign-born are from Asia (data from The Newest New Yorkers report, 2013). Flushing is in the northeast of Queens, with College Point to the north, Murray Hill to the east, and Queensboro Hill to the south. It is the last stop of the 7 subway line known as the “International Express” that winds through the northern part of Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the US, with Flushing as one of its most diverse neighborhoods.

Flushing began as a Dutch village in 1645, and in the 1650s was the first town in the Western Hemisphere to declare religious freedom for all its people, housing Quakers, Jews, and people of other dissenting religious groups fleeing Peter Stuyvesant’s Protestant persecution.

The Friends Meeting House, the oldest place of worship in New York State, remains as an appreciation of the neighborhood’s early foundations, while the sign, translated into Chinese and Spanish, reflects the area’s modern diversity. In the 19th and early 20th century Flushing grew as transport to the area grew, and by the 1950s it had become one of the largest commercial districts in Queens. At the time it was still heavily Italian and Greek, although many other European immigrants and African American artists also moved in from the south of the United States, sparking what is known today as the Queens Jazz Trail. In 1965 the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act brought to an end the national origins quota system at the basis of US immigration policy since the 1920s, allowing more immigrants to enter the city from countries previously under restriction — particularly, from Asian countries. A large number of new Asian immigrants soon settled in Flushing, as well as less recent immigrants who moved in from Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The 1980s saw another wave of immigrants from China, Korea, and India, as well as from Colombia, Afghanistan, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, the Philippines, and El Salvador. This influx of newcomers transformed Flushing into the ethnically diverse neighborhood it is today. While China remains the country of origin of 49 percent of Flushing’s foreign-borns, close to 200 languages are spoken in the neighborhood.

Main Street is the center of Flushing’s vibrant business district but by walking a block or two in either direction, one immediately encounters residential neighborhoods, as well as New York Hospital Queens, located alongside Kissena Park. The biggest source of employment in Flushing is in the health care and social services industry, which is fed by the two hospitals and the large number of elderly in the area. Due to the increasing concentration of jobs in this sector, as well as a large number of small businesses in the area, Flushing’s economy has bounced back from the recent recession better than the city has overall.

Dozens of nonprofits and other social and civic organizations cater to the needs of Flushing’s diverse communities, including the Chinese Community Center of Flushing, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, and Selfhelp Community Services for elderly immigrant populations. Asian Americans for Equality helps members of the community find affordable housing and offers financial assistance, business training, and other classes. The Women In Need Center provides emergency shelter and other social services to Asian women, especially those victims of domestic or sexual abuse. The YWCA of Queens, founded in 1978, provides support to women in Flushing through three channels: economic security, health and sexual rights, and protection against domestic violence. Its free program Women to Work helps women develop hands-on skills for the job market, in particular by training them to become licensed home care aides and placing them into available positions. Pairing aides from this program with elderly people in the area is beneficial to both parties as they often share the same language— Mandarin and Korean are most common.

Ganesha Temple

Another institution serving the community is Flushing Town Hall, one of the few buildings left from its era (1862). It began as a civic building and is today a center for the arts and a strong supporter, in particular, of local culture and artists, for instance of Korean Minhwa folk painting. Flushing Town Hall prides itself as providing a space for longtime residents as well as recent immigrants to share music, art, and performance.

Flushing’s many religious institutions line Main Street and are sprinkled throughout the more residential areas of the neighborhood. These represent a full range of faiths, from Catholic to Baptist churches, synagogues, mosques, and Hindu temples. The Free Synagogue of Flushing is Queen’s oldest liberal Reform synagogue. Some institutions, like the Flushing Chinese Baptist Church and the Korean Presbyterian Church of Flushing, cater to specific groups. The Hindu Temple Society of North America, popularly referred to as the Ganesha Temple, is the very first traditional Hindu temple in the United States. In October every year, the streets surrounding the temple are the scene of joyful prayers and celebrations in honor of Diwali, the Festival of Lights marking the beginning of the Hindu New Year. Flushing’s Little India is often overshadowed by the fame of Flushing’s Chinatown, yet this area boasts its own vibrant culture.

Notwithstanding its distinctly Asian atmosphere, the fascinating diversity of the neighborhood should not be forgotten. Flushing may be at the end of a long subway ride from Manhattan, but its rich culture and bustling streets make it an important part of the city’s immigrant demographics and an enchanting contribution to the city’s many neighborhoods.



You may also like...