Point of View: Immigrants view Flushing as crown jewel of Queens

By George H. Tsai

Queens is not a picture-perfect locality, but it’s a relatively affordable place to live on the East Coast, which is known for its high cost of living.

Among its other amenities, it offers good houses, job opportunities, easy access to Manhattan, beaches on Long Island and two major airports, Kennedy and LaGuardia. That’s why it attracts thousands of Asian immigrants.

A great majority of upper- to middle-class Asian-Pacific immigrants have settled in such much-sought-after areas as Bayside, Fresh Meadows and Forest Hills, where schools are considered better than elsewhere in the borough. Asian parents want their children to attend quality schools and excel at all costs.

In fact, these areas are also bedroom communities for a lot of people working in the Big Apple. In the meantime, Whitestone and College Point are looming as favorites for the new arrivals.

In the eye of new immigrants, however, Flushing is the crown jewel of Queens. This fast-growing town boasts a high employment rate and promises to grow faster physically in the near future as the city recently released a blueprint for further development.

Thanks to competition among Chinese merchants, groceries in Queens are reasonably priced. A pound of salmon, for example, costs $3.99 vs. $8.99 in the rest of the city and in Westchester County.

Besides, 99-cent stores in this area make all household necessities affordable. The only drawback is that the housing prices in Queens, particularly Flushing, hit the roof last year. Strong demand is to blame.

Ironically, the skyrocketing housing prices have failed to slow the influx of immigrants from all parts of the world. Queens is a magnetic place, isn’t it?

Hispanics scatter over Elmhurst, Jamaica and a large portion of Northern Boulevard south of Flushing, while Asian-Pacific immigrants dominate the above-mentioned communities.

As a melting pot, a good community should have diverse cultural amenities and abundant recreational activities. Those communities near Flushing perhaps have a long way to go in these respects.

Three decades ago when I visited Queens there was only a small number of Asians, mostly from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, and Oriental stores were few.

Local Koreans are marking their immigration centennial. Their number increased rapidly after the Korean conflict in 1953. No official data are available to show how many Koreans have settled in the region that includes Queens and Long Island. They are part of the Asian group, which accounts for 10 percent of the city’s population of 8 million.

According to my observation, almost two out of three basking in the whirlpool of the Bally Fitness Club in Douglaston are Korean, and most of them are middle-aged women. That could mean there are a lot of Koreans, and on average they are better off than other Asian groups.

A friend told me that after their arrival in the United States, Koreans usually open up a business of sorts before they buy a house. He could be wrong.

Like the Chinese, their businesses fall into three main categories – grocery stores, clothing stores and restaurants. There are lots of them on Northern Boulevard and Union Street. Religious, Koreans are known to have the guts to do business in tough neighborhoods.

Chinese immigrants in Queens have reached hundreds of thousands, and a great majority of them migrated from China after Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1972. These immigrants include graduate students, scholars, business people and other professionals. Don’t forget the “snake heads’’ responsible for smuggling people into the country.

Immigration and Naturalization Services must step up its crackdown on snake heads of all ethnicities.

Chinese here are inclined to be homeowners. As soon as they have enough money, many of them buy a piece of property, preferably a duplex. They usually rent out the first floor, second floor or basement, letting the rent pay for the mortgage, if any.

Those Chinese from Wenzhou of Zhejiang Province and Fujian Province help one another financially. That’s why people from Wenzhou own a growing number of supermarkets on Main Street in Flushing. People from Fujian own an increasing number of restaurants throughout Queens and are branching out to other states.

Hundreds of Indians and Pakistanis also have chosen Queens as their home. They own most of the newsstands in Queens and Manhattan. I noticed that many of them stay in co-ops or rental apartments and drive big cars; Lincoln tops the list.

On the yellow pages in the phone directory, you will find that a great number of medical professionals are Chinese, Indian and Korean.

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