Little Bay Park in Bayside is a lovely place for people-watching. It is an oasis that runs about 1 mile along Little Neck Bay from Utopia Parkway underneath the Throgs Neck Bridge to the Cross Island Parkway.
In the winter, Little Bay Park is deserted, save for a few runners and an elderly Asian man who practices Tai Chi. The park seems to call its neighbors out of their middle-income homes and apartments to celebrate spring when it arrives. People saddle up their bikes, strap on Rollerblades, tighten running shoes, pack picnic baskets and leash their dogs.
On any spring weekend, what starts out in the morning as a trickle of people turns into a flood by the afternoon. Everyone can find enough space on the grassy areas to fly a kite or spread out a blanket. For those on the path, some stroll casually while others walk intently or race by on wheels.
What really makes Little Bay Park the place to people-watch is its diversity. There seems to be an ambassador from each nation. Some 56 years ago, when my father graduated from a Bayside elementary school, his class picture showed only one black girl and two Asian children. Thirty years later, when I attended the same school, the school was not much different, except for one boy who wore his hair in a turban due to religious beliefs.
Bayside has changed. The U.S. Census reported that in 2000, only 65.6 percent of Bayside was of white. Asians made up 22.7 percent, Hispanics 11.8 percent and blacks 4.5 percent. Bayside and nearby areas have also welcomed Middle Eastern and South Asian people. Their addition represents cultural variety and a departure from the Judeo-Christian religious influence.
For some older Bayside residents, diversity is unsettling but not necessarily unwelcome. Warren, an American-born man who has lived in Bayside for 42 years, noted that some of his newest neighbors are from Korea, India and Afghanistan. “You should be proud of where you come from, that's OK. But learn to speak a little more English,” he said, regarding the area's growing ethnic diversity.
Kareem and Donna, an interracial couple, moved to Bayside one year ago. He is from the Caribbean; she is half-Irish, half-Italian. While enjoying an afternoon walk through Little Bay Park with their two young daughters, the couple commented that here they do not think of themselves as interracial. Donna “loves Bayside” and Kareem deems it “the healthiest place in Queens.”
In Little Bay Park, neighborhood peoples have their colors on parade. Sparkling saris and demure head coverings walk side-by-side with jeans and shorts. Italians and Greeks play in the same orchestra as Iranians and Arabs.
Faces are as varied as flowers, but are as similar as family. The face holds the story and inspires wonder and curiosity: Who are you? How did you come here? What is your name?
Sabrina J. Novick