By Madina Toure
In the area surrounding the Flushing-Main Street station, downtown Flushing’s main transportation hub, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, European, African-American, Latin American and South Asian individuals can be seen bustling about.
Nearly 60 percent of Flushing residents are foreign-born, according to the 2010 Census.
As the Flushing Times celebrates its 25th anniversary, the TimesLedger is looking back at how Flushing has become the melting pot that it is today.
It all started in 1645, when the Dutch founded Flushing. English Quakers followed a few years later and Dutch Gov. Peter Stuyvesant oppressed them because of their religion.
Flushing residents protested and signed a religious document, the Flushing Remonstrance, in 1657. That document is recognized as a precursor of religious freedom in the United States.
“If you think through the consequences of the initial protest movement called the Flushing Remonstrance, it spawned Quakers becoming this very powerful force in Flushing and New York,” John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said. “Quakers taking a leadership role in the abolitionist movement, which helped free African-American slaves, Flushing being part of the underground railroad, allowing free blacks to settle here.”
Between 1790 and 1840, roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of Flushing was African American, according to Richard Hourahan, collections manager for the Queens Historical Society. In 1811, the Macedonia AME Church—which was not AME at the time—was established and had a continuous congregation.
African-Americans were very well-respected from 1830 to 1860, Hourahan said.
“We learned a lot about the African American community in Queens in the newspaper… they had sales agents in Queens and they had a sales agent here in Flushing and they would regularly report on what was going on in Queens and what was going on Flushing,” he said.
Despite the belief that the Irish began arriving during the 1840s potato famine, Hourahan said the Irish started coming to the area in the 1820s, attracted by the opportunity to work on a farm back when Queens was very rural.
From 1850 to 1920, the German population was huge in Flushing, bigger than the Irish and Italian communities. The arrival of the Italians, who were seeking more labor opportunities, was a late 19th century and early 20th century phenomenon.
Koreans started coming to Flushing in the 1960s. Choe said professionals such as doctors and lawyers went into the small business field because it was easier to start a restaurant or grocery store in New York. There were also many garment industry shops in Midtown Manhattan run by Koreans, with the LIRR stopping in Midtown.
Korean businesses slowly made their way up Northern Boulevard, migrating into suburban areas like Bayside and eventually Long Island along with Korean residents, he said.
“As the Korean population began to go into the suburbs, many of the businesses started to go along Northern Boulevard into Manhattan,” he said.
In the 1970s, Chinese immigration kicked off, largely the result of political problems in Taiwan.
Many people with resources moved out of Taiwan and resettled in Flushing. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, there was concern about the reunification of Hong Kong with China.
“In the most recent years, the Chinese immigration has continued and a large part of it is from poor people in northern industrial China,” Hourahan said.
Ecuadorian native Paola Viteri, 37, who is working on a master’s degree in history at American Public University, has lived in Flushing with her husband since 2008.
She said that in the 1960s, when immigration laws were more welcoming, people from Latin American countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico were seeking job opportunities. Ecuador started having economic problems in the 1990s.
“We lost our own coins and we had to adapt to use the dollar,” Viteri said. “A lot of people, they lost their jobs, they lost their savings. They found themselves desperate so they had to immigrate to the United States, leaving family, leaving children.”
Although there were Ecuadorians and Colombians in Flushing in the 1990s and 2000s, that presence has since dwindled as Latin Americans migrated to neighborhoods where they had a stronger presence, such as Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
Although she described Flushing as a peaceful neighborhood and a good place to raise a family, she said based on personal experience, the Latin American and Asian communities do not interact as much.
“It could be maybe because of the language differences,” she said. “I think also the cultural experiences of each community is a fact that there is not a connection (between them).”
But Choe said the fastest growing market for Korean music, movies and animation is in Latin America.
“My grandfather and my uncles all lived in Latin America,” he said. “I visited them for a year or two in Bolivia and so everyone on my father’s side speaks fluent Spanish and really understands Latin culture and when you visit Latin America, you see Koreans. They seem more outgoing and more Latino than some of the people here.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour