Same place, different experience

Tonight, I went to see a play with a friend called I Like to Be Here: Jackson Heights Revisited, Or, This is a Mango. It was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while, and my friend and I were laughing almost the entire time because of the ethnic interpretations and the very not politically correct statements made.

Jackson Heights is a neighborhood in Queens that I frequented several times a month when I lived in Queens, as it was just two stops away (or about a 25-minute walk) from my old Elmhurst apartment, and even now that I’ve moved into Manhattan, I go there about every couple of months. I’ve always looked at it as a fun, boisterous area full of immigrants, primarily from South Asia and Latin America, but with a good sprinkling of pretty much every ethnicity known to humans. It was portrayed as such in this play, but then I suppose my “yuppie” status was made obvious.

There’s a scene where an assumed to be middle-class white man bumps into a poorer Latina woman (who is a prostitute trying to earn more money to support her child and 10 other relatives in a one-bedroom apartment in Jackson Heights). The white man says to the Latina that Jackson Heights is a “historic neighborhood” in New York City and starts talking about the neighborhood’s rich cultural history. The Latina immediately feels and looks annoyed, and she makes it clear to him that this neighborhood is hardly a “historic” neighborhood — it’s a place where poor immigrants just try their best to survive, hence her tiny apartment housing 12 family members. That type of living situation is the norm for her and her neighbors there.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Jackson Heights as a “historic neighborhood” — I’ve always looked at it as the spot to get great Indian, Filipino, South American, Mexican, or many other ethnic foods for a really cheap price. It’s the place I can go for great ethnic markets where I can find all the spices and vegetables I could only dream of getting at Fairway or Whole Foods, or God forbid Gristedes. I guess I am closer to that white man in my experiences of Jackson Heights than the Latina woman.

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