Korean spoken here?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Mar 25 14:09:45 UTC 2003

New York Times, March 25, 2003

2 Affluent Areas of Queens Adjust to a New Ethnic Mix


  In the prosperous Queens neighborhoods of Douglaston and Little Neck,
where the number of Asian immigrants has more than doubled in 12 years,
there are many tales of how the American mill of assimilation works its
special grace. A champion ballroom dancer from Seoul is giving tango and
rumba lessons to the neighborhood's longtime residents. A Fujianese
immigrant has opened a Chinese restaurant that is not only vegetarian but
also kosher, availing himself of the help of Jewish neighbors in getting a
rabbinical certificate. And on Sunday afternoons, the area's leading
Episcopal church rents its sanctuary to a small Korean congregation.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that the melting pot in Douglaston and
Little Neck is without its lumps. There are, for example, persistent
murmurs of displeasure from established residents who say they do not feel
welcome in many of the Korean-owned shops along Northern Boulevard that
were once owned by Irish, Italian, German and Jewish merchants. What
particularly chafes are the proliferation of large signs in Korean, some
with no English explanation of what is sold.

"The perception is that these businesses are serving their own people,"
Paula Gerber, office manager of a real estate agency on the boulevard,
said. "They're not realizing that when you're on the street you're
supposed to be serving everyone." There has also been discomfort with the
growth of Korean churches, one of which, Eun Hae Presbyterian, is being
built to hold 494 worshipers but will have just 32 parking spaces.
Neighborhoods like Little Neck and Douglaston are worth watching because
they are laboratories for the second stage in the cycle of Asian
immigration. Asians who started out in crowded Chinatown in
dawn-to-midnight jobs in restaurants, garment factories and groceries, and
may have moved up to the more decorous apartments of Flushing, are now
thriving enough to penetrate the city's leafiest precincts.

Little Neck and Douglaston are right across a small cove from Great Neck,
on Long Island. Houses range from $450,000 to $3 million. Douglas Manor,
an enclave of 600 graceful houses in Douglaston, was known as late as the
1950's as a white Protestant neighborhood where Jews were discouraged from
buying houses, local leaders say. In the past decade, Asians have been
drawn to Douglaston and Little Neck by the area's suburban tidiness and
low taxes and by the top-rated public schools of Community School District
26. In 1990, 11.6 percent of the two neighborhoods' 23,000 residents were
Asian. By 2000, 23 percent were Asian, mostly Korean and Chinese. Even the
population of Douglas Manor is 8 to 10 percent Asian, said Bernard Haber,
a former president of Community Board 11.

Dr. Pyong Gap Min, a professor of sociology at Queens College and a Korean
immigrant, said Chinese immigrants had been more willing to wade into the
American mainstream because they were more fragmented by their languages
Mandarin, Cantonese and Fujianese and origins Taiwan, mainland China and
Hong Kong. Almost all the Koreans are from South Korea and speak the same
language. Because the Chinese are a more established immigrant group, many
Chinese who do well enough to make it to places like Douglaston and Little
Neck are second-generation and already comfortably American. "It's very
difficult for Koreans to get involved in American organizations because
they are so strongly tied to their ethnic network," Dr. Min said.

Little Neck and Douglaston are not alone in feeling some tension from
immigration. Palisades Park, N.J., responded to its Asian influx with a
law requiring that half of any foreign-language sign be in English. Along
Northern Boulevard in Little Neck, Korean business owners say that signs
entirely in Korean are not intended to offend anyone, but reflect the
reality that the customers are almost exclusively Korean. Young Kim, a
merchant who speaks little English, said, "Our problem is English."  She
draws native-born customers to Ladykin Salon, which she owns, by letting
them show her magazine pictures of the hair styles they want.

Northern Boulevard's transformation has been hard for the merchants and
residents who have clung wistfully to old pictures of the neighborhood.
Frank Mockler, 75, has felt the neighborhood's changes in Patrick's Pub
and The Claddagh Shop, his Irish imports store near the Great Neck line.
Thirty-eight years ago, when he started out, Mr. Mockler said, half the
neighborhood was "Irish and English," and in his prime years he used to
sell 5,000 Irish coffees a week at the pub. Now he sells about 1,000. "You
don't get the local people," he said. Still, there are many wisps of
congeniality between old-timers and newcomers.

Douglaston's Zion Episcopal Church rents its sanctuary on Sunday
afternoons to a Korean Presbyterian congregation of perhaps 40 families,
the Great Commission Church. The Koreans pay $12,000 to $14,000 a year. A
footnote at the bottom of Zion's signboards alerts passers-by that a
Korean congregation is "also worshiping here." The Rev. Patrick J.
Holtkamp, Zion's rector, said the church rejected the Korean group's
request for a separate sign in Korean. Zion wanted to project the image of
a congregation on the rise, as it is, rather than one biding its time
before selling out to its Korean renters, the fate of many shrinking
Protestant churches in Flushing and Bayside. Zion's congregation has
doubled in 12 years to 200 families.

The two congregations have held several joint services, but Father
Holtkamp acknowledged that there was little social interaction, mostly, he
said, because of the language barrier. Two years ago, Yihung Li, 45, an
immigrant from China's Fujian province, decided to open a vegetarian
Chinese restaurant near his Little Neck home, and because northeastern
Queens has many Jewish residents, he decided to make it kosher. The Jewish
neighbors he had befriended helped him find a rabbi to certify the
restaurant. So entangled has he become in the American ethnic blender that
last summer he was host of a naming party for a Chinese baby girl adopted
by two gay Jewish men.

"We talk to each other," Mr. Li said of his American friends. Though it
does not go much deeper than that, he said, "if you help each other when
you need it, that is good enough." Sehyoung Jang, 28, a champion ballroom
dancer who grew up in Seoul, opened a dance hall, Tri-State, a year ago.
There he teaches neighborhood residents everything from the fox trot to

"I want to put Korean and American people together," Mr. Jang said. "If
they can dance together and hold hands there will be more relationships.
When you dance you don't care about country or culture." Douglaston's
venerable 108-member Garden Club and in its civic association also have a
few Asian members. Sam Furgang, owner of an antiques shop on Northern
Boulevard, predicted that even the tempest over the signs, which he said
was silly, would pass as future generations blend in.

"My father came here and settled on the Lower East Side," Mr. Furgang
said. "I see pictures of that time and the signs were all in Yiddish. But
the Jews got out of there. So go find me a Yiddish sign there now."

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