Meeting the Immigration Task Force at Queens Borough President’s Office

Meeting the Immigration Task Force at Queens Borough President’s Office

The Unisphere – built in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the 1964-65 World’s Fair

On September 12, about 40 representatives of immigrant-serving agencies gathered in a room at the Queens Borough President’s building in Kew Gardens.  This was one of the monthly meetings of the QBP’s Immigration Task Force.  I had been invited along to briefly introduce the “I live here” mural project.  Members of the task force are as diverse as the communities they serve.  The many organizations represented included Women for Afghan Women, South Asian Council for Social Services, Ansob Center for Refugees and the Brazilian organization Cidadao Global.

The coordinator of the group is Susie Tanenbaum, the Borough President’s Special Assistant on Immigrant & Inter-Cultural Affairs.   In a conversation afterwards she told me a bit more about the Task Force’s role.  It first started meeting in 2003, and its main purposes are education and network-building.  Usually it meets at the Kew Gardens building, but sometimes elsewhere, for example Flushing Town Hall or, each June, at Queens Botanical Garden.

Themes that come up regularly are immigration reform, health care reform, and labor rights in the workplace.  As Susie puts it they are issues that go beyond the local community, even beyond the country.  Guest visitors come to give talks.  Joe Salvo, Director of the Population Division at the NYC Department of City Planning, has made presentations on the NYC Census and on the changing demographics of Queens.  A representative of OSHA has given a talk about health and safety at work.   On the day that I was there, NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm spoke to the group and took questions – he represents District 25 which includes Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Woodside.

As well as talking and learning about particular issues the group gets involved in Queens activities, such as preparing programs for Immigrant Heritage Week at Queens Museum of Art.

All the service providers, Susie explains, are keenly aware that even if they only serve a small population, they are working within a multi-ethnic environment.  That awareness – of many minorities, who together create the fabric of the place where they live – seems to get to the essence of why Queens communities are so strong.

At the beginning of the meeting, participants were asked to introduce themselves and to say a word that describes Queens.   Here are the words that they chose.  “Languages” was among them!

Diverse (4 times)
Beautiful (2 times)
Heart of immigrants
Like the UN
Best food
Home (2)
Melting Pot (2)
An everything bagel
Full of energy
Constantly improving

A huge thank you to Fred Gitner of Queens Library and Susie Tanenbaum for inviting me to this meeting.

The ideal mural wall

The ideal mural wall
A montage of New York City murals from the cover of "On the Wall"

A montage of New York City murals from the cover of “On the Wall”

I’ve been reading “On the Wall – Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City,” by Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weissman.  It includes a description of how a muralist views a wall – and the traits of the ideal wall for a mural:

“For a muralist, the magic starts with the wall, which can exert a powerful attraction.  For most people, a wall encloses, protects, confines, defends, circumscribes, safeguards and restricts.  To a muralist, however, a wall is a potential painting surface that presents limitless possibilities.  Each wall has its own personality, and every artist must take its measure before determining if it is suitable for  mural.  The ideal wall is smooth and highly visible, facing traffic if on a one-way street.  It is unobstructed by billboards street signs, and windows or doors and comes already scraped and primed with a coat of light-colored acrylic paint. The sidewalk in front of the wall is level for scaffolding, and there is a tree for shade as well as access to running water nd nearby bathrooms and storage space.”

Of course, as the authors go on to imply, the ideal wall rarely manifests itself.  I’ll be sharing updates on this website of the search for the “approaching-ideal” wall in Queens for this project – a mural that will include the words “I live here” in the 160+ languages that are spoken in the borough.

“I live here” in Malay and Jamaican creole – and a mural in Flushing

“I live here” in Malay and Jamaican creole – and a mural in Flushing

Two updates to this site:

“I live here” in Jamaican creole is “A ya mi liv“.

In Malay, it’s: “Saya tinggal di sini‘.

On Saturday I went to Flushing, where a group of students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria and local volunteers were painting a new mural.  The artist leading the project is Lady Pink, who has painted a fair share of murals.  As a teenager in the early eighties she painted NYC subway cars – one of the only girls in a male-dominated environment – and at the same time started exhibiting in galleries.  She hasn’t looked back since then: see this recent interview with her in Huffington Post.

Here are some photos of the mural-painting in Flushing.  It’s on the wall of Asia Bank at 135-32 40th Road, facing the walkway to the LIRR Flushing Station so it will be the first thing people see when they come down off the train into the neighborhood.

It is not the first mural in Flushing.  In 1982 Eva Cockroft painted “The Flushing Mural” in a pedestrian underpass.  By 2001 it was scrawled with graffiti.  No mural lives forever.




Lady Pink

Local residents watch the proceedings

Local residents watch the proceedings



An illustration showing what the completed mural will look like

Speaking with Michael G. Haskins on WBAI radio’s “Light Show”

Speaking with Michael G. Haskins on WBAI radio’s “Light Show”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael G. Haskins of WBAI radio about the “I live here”  mural project.

You can listen to our conversation here.

Michael told me about the radio station’s World Language Initiative.  He collects station IDs from listeners in different languages and plays them on the air – for example, “My name is Elsa, and I always have my radio tuned to 99.5fm, WBAI radio”.  You can hear some of them after the song at the start of the show – which, by the way, was a great choice: Morphine’s “You Speak My Language”.  I’ve linked to a video of a live performance at the bottom of this post.

If anyone wants to record a radio ID for WBAI please get in touch.

The radio station is now based at City College of New York, in Hamilton Heights.  By coincidence on my way there I saw a mural being painted on 138th Street.  It’s a beautiful project by CAW4Kids (Creative Arts Workshops for Kids).  Some pics:

138th Street mural 1

138th Street mural 2

“I live here” in Albanian, Italian, Macedonian

“I live here” in Albanian, Italian, Macedonian

At Trattoria L’Incontro restaurant in Ditmars, Astoria, I gathered the words for “I live here” in Albanian, Italian and Macedonian.  The owner also spoke about four other languages, but for those I had already found out how “I live here” (or its closest equivalent) is said.  I’m finding that the further I get into this project, the more I have to hunt for the remaining languages.  There are many more to go though.  Get in touch if you live in Queens and speak a language other than English – together we will reach 160!

Albanian: “Unë jetoj këtu”

Italian: “io vivo qui”

Macedonian: Jas živejam tuka

No video – yet!

And a reminder that you can follow the progress of the “I live here” mural project on social media too.  Join in on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.