On a sunny Friday in March, Esther and Mario Van Houton from The Netherlands visited Jackson Heights in Queens. Councilman Daniel Dromm was their Greeter for a Day. Joining them was Greeter Sam Weiss.
The Councilman could not have been more knowledgeable or passionate about his district neighborhoods, which include Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, LeFrak City, Corona, Rego Park, and Woodside. For this walk he focused on Jackson Heights with its lively shopping area, where it seemed each store had a different nationality.
He explained the community is 68% immigrant – with people from South Asia such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and from South America such as Colombia, Argentina, and Peru. “You can visit many countries here in one subway ride,” the Councilman said with pride.
He also shared some personal information: he is the first openly gay elected official from the borough. He started a Gay Pride Parade that takes place every June. He also pointed out that Queens was influential in getting the gay marriage law passed.
Walking through Little India and Little Bangladesh, the Councilman noted that all the different ethnic groups were kind and welcoming to each other. They came to America for freedom and they wanted acceptance for everyone, no matter what their nationality or sexual preference. Even the Jewish Center has Muslim Services! This tolerant, progressive attitude permeates the neighborhood.
On to the historic district, where beautiful Tudor homes and apartments were built in the 20’s and 30’s and are all landmarked today. Peacefulness exists in the district since no stores are allowed there.
Almost everyone knew the Councilman and wanted to say “Hi.” He explained that Jackson Heights is a “small town in the big city.” Esther and Mario felt they were “standing in the middle of real American life, not what tourists see.”
A perfect end to a perfect day was a tiny Bangladesh bakery where the Councilman treated everyone to hot tea, cocoa or cappuccino. He also bought Esther and Mario a book about Jackson Heights. His generosity, warmth and enthusiasm made it a very special day, or as Esther said succinctly, “It was really cool.”
Story by Bobbie Kaplan
Photos by Karen Bell