Zapori has lived in other parts of the city, but in Jackson Heights, it was love at first sight. “We have such a close community here that’s made up of immigrants – we feel like we belong here,” she said. “When I see tourists here it’s usually people who have been to New York before and they’ve done the touristy stuff, but now they want to see the real thing.”
She wasn’t the only person I met who takes pride in the neighbourhood’s multiculturalism. “What I love about Jackson Heights is that every single avenue has its own personality,” said Oscar Zamora Flores, a graduate student at Queens College who grew up between Mexico and Jackson Heights. “There are avenues that are really relaxed, with beautiful architecture, and then you get to Roosevelt, just a few blocks away, and it’s crazy and overwhelming and sometimes so packed you can’t even walk.”
I met Zamora Flores at Seba Seba, one of a few dozen Colombian restaurants and bakeries in the neighbourhood. “When I was living here as a kid, I could count the number of times I went into Manhattan on one hand,” he said. “There was no reason to go, everything I needed was here.”
Follow the crowds east from Diversity Plaza, a pedestrian zone near the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway entrance, and Little India (somewhat of a misnomer considering the equal number of Tibetans, Nepalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other groups who live here) becomes Little Colombia (and Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay). That, in turn, blends into the beating heart of Queens’s LGBTQ community centred on Friend’s Tavern, the oldest gay bar in Queens. “Unlike at the gay bars in other parts of the city, here every night is Latino night,” Zamora Flores said.