In an effort to get a understanding of the current society of Jackson Highest I briefly and informally interviewed three different locals. The first person I interviewed was a early-twenties Tibetan-American woman who had emigrated from Nepal in early 2015. The second person I interviewed was a middle aged Indian-American man who had immigrated to Jackson Heights from India in 2004. Finally, I was in email correspondence with a born and raised north-eastern man who bounced around living in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvanian, Nepal and finally residing in Jackson Heights for the last few months. All the interviewees bring drastically different perspectives to the area that they all call home.
The two following transcription and adaptation of the interviews are not direct quotes but rather my subjective perspective on what they had to say. The reason for this is both to keep the nature of this project focused as well as to accommodate for the quick and freestyle method in which the interviews were conducted. In effort to keep anonymity and confidentiality I will refer to the three people as Interviewee 1, 2, and 3 respectively.
Interviewee 1 moved from Lhasa as a young Child to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu. She lived in Kathmandu until she moved to Jackson Heights seven months ago. She came in the wake of her parents who had moved to Jackson Heights a few years prior. She made the trip from Kathmandu with her brother and her sister. Interviewee 1 lives with her brother, sister and parents in an apartment just off of 74th street in Jackson Heights. She works as a waitress in the area, her sister also works as a waitress and her brother works as clerk in a technology store. They all have the goal of saving up enough money to attend college in New York. The whole family seems to be working together to try and support the future of her and her siblings. She told me that her family knew a lot of people that had moved to Jackson Heights before they moved here themselves. I got the impression that the community they are apart of was very welcoming to them as well as very large. When I asked about how religion plays into her life now that she has left Nepal her eyes lit up. She expressed to me that Buddhism is still a very important aspect of her life and to the lives of her family and friends. She said that much of the community she is involved in centers around Buddhism and was quick to point out the monastery that she frequently attends. Interviewee 1 self identified under the Gelukpa tradition and made it clear that the majority of people with Tibetan heritage, in Jackson Heights, identified under that sect of Buddhism as well. She said that the Tibetan Buddhist community was very welcoming to her and her family and that it continues to be a resource both for friends as well support while she starts this new chapter of her life.
Interviewee 2 moved from New Deli, India in 2004 to join many friends that had moved to the area before him. He currently lives with his wife in Jackson Heights, close to the historical district. He expressed to me his love for the neighborhood and was very passionate about how it had changed and evolved since he moved there. Interviewee 2 works in Manhattan as a technician for a large computer company and commutes to and from Jackson Heights every weekday. He said the commute was very easy and he doesn’t mind it at all. When I asked him to describe some of the changes he has seen in the neighborhood, specifically focusing on the effect of the influx of Tibetans, he explained that over the past ten years there has been a drastic switch between the role of Tibetans and Indians within the community. Ten years ago all the restaurants and shops were run by Indian men and women now only the groceries stores are run by Indians and everything else is run by the Tibetans. Tibetans took over many of the Indian restaurants and the other ones were taken over by commercial spaces such as McDonald’s and City MD. When he talks about “everything” he is referring to the commercial strip shared by the Tibetans and Indians on 74th street. The Hispanic area seems to still be run by predominantly people of Hispanic descent. Interviewee 2 also stressed that many of the Indian residence that he knew moved to New Jersey and that he only stayed because he had a nice place to live and his family didn’t want to move. I asked him why he thinks that the Indian-Americans have left and he wasn’t sure. He felt it possibly had something to do with the continual influx of Tibetans. Not in a negative sense but rather it gave the Indians opportunity to live in a more rural setting in New Jersey but he was not sure. He also told me that many of the Indian-Americans that had been living in Jackson Heights were able to save up enough money and get an education so many of them work in Manhattan or New Jersey now and that might have something to do with it. Interviewee 2 also mentioned that the Tibetan restaurants that continually pop up are very popular because they offer an outlet for locals both to eat amazing authentic Tibetan food but also eat a full meal for very cheap costing five to seven dollars versus the Indian food alternative of ten dollars or more. On such restaurant that many people frequent is “Little Tibet” and I can attest to getting a full meal that I couldn’t even finish for no more than seven dollars. Interviewee 2 did not seem as passionate about religion as interviewee 1 did but said it still played a role in his life and in the lives of many of the remaining Indian-Americans living in Jackson Heights.
Interviewee 3’s family has a very different background than the first two Interviewees. His Mother grew up in Queens and Father grew up in Brooklyn. They raised him in New Jersey and he has lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York at various times in his life. During the 1990s Interviewee 3 lived in Nepal making frequent trips to Indian and Tibet. He has been back living in New York since 2010 where he has spent the last five years in Brooklyn till recently moving to Jackson Heights in July. Without having the opportunity to speak in person, Interviewee 3’s history and opinions on Jackson Heights still go a long way to adding to our understanding of this amazing community. Through email correspondence I know that he has been interested in Buddhism from the age of 15 and has been drawn to the pillars of the religion since even younger than that. Buddhism appeared to have played a large roll in his life. In our emails he said, “Jackson Heights was the only place in NYC where I actually felt at home. The vibrancy and to me familiarity of 74 street continues to feed me… as do the excellent restaurants!” Along this vein a part of his motivation for moving to Jackson Heights was to, “connect with community.” It appears that Interviewee 3 has been very well received into the community and that his denomination (as a Jewish Buddhist) doesn’t effect his relationship with the community at all. Interviewee 3’s story speaks to the openness of the community and the amazing oppertunity that Jackson Heights can offer to people interested in such religious practices and cultural traditions.
These three perspectives tell us much about the neighborhood. Jackson Heights, has a large growing community of Tibetans in exile. It appears to be a prosperous environment for immigrants and as the Tibetans in Switzerland were successful so to does it appear that the Tibetans in Jackson Heights will be. The community is a very welcoming and clearly open to people from all walks a life. The Tibetans and other ethnic communities within Jackson Heights appear to get along seamlessly even with a large increase of Tibetans coming into the area.