A Brief History
Over the past one-hundred and twenty-five years, Jackson Heights, a community situated in the northern part of Queens, New York, has become one the most ethnically diverse communities in the United States.
In the early 20th Century, when Jackson Heights was first developed, nothing about its design or purpose precluded to the ethnic diversity it has today. It was not until the 1960s that the community in Jackson Heights was no longer 99% White. In the 1970s there began a steady influx of immigrants. During that time Jackson Heights become identified by the tension between different ethnic groups. The area was under scrutiny for a period when the Colombian organized crime syndicates started forming in the area. During this period and the general economic turmoil in New York City, Jackson Heights did not have the best reputation and picked up the name “Crackson Heights” (Briane). What is truly amazing, is that during this period Jackson Heights still remained an enclave of native-born white middle and working class households. It wasn’t until the the 1990s that Jackson Heights finally took on its genuine multi-cultural identity, possessing such a diverse population of White people, Hispanic people and Asian people that there was not clear majority group (Kasinitz). Since the 1990s there has been a continuing flow of immigrates from these ethnic groups. Today Jackson Heights is home to Colombians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Argentinians, Mexicans, Salvadorians, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Tibetans and the Nepalese. Overcoming some of the its rough patches Jackson Heights has come out stronger than ever and currently is a great community. Let’s take a closer look at the path that Jackson Heights took to become the enclave for all the Tibetans that live their today.
Queens Country, Jackson Heights remained rural until the late 19th century, as much of the surrounding area did. It wasn’t until the early 20th century with the inception of transportation to Manhattan via the Queens Borough Bridge that Jackson Heights became a developed area (Kasinitz). Projects spearheaded by the famous real-estate investor Edward MacDougall and with the use of the garden city model of British planner Ebenezer Howard, Jackson Heights was formed. Originally developed as a highbrow suburb for a native, White, middle-class trying to live outside of the city proper no one could have envisioned its future identity. From its induction Jackson Heights grew very fast – gaining the reputation as an area for the rich manhatanites to store their mistresses (Braine). Within the first two decades of its existences Jackson Heights grew to 44,500 people (Kasinitz). With the rapid growth other developers took to the opportunity and developed the area to what much of it looks like today. Some of the developments mirrored the iconic garden design of Howard and others with their own style.
Many people don’t know that Jackson Heights has a longer history of diversity then just the influx of immigrants. It was around this period of growth that Jackson Heights started to first see its diversity bloom. Men and women who worked in the theater district in Manhattan were drawn to Jackson Heights by the pleasant alternative to living in tiny apartments they could afford around where they worked. This coupled with the easy commute they had to Times Square theater district. Many of these new members of Jackson Heights were gay and therefore Jackson Heights slowly became a gay haven in New York City (Kasinitz). The ease of commute and alternative to Manhattan life is still a major draw for many locals.
During the next two decades, Jackson Heights, with the new infrastructure developed during the period and with the socioeconomic changes taken place throughout New York, the second wave of incoming diversity took place. After the late 1940s Jews began to move to the area after the age old restrictive convents were disband. It wasn’t until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that blacks began to move to the area as well. During the period of development between 1960s and 1980s Jackson Heights went through an large boom of ethnic diversity. After the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965 (Kasinitz) which paved the way for the massive immigration to the United States from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia all different groups of people started to find their way to Jackson Heights. With the city infrastructure and the high focus of jobs, New York was understandable a massive hub for these new Americans.
During the 1970s a large amount of South American immigrants found residence in Jackson Heights. These new inhabitants establishing their own enclave of both residential housing as well as a impressive commercial strip. The influx of these new communities brought along some problems within the neighborhood especially with the tension between Colombian drug cartels. During the later part of the 1970s some friction between the emerging sub-communities occurred making strict areas between the“Hispanic area”, the “Asian area” and the like. The borders of these areas can still be identified by Roosevelt avenue and 74th street in Jackson Heights. During the darker times in the community many of the buildings were known for nefarious practices such as drug trafficking and prostitution but this aspect of the area while important isn’t as much my concern. What is more interesting is how these enclaves, within one community, formed so strongly and how the development of them attracted other immigrants. Jackson Heights, through all these different elements of change that it experienced never lost the sense of community and identity that formed so many years ago. Jackson Heights kept its distinct identity and the bones of the aesthetic appearance still to this day. (Price) Currently Jackson Heights is a strongly desirable residential enclave outside of Manhattan. One of the impressive aspects of Jackson Heights is the Jackson Heights historical district and the Jackson Heights historical association that has been able to preserve the area for so long. The development and history of all the ethnic groups within Jackson Heights is very interesting and all worth further research. For the purposes of my subject focus this is where we need narrow our lens and develop a picture of the immigrant Tibetan culture that has such a strong presence in Jackson Heights today.
Kasinitz, Bazzi, Doane: Cityscape: Chapter 8: Jackson Heights, New York. pgs (161-177).
JHBG, Garden in the City. April 19th, 2012 (http://www.jhbg.org/publications/a-garden-in-the-cit)
Price, Lauren: Green, Grand, Great Eats: A History of Jackson Heights and its Future as the Next Hot ‘Hood. August 12, 2015 (http://www.6sqft.com/from-gritty-to-grand-a-history-of-jackson-heights-and-its-future-as-the-next-hot-neighborhood/)
Census Numbers: Calling Jackson Heights (http://www.wnyc.org/story/120029-census-numbers-calling-jackson-heights/)
Braine, Theresa: Quaint in Queens: Jackson Heights is cutest ‘hood in the borough. June 18th 2009. (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/real-estate/quaint-queens-jackson-heights-cutest-hood-borough-article-1.375122?pgno=1)