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Boro’s ethnic newspapers keep immigrants in touch

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They line the racks at borough newsstands and obscure faces of riders on the No. 7 train, dozens of papers in languages from far-flung countries whose readers have flocked to Queens.

Ethnic newspapers are a thriving business in Queens, establishing a line of communication between the borough’s immigrants and their native countries but also providing a vital resource to help them settle into their adopted homeland.

The industry’s impact on the borough was examined June 20 by media leaders and academics at a conference at LaGuardia Community College called “The Ethnic Media of Queens,” which was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and Channel Thirteen.

“Our ethnic newspapers provide so much for the people of my borough,” said Borough President Helen Marshall, who has stories from the ethnic press translated so she can read them. “I feel that a multi-ethnic population is a treasure.”

The changing face of Queens is a reflection of a major change in immigration trends over the past century that show far greater diversity among people entering the country, Queens College sociology professor Andrew Beveridge said in the conference’s opening presentation.

While five to seven ethnic groups accounted for nearly all the city’s immigration in 1910, 22 groups comprise only two-thirds of immigration today with the remaining third split among smaller segments of the arriving population.

But people tend to move into communities that are highly segregated based on nationality, creating small homogenous pockets within the borough’s overall landscape of diversity.

“The Colombians don’t really live near the Ecuadorians much,” Beveridge said. “That is good for the ethnic press — it’s segregated, you can find subscribers.”

The borough is segregated not only by national origin but also by race, with the black population largely concentrated in the southeastern part of the borough.

“You have an expanding black population but they started segregated in 1910 and they’re still segregated,” Beveridge said. “This is to undercut the notion of Hands Across New York, that things are more integrated now — they’re not.”

An exception is northwest Queens, where a number of ethnic groups — most notably Greek and Bangladeshi — have settled in tight communities that still blend together to some extent.

The ethnic newspapers cater to these enclaves that share a language and national heritage, offering a range of services not only to its readers but also the borough as a whole.

Abu Taher, the editor of Bangla Patrika, a Bangladeshi paper based in Long Island City, said his newspaper is used by new immigrants as a means of learning about their new country.

“They just use the newspaper like a schoolbook — how to educate themselves,” Taher said. The newspaper also teaches its readers civics lessons and informs them about how to become involved in the political process, eventually becoming citizens and starting to vote, he said.

But the newspapers also serve as a means for the mainstream English-language media to learn about the issues and news within the ethnic communities and eventually address them in stories of their own.

“You’re running the stories that the American mainstream press is picking up,” said Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of journalism at Columbia University.

Still, the issues that command the most space in the ethnic press — at present, the World Cup competition and the detainment of immigrants since Sept. 11 — have failed to attract nearly as much attention in mainstream media, Sreenivasan said.

In addition to the value of the information disseminated, the ethnic media is also prized by advertisers that use newspapers as well as television and radio stations to target a lucrative market of consumers, panelists said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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