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Point of View: Work on Flushing Mall to increase interaction

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The organizer should, however, extend its invitation to more than eight countries to this event at the Flushing Mall.Indeed, Flushing needs these types of activities to promote mutual understanding among its residents with such diverse cultural backgrounds. But we should not commercialize such events.One thing baffles me, though. The Asian American Heritage Month came on the heels of the large-scale Asian Pacific Heritage Festival on Kissena Boulevard that synchronized with the big celebration of Mother's Day. This one-block-long event drew an estimated 20,000 people to savor the ethnic food and view exhibits.The two cultural events should not be held in the same month. To avoid a lukewarm reception, the Asian American Heritage Month should be celebrated in July or August.The outdoor festival on Kissena Boulevard obviously mimics the one held annually in Manhattan, where multi-ethnic food varieties drew hundreds of thousands of people to the event that spread to several blocks.Years ago I also attended similar outdoor celebrations that the Polish, Greek, Serbian, Asian and Russian immigrants held each year in Northern Indiana or south of Chicago. The Polish and Greek groups even provided country-fair type activities, featuring games and merry-go-round rides that usually lasted three days.Apparently ethnic groups right here are unable to copy those types of events because of lack of financial resources. Most of the immigrants in Queens are relatively new arrivals, and to them, bread and butter is more important than hobnobbing.Communication skills are the key in promoting mutual understanding. It's no surprise that your next-door neighbors have never talked to you, partly because of cultural differences and language barrier. It's more so for those living in co-op units or condominiums. Your neighbors perhaps want you to take the first step.As for me, I always take the initiative to chat with my neighbors. After 25 years, I still exchange Christmas cards with my former Romanian and Macedonian neighbors.Frequent ethnic interactions doubtless can help us understand geopolitical or cultural differences among those who are likely to be our next-door neighbors.As far as I can recall, Asians probably began to converge on this town in the early 1970s. When I first visited Flushing in late 1969, there was only a smattering of Asians, but I didn't recall seeing any Asian store then. I might be wrong.Now Asians, mainly Chinese, Koreans and Indians, are the dominant force in this metropolis, and their growing presence has been credited with Flushing's prosperity.Speaking of local festivities, the Flushing Mall has become a vital part in them, thanks to its indoor promenade. Chinese groups have staged a variety of shows there now and then, but they failed to attract a large enough audience. Blaming the location? Maybe. A centrally located civic center with state-of-the-art facilities will surely reverse that attendance trend and provide a space where any ethnic group can rent space with a nominal fee to hold events year round.The mall has been open for more than five years, yet some residents and neighbors are unaware of its existence. Sadly, it's true. As an observer, I have noticed some stores at the mall have gone under and some closed their doors for good. Others have changed ownership several times. Am I concerned about its future? You bet.Here's an episode about a community leader's unawareness of the mall:According to a report in the TimesLedger, Sheila Tower, president of the Free Synagogue of Flushing, says she has lived here for 40 years and "this mall is new to me... That's part of the problem. We have got to get to know each other."I cannot agree more.There are two problems facing the mall: First, it's not at the heart of the town. These days, people are lazy and reluctant to make an extra walk to that corner. Besides, parking is a headache.Second, all the Asian stores at the mall sell similar merchandise, mostly jewelry and clothing. It seems they have little appeal to middle-class Asians, who apparently prefer to do their shopping at upscale malls elsewhere. The lack of ethnic diversity at the mall is also a problem. Nearly 98 percent of the store owners are Chinese, so are the customers.Yes, we have a lot of blue-collar immigrants here, but they are just browsers. Even those eateries there see their business go downhill.The Asian American Heritage Month celebrations might be a shot in the arm for the struggling mall. As a concerned observer, I wish it the best of luck.

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