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Queens’ Asian influence explored

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Students from around the country will tour Queens neighborhoods, sample area restaurants and visit cultural hot spots this week as part of the Queens College Asian/American Center’s new summer institute program designed to teach students about the borough’s Asian-American populations as well as help them learn more about their own identities.

Participants in the weeklong program are college students or recent graduates from Queens, California, Massachusetts and a number of other places throughout the country. They come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, Tibetan, Nepali, Pakistani and Indo-Caribbean.

“If you want to study a culture, normally you’d go abroad, but you can also start in Queens,” said Madhulika Khandelwal, director of the college’s Asian/American Center. “In this borough you can really see the global in the local. It is the interaction of the U.S. and the world. How do people when they come here create a diverse community? How are Asian-American communities forming themselves here?”

Khandelwal said she hopes to discuss those questions and more during the Asian/American Center’s first summer institute that began Monday and runs through Saturday.

The institute program includes half-day tours of Flushing, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill, during which students will visit mosques, temples, churches and other houses of workshop; sample different foods; and meet with business leaders and heads of community organizations.

They will visit such organizations as the South Asian Youth Action in Jackson Heights, the Flushing Chinese Business Association, the Rajkumari Cultural Center in Richmond Hill and the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing.

They will also discuss such topics as economic development in Flushing, preserving Indo-Caribbean history in Queens and language barriers for Asian Americans in health and education.

On Monday, Khandelwal kicked off the weeklong series of events with a talk on an overview of Asian-American communities in Queens.

“In Flushing, you’ve seen an economy that was dying in the 1960s and a complete turnaround because of the Asian immigration,” Khandelwal said. “The economic development is stunning to most people. In a bad economy, Flushing is prospering.”

Winnie Ng, a recent Binghamton University graduate from Brooklyn, said she wanted to be a part of the summer institute because she has long been interested in studying Asian-American cultures and is currently writing her thesis on the diffusion of traditional Chinese medicine in the United States.

Khandelwal said she hopes the program allows immigrants and the children of immigrants to better understand themselves and their relationship to their parents, who are often first-generation immigrants. To people like Jamaica resident Hasina Islam, that is particularly important.

“I won’t lie and say that finding me in this sea of diversity called America has been easy, because it hasn’t,” Islam, a Bengali American, wrote in her essay to apply to the summer program. “There has always existed the temptation to be as carefree and easy going as American girls. Eating Halal or fasting during the holy month of Ramadan in a crowded lunch room while everyone is stuffing their face was tempting. Many times, there appeared to be no way out.

“I want to be able to learn more about the Asian culture .… Taking the best of both worlds I made a world for me. With the independence and education that I have in this country, I can use to empower myself and others like me. By respecting my elders, guarding my modesty, preserving my cultural values and morals, I also did not lose myself in this country like countless others and was able to preserve my identity as a Bengal American.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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