By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Artist Jaclyn Reyes have been quietly pushing for the campaign of co-naming Little Manila alongside the conspicuous Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. On October 2, Saturday, that plan had burst into a much louder authentic voice through a Block Party on 70th Street Woodside.
Dubbed as Little Manila Block Party, the aim was to invite all Filipino residents of Queens to enjoy the day together and push for the initiative to honor Woodside as the home to the largest Filipino population in the East Coast. Little Manila must be seen, heard, and on the map of Queens, NYC’s largest borough.
A few weeks back in the summer of 2021, I had a conversation with Jacklyn over cups of coffee in Manhattan. And I couldn’t agree with her more – and support the initiative and attend the block party!
More than half of Filipinos (54% of an estimated 86,000 pop.) in NYC live in Queens with about 13,000 living in Woodside. Filipinos comprise the third largest Asian group in New York (with the Chinese as the biggest followed by Indians).
The idea of co-naming Little Manila on the area between 69th and 70th Streets on the grid of Roosevelt Avenue came about during the pandemic, recalled Jacklyn. She and fellow artist Xenia of the Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts were creating murals on the vicinity, and voila, there hatched the long-overdue need for Filipino visibility in Woodside.
At the block party, I had the chance to speak with Kyra Cuevas and Kim Chan of the Diverse Street Initiative. Their group uses streets as transient and temporary solidarity spaces to connect different communities together.
Kim, of Filipino-Chinese descent, writes on her comic book ‘Queens, I love you but you’re bringing me down…’: “This is the world’s borough, shouldn’t we be united? Perhaps that’s too naïve or unrealistic.”
Queens is home to the biggest number of immigrants in the world and cradle of white supremacist groups like MAGA and a haven of microaggressions in workplaces and on the streets.
Still, there is a growing awareness and action among millennials, like Kim and Kyra, and that alone makes for a good reason to hope that there’ll be a better future because (young) people take responsibility.
Co-naming a street in honor of a person or place needs an approval by the borough’s council upon the sponsorship of the cultural committee. A petition signing is going on at http://change.org/ourlittlemanila
The five-hour block party opened with the dance drama of Kinding Sindaw, an arts group promoting the indigenous culture and history of southern indigenous peoples in the Philippines. Founder Potri Ranka Manis, an RN and activist, danced and played indigenous musical instruments alongside her husband Dr. Nonilon Queano and daughter Malaika who now leads the Kinding Sindaw as its executive director.
For a few minutes, the magical sound of the kulintang pervaded 70th Street, competing against the roaring 7 Train and flights descending upon the nearby La Guardia airport.
Potri continues to push the city government to assist her in search of her assaulters in what may be another racially charged hate crime on the subway in August. “There were policemen who saw what happened. But they were not helpful. They just stood there. I am not giving up the search for those who assaulted me,” she said.
There was a pork adobo (braised pork) cooking contest – and Gene Dacula won among participating culinary enthusiasts.
Members of the Malaya Movement and Gabriela said they were pushing for the enactment of the Human Rights Act in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Dr. Angie Cruz of the National Federation for FilAm Associations (NAFFAA) said it was about time to push for the Filipino distinction “and not lump us into one single Asian race.” On NAFFAA’s display table at the party, she and her team were pushing for Filipinos’ participation in the November elections in NYC and the 2022 Philippine elections.
Jaclyn thought that the first Little Manila block party was a ‘truly Filipino American event.’ “You saw all age ranges, different ways to be Filipino. We could organize but it doesn’t mean people will show up. So happy they all did.”
About 800 people came to the Woodside event. “I found it interesting that really conservative Filipinos share space with really progressive ones. I’m really happy we could hold space for difference,” she said.
The first block party was encouraging. Hopefully this will become a Filipino tradition in Queens, just like how the adobo is savored by almost everyone in all generations. Keep on keeping on, millennials! # (Featured photo: Jaclyn Reyes chats with Rachel Javier of Flip Eats.)