In New York's Multinational Astoria, Diversity Is Key To Harmony : Code Switch The neighborhood in Queens has become a kind of urban United Nations, with people from 100 countries living there. The more diverse it becomes, the better its residents appear to get along.
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In New York's Multinational Astoria, Diversity Is Key To Harmony

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In New York's Multinational Astoria, Diversity Is Key To Harmony

In New York's Multinational Astoria, Diversity Is Key To Harmony

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk next about diversity here at home. Years ago I lived in New York City in Queens in a neighborhood called Astoria. It was known then as a destination for Greek immigrants with Greek restaurants and Orthodox Christian churches. Today that is just one layer of Astoria's diversity. It's more diverse than ever with people from more than 100 countries living there. You might think that having so many different people would lead to tension. Instead, the explosion of diversity might have helped to foster a more tranquil community. Alexandra Starr of NPR's Code Switch team reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) And I say yes, you look wonderful tonight.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: In an English language class in Astoria, Queens, more than two dozen students sing Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight."

NESTOR TEBIO: OK, open your mouth.

STARR: That's the instructor, Nestor Tebio. He's from the Philippines. His students come from all over.

VICENTE VISNIYA: Hi, my name is Vicente Visniya. I'm from Ecuador.

DIANE CHAO: My name is Diane Chao from South Korea.

TESTINA TETEYDO: Hi, my name is Testina Teteydo from Greece.

STARR: Astoria has a reputation as New York City's Greektown, but it's more like an urban United Nations.

SOFYA APTEKAR: North Africans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Tibetans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Bangladeshi, I could go on.

STARR: That's Sofya Aptekar. She's a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. She's giving me a tour of the neighborhood. She says no one group dominates numerically. That's a change from a few decades ago when Astoria's immigrants were basically Greeks and Italians. There was a great deal of tension between the Italians and African-Americans living in the neighborhood.

APTEKAR: This is 21st Street, which for a long time has been considered a racialized class boundary in the neighborhood.

STARR: Eric Mathews runs an after-school program in Astoria. He's African-American and first lived in the neighborhood in the 1970s.

ERIC MATHEWS: When I was growing up, kids would say, oh, you can't go across 21st Street. Something's going to happen to you.

STARR: Over the past few decades, though, a lot of Italians and Greeks moved to the suburbs, and a polyglot mix replaced them.

MATHEWS: Now things are much more peaceful. I think with the, you know, increase in minority groups, everyone seems to have found their own space.

STARR: And the neighborhood changed to accommodate the new residents. On one of Astoria's main boulevards, there's a shop festooned with signs in Spanish, but the proprietors aren't Latino.

ASHIV SHAH: My name is Ashiv Shah, and I'm from Pakistan.

STARR: Shah's a nephew of the owner. He gives a tour, pointing to shelves stocked with dried channa dal, yellow onions and Gatorade.

ASHIV: It's, like, a mix - like, a mixed culture. One of part of the store is, like, Mexican. One part is, like, Southwest Asia. Some part is actually American.

STARR: His mother says the Spanish language signs went up after 9/11. At the time, a lot of other Pakistanis left the country in the aftermath of an immigration crackdown. The store needed to broaden its clientele. Back on 21st Street, Professor Aptekar talks about the latest change coming to Astoria. New luxury housing is going up, and two of the buildings will be right next to public housing.

APTEKAR: And I think a lot of people who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time are worried. Does it mean ultimate displacement?

STARR: So a neighborhood that has absorbed successive waves of newcomers may soon be in for another transformation. Alexandra Starr, NPR News, New York.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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