Poisonous lead paint is raining down from the 7 train

By Danielle Furfaro

Originally published by the New York Post on April 23, 2017

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Poisonous lead-paint chips are raining down on several Queens neighborhoods from elevated subway tracks, threatening the health of passersby, especially children, officials told The Post.

The decrepit No. 7 train trestle — which runs through Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Woodside — hasn’t been repainted in more than three decades, said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, leaving the flaking lead-based paint exposed.

“I’m surprised it’s still standing, that’s how rusted and bad the chipping of the paint is and the lead dust particles are flying through the air,” said Dromm, who grew up in the area.

The amount of lead in the paint is 224,000 parts per million — or 44 times more than what is considered safe, according to the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which tested the falling paint chips at the behest of residents, Dromm and others.

Dr. Morri Markowitz, director of the Lead Poisoning Treatment and Prevention Program at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, was aghast to learn about the “extremely toxic” levels falling from the elevated tracks.

“I think the Department of Health or the city environmental agencies should get involved,” the concerned doctor said. “The lead paint could potentially be falling off of every elevated track throughout the city, not just on the 7 [line].”

Davon Lomax, director of the union, noted how heavily populated the area is.

“There are food carts, restaurants and schools under there, and the dust is getting everywhere, and it’s all breathable,’’ he said.

“This poses a threat to people who work and are passing underneath there every day.”

The dilapidated sections of the overhead tracks run from the 52nd street station to Junction Boulevard.

“It’s a poison, and kids shouldn’t be exposed to it,” said resident Samuel Rivera, 62, who lives in Jackson Heights. “The MTA should have repainted this by now, but they take their sweet time doing everything.”

Father-of-two Md Lokman Hossain said he is particularly worried about his 17-month-old son, noting that the tot could mistake a paint chip for food if it fell into his lap as they walked along Roosevelt Avenue.

“He could think it’s candy or something and swallow it, and it could lead to a big problem,’’ Hossain said.

Dromm said he has repeatedly pressed the MTA to take better care of the trestles, especially the area around the 74th Street/Broadway station.

“It has not been painted for at least 35 years that I can remember,” he said.

MTA officials said it has painted the trestles more recently than that, but they couldn’t say exactly when.

“No station on the 7 line, or the connecting infrastructure, has gone 35 years without being painted,” said agency spokeswoman Beth DeFalco. “We do annual joint inspections with NYCDEP of NYC Parks that are adjacent to our subway structures and quarterly inspections of other locations”

Markowitz called lead-based paints “indestructible, and recommended that those who live close to the tracks are at highest risk, and should seek out testing — as should MTA workers and commuters who spend time in the station.

Lead poisoning can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, hearing loss and seizures in children, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Read more here.

Frederick Wiseman: The Filmmaker Who Shows Us Ourselves

By A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis

Originally published in the New York Times on April 6, 2017

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Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for 50 years. His films vary in subject but return to examination of human beings, in all of their variety and uniqueness. Credit Herve Bruhat/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for 50 years. His films vary in subject but return to examination of human beings, in all of their variety and uniqueness. Credit Herve Bruhat/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

“The wonder of ‘In Jackson Heights‘ — Mr. Wiseman’s most Whitmanesque film — is that it grounds a vision of America in the particulars of daily life. It discovers a hero in the person of Daniel Dromm, a New York City councilman who tackles the job of representing his neighborhood with shambling, inexhaustible good cheer. Some of the most moving scenes take place in Mr. Dromm’s office, where members of his staff answer phone calls from constituents who need to talk to someone in government. They don’t always have the right branch — their concerns include constitutional law and United States military policy — but the courtesy and patience with which they are treated provide a timely and permanent lesson in democratic values.”

Read more here.

Attack in Jackson Heights Leaves Two Transgender Women Living in Fear

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the New York Times on April 2, 2017

Gabriela, left, with Nayra, who suffered a fractured ankle in an attack that the police called a hate crime. “I don’t want to see anybody,” Nayra said. “If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.” Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

Gabriela, left, with Nayra, who suffered a fractured ankle in an attack that the police called a hate crime. “I don’t want to see anybody,” Nayra said. “If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.” Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

Nayra and Gabriela don’t go out much these days, and not just because the two roommates are homebodies. When they venture outside their apartment in Queens, their hesitation is caused as much by emotional wounds as by physical injuries. The two friends are trans women, and though their Jackson Heights neighborhood has a reputation as a welcoming community for gays and lesbians, hate crimes against transgender women have alarmed many in the area.

On the afternoon of March 17, the two women were entering a McDonald’s restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue when they heard a man screaming behind them. When they turned around, they said, he began hurling insults.

“He called us prostitutes, faggots, bitches,” said Gabriela, 33, who, like her friend, spoke on the condition that her last name not be published because of the nature of the assault as well as lingering fear. “I looked at him and said, ‘Girl, this man is crazy.’ He wanted to hurt us.”

Within seconds, the encounter escalated from insults to injuries. The man rushed them, knocking them to the ground as he pummeled Nayra, whose ankle was fractured in the fall. Gabriella said that she had pounced on him but that he had gotten up, grabbed a broken umbrella and used it to beat her on her face and hands.

When he tried to escape, Gabriella chased him, grabbing at the waistband of his pants and slowing him down until the police arrived and took him into custody. No bystanders intervened during the attack, they said.

Now, what has been called a hate crime by the police has turned a neighborhood they love into one they fear.

“I can’t go out and see too many people,” Nayra, 31, said. “If I have appointments, I’ll take a taxi and come back home. I don’t want to see anybody. If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.”

Patrick Omeara, 38, of Oakdale, N.Y., was arrested and faces various charges, including assault as a hate crime. He could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Howard Turman, did not respond to several voice messages requesting comment. The case is in the pretrial stage, and the next court date is scheduled for Tuesday.

Jackson Heights has come a long way since skinheads lured Julio Rivera, a gay man, into a schoolyard and killed him. That 1990 attack galvanized activists and residents, and led to the establishment of the borough’s gay pride parade and a political club that has promoted laws and policies helping gay, lesbian and transgender people. Yet the attacks on trans women — three this year and 16 in 2016, according to local advocates — are an unsettling reminder of the work still to be done.

“People have this idea that New York City is free of violence and progressive,” said Shelby Chestnut, director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “But violence is still occurring against many marginalized communities, and the trans community is deeply affected by that.

“We need to push the public to pay attention to trans issues and see it as a civil rights issue,” she continued. “We are in this moment in society where violence and hatred is emerging in a number of communities, and it exists in New York.”

Nationally, Ms. Chestnut said, transgender women are being killed in greater numbers than any other segment of the L.G.B.T. community. This year alone, she said, there have been seven such murders: Six victims were African-American, and one was Native American.

Advocates said these instances of violence were not isolated but the result of a combination of factors that leave African-American and Latina trans women vulnerable. Harassed in public, rejected by their families and uneasy in school or homeless shelters for men, they are left to fend for themselves and are at a higher risk of becoming victims of violence, advocates said. And the political debate over unauthorized immigrants has left many fearful of speaking out.

“The biggest challenge in working with transgender people is they often don’t have the self-esteem to think they are worth seeking support or help for themselves,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights.

“There is also distrust in going to the authorities, especially the police,” he said. “In the past they have gone there and faced harassment, even at night when they were coming home from the bars. That distrust causes hesitation.”

Nayra and Gabriela encountered some of this after the attack. Although the police who responded were helpful, they said, the detectives who followed up with them at the hospital made them uncomfortable by asking the same questions repeatedly, as if they did not believe them. Nor did the detectives speak Spanish, even though the women, who are Puerto Rican, have limited English proficiency.

Since that encounter in the hospital, the women said, they have yet to hear back from the police.

“We need more laws to ensure the security of trans women,” said Bianey Garcia, a transgender organizer with Make the Road New York. “We don’t need more police. We want the police who are already there to pay more attention to these cases.”

Until then, Gabriela and Nayra are paying extra attention.

“We never had anything happen to us before,” Gabriela said. “Now I walk with fear, like any woman. But now I pay more attention to what I hear around me. I notice more. I look at every little thing. If a couple of people pass by too close to me on the street, I keep walking, wait a little and then look back at them quickly to see if anyone is following me.”

Read more here.

Dromm Delivers Safer Pedestrian Crossing for 37th Avenue

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

Jackson Heights, NY – NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm was successful in securing a new traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals, which gives walkers a head start before cars get the light to make turns across the crosswalk, along 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Pedestrians will now have an additional seven seconds to cross the street without any vehicular movement.

In February, more than 150 concerned residents packed the Jackson Heights Jewish Center for a pedestrian safety town hall meeting in the wake of the death of 67-year-old Henry Boimel, a resident of 35th Avenue, who was struck and killed by an Uber driver while crossing 37th Avenue at 76th Street. The meeting was organized by Dromm and featured NYPD officers from the 115th Precinct, representatives from the Queens District Attorney, and officials from the city’s Department of Transportation.

Dromm listened to his constituents about the need for a safer 37th Avenue which is burdened by tremendous congestion and conflicts between vehicles turning and residents walking. Following the event, Dromm wrote the DOT to demand the implementation of the traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals. In response, the NYC Department of Transportation started implementing the measure in the past two weeks. Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) typically gives pedestrians a 7 second head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel. LPIs enhance the visibility of pedestrians in the intersection and reinforce their right-of-way over turning vehicles, especially in locations with a history of conflict.

Street co-named in honor of Jax Hgts civic leader Mary Vavruska

By Bill Parry

Originally published by the Times Ledger on September 23, 2016

Councilman Daniel Dromm (c) joins elected officials and the family of community leader Mary Vavruska as a setion of 34th Avenue is co-named in her honor.

Council Member Daniel Dromm (c) joins elected officials and the family of community leader Mary Vavruska as a setion of 34th Avenue is co-named in her honor.

The life and legacy of longtime Jackson Heights civic leader Mary Vavruska was celebrated last Saturday with a street co-naming in her honor. The stretch of 34th Avenue between 93rd and 94th streets was christened “Mary Varuska Way” in memory of the former Community Board 3 chairwoman, who died in July 2015 at the age of 83.

“This co-naming commemorates the life of Mary Vavruska, who was a beloved member of the Jackson Heights community,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “Vavruska dedicated so much of her life to improving Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona. As a Council member and fellow community activist, I had the privilege of working closely with her on a number of projects. I was always inspired by her selflessness and determination to get the job done.”

Vavruska served as head of CB3 during a period of tremendous neighborhood change, Dromm said. She was instrumental in the establishment of the 115th Precinct on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights and the Louis Armstrong middle school on Junction Boulevard.

“Mary Vavruska was a passionate community leader who dedicated her life to Jackson Heights, and whom I was very lucky to know,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (East Elmhurst) said. “She loved this community, and naming a portion of 34th Avenue after her is a way for us to not only honor her legacy, but ensure that the mark she left on Jackson Heights is never forgotten.”

In addition to her five decades of service to the community, Vavruska also served as the president of the Brulene Cooperative apartments and advocated for the well-being of the Jackson Heights Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. She received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from NYU and retired from Equitable Life as a vice president of internal auditing.

She was also president of TCE Systems, a family-owned telecommunications company. As chairwoman of CB3 she oversaw the approval of the Delta Terminal and LaGuardia Airport as well as the Marriott Hotel, safeguarding jobs for community residents.

“Mary Vavruska was very active in our community, and a clear proof of that is that her footprints are all over Jackson Heights, from the current location of the 115th Police Precinct to IS 227 and a terminal at LaGuardia Airport,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “With the corner of 93rd Street and 34th Avenue co-named the Mary Vavruska Way, future generations will learn about the legacy she left behind, especially when it comes to fighting for education and social matters.”

Read more here.

Jax Heights celebrates official co-naming of Diversity Plaza

By Bill Parry

Originally published by the Times Ledger on May 30, 2016

Councilman Daniel Dromm celebrates the official co-naming of Diversity Plaza with Public Advocate Letitia James and civic leaders.

Councilman Daniel Dromm celebrates the official co-naming of Diversity Plaza with Public Advocate Letitia James and civic leaders.

When a stretch of 37th Road between 73rd and 74th streets in Jackson Heights was closed off to vehicular traffic in 2011 in the interest of public safety, business owners initially objected. Many of them turned out last Saturday as elected officials joined civic leaders and city officials to officially co-name the northeast corner of Diversity Plaza in a ceremony that coincided with World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, which was designated by the United Nations in 2002.

“Diversity Plaza has truly become a gathering point for Jackson Heights and Elmhurst residents,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “The plaza serves as a town square, concert stage, festival space and café year round. There is always something exciting taking place here.”

Dromm worked closely with the city Department of Transportation and community organizations to manage, maintain and enhance the plaza since it was closed to increase pedestrian safety and decrease congestion in the area. The plaza has become home to a variety of festivals and cultural events throughout the year and it serves as a central gathering point for immigrant communities when disaster strikes in their home countries.

“Diversity Plaza has been a mainstay of Jackson Heights—one of the most diverse neighborhoods in one of the most diverse cities on earth—for years,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “From providing a central space for community members to hold vigils and seek support from their neighbors in difficult times, to cultural festivals in the summer, Diversity Plaza will represent something powerful for this city and this community for years to come.”

The mayor noted that over 150 languages are spoken by the residents of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. Borough President Melinda Katz called it a hub for free speech, while Public Advocate Letitia James hailed the plazaas a “safe and accepting place for New Yorkers of all religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders” to gather without fear of bigotry or hatred.

“Not only does Diversity Plaza provide much-needed open space, it also reminds us how lucky we are to live in this borough,” state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “The melting pot that is our borough is demonstrated all around this plaza. For example, we have Bangladeshi clothing shops along 73rd Street, Colombian bakeries on 37th Avenue and Korean BBQ on Roosevelt Avenue. Together, they all culminate right here on Diversity Plaza.”

Now that the name is official, the plaza is set for a makeover.

In 2012, Dromm allocated $500,000 for capital reconstruction that will feature a raised street bed and new lighting as well as planters and trees. Construction is set to start later this year with completion in late 2017.

Vita Coco, a coconut water company, has signed on as a sponsor of the plaza and will be funding additional cleaning and horticultural services for a full year as well as programming for the community. The space is also receiving support from the DOT in the form of funding for programming, day to day operations and maintenance and technical assistance for plaza managers.

“Since it opened, Diversity Plaza has become the beating and bustling heart of Jackson Heights,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “With 53 plazas currently open to the public citywide and more on the way, Diversity Plaza has set the bar high on what communities can do to creatively transform their neighborhood public spaces.”

Read more here.

Hillary Clinton, at Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights, meets with politicians, community leaders

By Jamie Reysen

Originally published by amNY on April 11, 2016

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks with patrons as she visits the Jackson Diner on April 11, 2016, in Queens. (Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Theodorakis)

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Monday visited Jackson Diner, Jackson Heights’ oldest Indian restaurant, where she met with elected Queens officials and a culturally diverse group of community leaders to discuss discimination and diversity.

Clinton slammed Queens native Donald Trump, remarking that while he may be from the most diverse county in the world, he doesn’t seem to respect diversity.

The Democratic candidate said that the Republican front-runner’s words are “hurting our country” and “potentially undermining the safety of our people.”

“I have been speaking out against Trump and I will continue to speak out against him,” she said.

Clinton sat beside Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), who told her that “folks here know what it’s like to be discriminated against.” He said that community members from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Indonesia were among those in attendance.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, state Sen. Jose Peralta, state Assemblyman Francisco Moya, Councilman Danny Dromm and state Assemblyman Michael denDekker, were also on hand for the campaign stop.

Clinton didn’t eat anything at the restaurant (no one at her table did), but she did drink a glass of water as she took questions and heard comments from community members in attendance.

The Democratic front-runner stopped to take questions from reporters before heading out. She told reporters that Trump’s “rhetoric, his divisiveness, his incitement … is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be called out.”

She also spoke about her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, remarking that she’s looking forward to a “lively” debate on Thursday in Brooklyn.

“Under the bright spotlights and scrutiny here in New York, Sen. Sanders has had trouble answering questions” on how he’d deal with the banks and how he’d approach foreign policy, she said.

When asked about her focus on both Trump and Sanders, she said, “I think I can both walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Read more here.

At Site of Gay Man’s Murder, a Street Corner Acknowledges Its Past

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the NY Times on March 20, 2016

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A street sign in Jackson Heights, Queens, that commemorates Julio Rivera, who was killed in an attack in July 1990 that authorities later called a hate crime. Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

There is little about the intersection of 78th Street and 37th Avenue to distinguish it from any other corner in Jackson Heights. Every day, dozens of parents — from dozens of countries — waiting for their children to be dismissed from school stand beneath a sign declaring the intersection “Julio Rivera Corner.” Many of them likely do not even notice it, yet with those three words, the sign acknowledges a tragic — and ultimately transforming — moment in Queens.

Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who worked as a bartender, was lured to the schoolyard, steps away from that corner, on July 2, 1990. Three white skinheads who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays and homeless people set upon him, bashing his skull with a hammer and finishing him off with a knife. His death might have gone unnoticed if not for a few relatives and gay friends who began to mobilize New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and put pressure on the Police Department, which had assigned the case to a detective who was on vacation.

Mr. Rivera’s killing, which the authorities deemed a hate crime, resulted in a manslaughter conviction against the trio’s ringleader, Daniel Doyle. He testified against his two accomplices, who were convicted of murder. The charges against them were overturned and one of the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter before a retrial; the other, who had jumped bail before the retrial, was killed in Mexico in 2002. Both surviving men have since served their sentences.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was a public-school teacher in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, said it spurred him to become more active in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and take the fight for gay rights out of Manhattan and into immigrant and working-class communities. Two years after the attack, Mr. Dromm, a Democrat, came out publicly when he defended Children of the Rainbow, a citywide curriculum that had been introduced to teach tolerance to youngsters but met with great resistance from the local school district.

“The controversy over Children of the Rainbow, along with the murder of Julio Rivera, was Queens’s Stonewall,” Mr. Dromm said, referring to the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that is widely seen as a turning point in the fight for gay rights. “It was a call to action. In many ways, it led to numerous other victories.”

That includes the establishment of the neighborhood gay pride parade and a political club that helped push for same-sex marriage in recent years, all of which are featured in “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a documentary by Richard Shpuntoff that had its premiere last week at the Queens World Film Festival.

Mr. Shpuntoff grew up in the area and volunteered to photograph Jackson Heights’ first pride parade in 1993, something he would continue to do for 20 years. He decided to make the documentary as a way to highlight the changes that have swept over the neighborhood since Mr. Rivera’s murder. It is a measure of progress that people at the parade almost take its existence for granted.

“It was amazing that this had become part of the community,” Mr. Shpuntoff said. “But people forgot that when it first happened it was a whole different situation than today, when people march casually. Back then, people were really afraid and no one really knew what would happen at the first parade. There was organization, sacrifice and commitment by a range of people who had formed a coalition around Julio’s murder.”

Peg Fiore, who at the time of the killing was married to Julio’s brother Ted, said the local gay community was, at first, among the family’s few allies. Weeks after the murder, she and Ted participated in a vigil by the playground where Mr. Rivera was killed, a bit unnerved and unsure if anyone would attend. She said her fears were dispelled when she saw scores of people getting off the subway on Roosevelt Avenue to attend.

She said Mr. Rivera — who had moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan because he felt it was safer there — was “an unlikely hero,” something that the documentary does not shy away from. In the film, a former lover recounted the time Mr. Rivera used cocaine and then disappeared for a month.

“He was full of imperfections,” Ms. Fiore said. “But that’s what I love. He is us. Everyone could relate to him. He was this unlikely hero who has been immortalized.”

Although the police are more responsive these days, Mr. Dromm remains concerned about attacks on transgender people, of which there have been several in recent years. And lest others take for granted how far they have come, he takes part in an annual moment of silence held on the corner that was named for Mr. Rivera.

Events like that remind Ms. Fiore that her brother-in-law’s death was not in vain. She said she has not forgotten the support her family received from the gay community. It is a lesson she hopes others can learn from, especially during a political season in which Donald J. Trump has based his Republican candidacy for president on what she sees as intolerance.

“There are people who don’t understand the danger of hating another group simply because they are different from you,” she said. “There are people out there feeling this, and that’s frightening. We can’t get comfortable.”

Read more here.

‘In Jackson Heights’ settles into run at Museum of Moving Image

By Merle Exit

Originally published by the TimesLedger on January 15, 2016

 

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Photo Courtesy of TimesLedger

 

Frederick Wiseman was a no-show at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards Jan. 5.

When Susan Sarandon, born in Jackson Heights, presented the award for best non-fiction film for Wiseman’s latest “In Jackson Heights,” the director was in Europe, shooting his next movie.

However, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who appears in the highly acclaimed project, was in attendance to do the accepting.

“I was extremely honored to be asked to accept the award for this documentary,” Dromm said. “I was very pleased to receive the award from Susan Sarandon. As Ms. Sarandon and I both stated at the event, ‘In Jackson Heights’ has a lesson of tolerance and acceptance to teach to the rest of the world. What an honor it was to be among so many important people.”

What makes this epic three-hour documentary different from most is noticeable within its first 10 minutes.

There is not any narrator, or anyone being interviewed. Wiseman simply takes his camera and travels around the area as if he is just dropping in, with everyone seemingly oblivious to the fact that being filmed is not something that happens to them every day.

Dromm calls Jackson Heights “the most diversified community in the whole world. We have 167 languages spoken here.”

In fact, so many languages are spoken in the film, that English subtitles are provided.

“There are communities of people from every country in South and Central America as well as large groups of people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Nepal and Tibet,” Wiseman said in a statement. “They live together with the descendants of earlier immigrants to America — Italian, Jewish and Irish. The area is a true American melting pot reminiscent of the Lower East Side of New York City at the end of the 19th century.”

Those many languages are just one example of the wide variety of people and cultures who appear in the film. From Muslims praying and teaching, to Latino groups, East Indians, seniors and the largest LGBT community in Queens, the film examines the many sides of the neighborhood, as well as the issues that concern them.

Those issues, however, are not simply a Jackson Heights topic but one that much of America deals with.

There is no “town hall” here. In fact, it appears that the local Jewish Center is the largest gathering venue, particularly for seniors and the LGBT population.

A gay Latino bartender, Julio Rivera, was the victim of a brutal hate crime in 1991. It could have been brushed off by the police if the neighborhood hadn’t taken active steps to address this as a community.

Another issue involves a transgender Latina who launches a boycott of a Greek-owned pizzeria that she believes is guilty of discriminating against her and her transgender friends.

You may want to turn away when chickens at a live-poultry farm have their throats slit. You will hear the Muslim workers doing solemn prayers for the lives that are about to be taken. Business Improvement Districts become a hot topic as the livelihoods of Latino neighborhood residents are threatened by the effects of gentrification, with real-estate mongers buying out long-time “Mom and Pop” storefronts. Priced out of areas such as Long Island City, they see Jackson Heights appearing to be the next “trendy” neighborhood.

The immigrant experience is one of the largest topics of the movie. We become a part of a meeting held by a group called Make the Road, NY as its leader asks for someone to talk about their experiences of crossing the border. Celia, a middle-aged Mexican illegal immigrant, shares an approximately 10-minute-long narrative about how her daughter was abandoned in the desert by the coyotes, guides who help people cross the border, with the promise of helping her. If not for two “acts of God,” she says her daughter would have died in the desert. One of those acts involved a blinding white light in a hazy horizon; the other a sudden rainfall.

“In Jackson Heights” also has a less serious side, showing us concerts in the street, people playing instruments in a Laundromat as well as other uncommon venues, and the cheering or non-cheering of Latino groups as they watch soccer games.

“The Jackson Heights depicted in the film is a large part of the Jackson Heights that I know and love and is the Jackson Heights that people travel from around the world to visit,” Dromm said. “Jackson Heights is hot.”

If you go:

“In Jackson Heights”

When: Through Jan. 31

Where: Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave., Astoria

Cost: $12/adults, $9/seniors and students, $6/children

Contact: (718) 777-6888

Website: www.movingimage.us

***

Read more here.

Find Out Who Dresses Wink the Penguin, Jackson Heights’ Mascot, on Saturday

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on January 4, 2016, 5:01pm

JACKSON HEIGHTS — For years, it’s been a bit of a mystery who dresses up the bronze penguin statue at the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street and 37th Road.

Wink the penguin, as it’s known, has been decked out in everything from a Santa suit to a witch costume to a Colombia soccer jersey, becoming a sort of mascot for the neighborhood.

Even the boulder where Wink lives has been decorated in keeping with the season.

On Saturday, the statue — and the woman who’s dedicated her time and energy to dressing him up — will be honored by neighbors with an official ceremony. 

“Come and finally meet this person who dresses Wink for every occasion,” the Facebook invitation says.

“Wink is our town mascot, Wink is fascinating to everybody,” Councilman Danny Dromm said of the gender-bending penguin.

“Wink can be a man or a woman, it depends on what seasons of the year or what holiday.”

The penguin gets dressed up in drag for the annual pride parade, Dromm said.

Wink was first brought to Jackson Heights in 2001, by the city’s then-Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern.

John Sabini, the neighborhood’s former city councilman, was sick of drivers jumping the pedestrian median near his office and he requested some sort of protection, according to a New York Times article at the time.

Sabini provided $412,000 in capital funds to beautify the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street, between 37th Street and 37th Road in Jackson Heights.

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Wink couldn’t decide who to root for during the 2014 World Cup. (Facebook)

Stern came up with the penguin idea, saying he was inspired by the neighborhood’s Argentinian community. Magellanic penguins can be found on the South American country’s coast.

The parks boss originally wanted to also install a flamingo at the 37th Avenue side of the mall, but the Parks Department determined its delicate neck would be susceptible to damage, a spokeswoman said.

After nearly 15 years, Wink is the only penguin statue left. His partner was stolen at some point in the mid-2000s, officials said.

Wink himself went missing for a few months in 2009, a day Dromm, whose office is nearby, vividly remembers.

“People came to me screaming, ‘Wink’s gone! Wink’s gone!,” he said.

Six months later the statue was found belly-up near his boulder, but by the time Dromm found a cart to bring it to safety it was gone again.

Wink returned for good a few months later, placed firmly in concrete as mysteriously as when he left.

He’s been a star of the neighborhood ever since.

Read more here.