The View from Liberty Avenue

SinghRoti.jpgOne of the great pleasures of following the Cricket World Cup this past month has been the chance to spend time with cricket fans and glimpse the global and diasporic affinities that simultaneously connect them and set them apart, in a metropolis like New York, from the mainstream culture of the city. Cricket is a niche sport even in immigrant-rich New York, since, after all, only a fraction of those immigrants come from cricket-playing countries. Yet the diversity of the cricket community, drawn as it is from all corners of the former British Empire, and the fact that all those places have a critical mass of expatriates or immigrants in New York, has produced in this World Cup season a kind of hyper-cosmopolitan sub-culture; one that, in its own way, illustrates the cross-hatching of differences and solidarities that makes life in the city complex and stimulating.

I’ve tried to capture some of that joyous complexity in a radio story that ran yesterday. The reporting (only a fraction of which made it into the piece, radio being like film a craft where most of your work ends up on the cutting room floor) led me to such arduous research environments as the Australian pub 8 Mile Creek, where expats of various nationalities were toasting the home side’s demolition of England with six-dollar bottles of Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. But it also gave me an introduction to the Indo-Caribbean community in Richmond Hill, Queens; and the revelation to my new-to-New-York eyes of the sheer size of that community, let alone its history and apparent present dynamism, will be the lasting memory of this World Cup in my personal experience.LibertyLefferts.jpgOccasional commenter “Farouk Engineer,” who took the photos in this post and has U.K. ties, commented to me that he’d never found a New York neighborhood that reminded him so vividly of London — particularly certain parts of South London — as this one. Of course the ethnic makeup and the cultural signifiers on display along Liberty Avenue, the main drag, have everything to do with this. The 15 blocks or so in either direction from the end of the elevated train (the Lefferts Blvd terminus of the A train, for you NYC-ers) are replete with shops and services that reflect the double-diaspora lives of people whose ancestors were taken not so long ago as indentured laborers from (mainly) Bihar and eastern U.P. to Trinidad and Guyana, and who themselves have formed a large colony here. The Indo-Guyanese in particular, who began migrating to the U.S. in the 1960s when politics in Guyana (with a documented assist from the C.I.A.) became factionalized on racial lines, remain one of the city’s fastest growing groups. The Hindu temples, masjids, halal butchers, sweet shops, music stores offering huge selections of Bollywood alongside soca and chutney music, sari emporia, vegetable markets, and obligatory outpost of the Patel Bros grocery empire indicate not only the vitality of this community but also the strong connections it retains with the cultural memory of the Desh.

SariCenter.jpgAt the same time, Liberty Avenue is far, almost remote, and certainly many miles away from the stomping grounds of New York hipsters, machers, moneywallahs and mavens. Even “Farouk,” an inveterate urban explorer, hadn’t made it out there in a decade living here. Conversely, Indo-Caribbeans like Imran (named after Imran Khan, he told me) and Chris, two young Guyanese brothers in their 20s that I met on a rainy afternoon in the Kaieteur restaurant on Lefferts Blvd., told of a community that, whether due to the distance or underlying insularity or some combination of the two, sticks largely to itself. With generational comes attitudinal change, yes; Imran explained that he has Black friends, for instance, even if he knows he can’t bring them back to his parents’ house. But the overall social model at work here seems to be that of classic immigrant, nose to the grindstone accumulation, where “assimilation,” whatever that is, is more likely to occur not in Queens or even New York City, but rather in the suburbs where the next generation aspires to raise its kids. “We’ve got our whole lives mapped out,” Chris told me; he’s getting married soon to an Indo-Guyanese sister (“light skin, green eyes,” he pointed out proudly), they’re buying a Range Rover and they’ve pulled together funds for the down payment on a house in New Jersey.

That’s just a vignette, of course, one of many but each nothing more than a glimpse. I take from my first exposure to this particular component of the desi diaspora only impressions, ones that I hope to develop, complicate or dispel in the course of future projects and wandering. But chance encounters have their own merit and meaning, and these would not have happened were it not for the cricket, the common thread that gathered us in the bar, the roti shop, or for that matter the Ozzie pub back in Manhattan. Whether playing or watching, the essence of team sport is human connection, and between the running commentary that has taken place here (Anna’s happy novitiate, Vivek’s pleading for wickets, TajUK‘s recommendation of C.L.R. James’ Beyond A Boundary stand out in my mind) and the IRL conversations I’ve had in the viewing spots of New York, this World Cup, for all its bizarre and problematic news developments, has been a season of plenty.

And another thing: GO SRI LANKA!!!

73 thoughts on “The View from Liberty Avenue

  1. Makes me wnat to move back up there…I especially enjoy your vignettes of folks like Imram & Chris and I loved wandering around NYC. I always discover a new relative in my outer borough travels, from some place I didn’t even know we had people.

    -’So and so’s your uncle? Oh shit, he my second cousin, man!’

  2. anyone know of a place where we can watch the final in LA?

    I saw the lanka/australia match at the Indian Sweets & Spices in glendale, but besides me there were only a sri lankan father and son watching the game. doubt the turnout will be much better for the final.

  3. Siddhartha, when the World Cup is over I have a sneaky suspicion that I might catch you limin’ at De River or Club Tobago :)

    risible, check the Mortor video by Rikki Jai. Trini madness.

    Demerara Rum, Mr. Shankar actually has a response record; she replies that she didn’t want him anyway!

    Floridian – Once you have a Trini, you neva let go of we!

  4. wicked post siddhartha! what a little gem you’ve unearthed. i wish there were pages more of it to read, it’s this companionable fandom that’s missing Down Under. Let us know when you write more material on this angle, please!

    Excuse me, I am off to join the Grad dropouts club.

    Oh, and er, my understanding is that Coopers Pale is worth every cent ;-)

  5. Do you hyper-achieving desis think less of me now?

    yes we do. you realize all the kids use to look up to uncle sid, right? who do you think you are. the desi kanye west? college drop out and still cool? ;)

  6. Wonderful post because not many people know of liberty ave. I am an ABG (Guyanese Indian) in Florida and just went up to NY to visit some family. I was blown away! It’s better than real Guyana, fresh veggies and pine tarts, music playin’, real good restaurants, awesoem Gold(guyana is known for real gold not that fake crap they sell over here). But the best part was being around other brown folks like me, No one asked where I was from, or looked at me like I said martian when I replied Guyana. It felt like home, even tho the weather was like 30 outside.

    And to Floridian, we are similar,I just got married to and IBD and we live in fl, around West Palm beach. Wheer are the good Roti shops round here?

  7. “And to Floridian, we are similar,I just got married to and IBD and we live in fl, around West Palm beach. Wheer are the good Roti shops round here?”

    I am not too familiar with the Palm Beach area. It is about 30 miles north of me. I knew of a roti shop there but the landlord, who is also from Trinidad, closed them down because he wanted a more upscale image for his plaza. But if you want to spend 45 minutes coming down to Broward (Ft. Lauderdale area), check out the following: 1. Joy’s Roti Delight (our favorite) – corner of Hwy 441 and Sunrise Blvd, in Lauderhill Mall, on the south side of the mall, where the buses are. There is even a coconut vendor next to the roti shop on weekends. 2. The River Cook, on Oakland Park Blvd, just a block west of University, next to Lowe’s Home Center. 3. Salman Roti Shop in Margate. (Not sure of location. Call the area operator and get their number.)

    These are major intersections. So you can find them on the map easily. We also have a few Trini/Guayanese night clubs. One is Hibiscus, on Sunrise Blvd.

  8. Sorry Preethi, I’m not buying it. There is more Tamil on Tamil violence in Sri Lanka than there is between different ethnic groups. The LTTE murders Tamils opposed to them, and the breakaway LTTE faction (the Karuna group) kills Tamils who it thinks are working for the LTTE. You can see a similar situation in countries where the Tamil diaspora have migrated to. London and Toronto have special police bureaus to deal with Tamil on Tamil violence and gang violence.

    But the truth of the matter is that in Sri Lanka, non-Tamils are barred from areas of their own country simply because they are non-Tamil. They have been ethnically cleansed from areas where the LTTE has influence in order to create a mono-ethnic country called “Tamil Eelam” covering 60% of Sri Lanka’s coastline and 30% of its land area for around 12% of the population. Tamils live in Colombo, live in Kandy, live all over Sri Lanka, while the non-Tamils have to live within borders on island. If it’s so bad in Colombo why do all the LTTE proxy parties like the Tamil National Alliance live there instead of in areas controlled by the LTTE in the supposed “Tamil Homeland”? Why do Tamil newspapers supporting separatism base themselves in Colombo? Wellawatte, Kotuhena and Bamabalapitiya have turned into Little Jaffnas; if it’s so insecure as you claim why are Tamils making their home there? Finally, Tamils are not the only people living in fear. There are other Sri Lankans besides Tamils who have been affected by the conflict and continue to be affected by the conflict. Playing the victim card and crying “discrimination” is not going to get the community anywhere. It’s not ok to have Tamil-only areas in Sri Lanka. It’s time those places became multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual like the rest of Sri Lanka.

  9. risible, check the Mortor video by Rikki Jai. Trini madness.

    That’s a great video, Denise!

  10. Real nice one, Siddhartha. I met an Astrologer who told me that India can still win the World Cup Finals on Saturday, if Bhoomi can sufficiently influence the alignment of Surya with Budha and Sukra. This can only be achieved by a minor seismic vibration; I humbly request all Indian fans to vigorously jump up and down on Saturday at 13:30 GMT. Peace

  11. I recommend “Caroni Close Down” and “Mor Tor” to get a feel for characteristic rhythym.

    “Mor Tor” and “Mr. Shankar” were my jams – kind of still are. I was literally rocking Mor Tor in my car yest (the remix featuring Machel Montano).

    HOTNESS. Chutney is just such fun music to listen to. The chutney version of “jhuma chuma de de” is hot too.

    Anyone know of any West Indian spots or parties in NJ/NYC? Anybody want to go? :D

  12. Great stuff, Siddhartha. Loved listening to your walk through those interesting parts of New York on WNYC.

  13. Anyone know of any West Indian spots or parties in NJ/NYC? Anybody want to go? :D

    Its “carribbean day” at Rutgers this Saturday and I am pretty sure they are gonna have a lot of after parties

  14. Its “carribbean day” at Rutgers this Saturday and I am pretty sure they are gonna have a lot of after parties

    rutgers parties have always scared me a little. i REALLY never fit in at those shindigs.

    P

  15. Well Puli, there is also Sikh-day parade in NYC this saturday, maybe you’ll fit in there?

  16. there is also Sikh-day parade in NYC this saturday, maybe you’ll fit in there?

    could be interesting…sikhs on parade…im game…

  17. Its “carribbean day” at Rutgers this Saturday and I am pretty sure they are gonna have a lot of after parties

    sigh So close yet so far. It’s law school finals time. :(

    All I want to do is show off my “wine”.

  18. Fuerza Dulce, In Queens there are two Chutney/Soca clubs that I stated above; Club Tobago and De River. Every year there is a Chutney fest at Six Flags in New Jersey and a free annual outdoors Duck Curry competition/Chutney show in Queens. There are even more places where you can “get on bad” , but it depends on whether you want to dance to Soca, Dancehall, Chutney, or Reggae. One of my favorites is Soca Bhangra by Shammi featuring Bunji Garlin. It’s a remake of Bolo Ta Ra Ra by Dahler Mendhi

  19. All I want to do is show off my “wine“.

    I always wondered what “dutty wine” meant..but then my friend showed me and now i am a fan!

  20. “Mor Tor” and “Mr. Shankar” were my jams – kind of still are. I was literally rocking Mor Tor in my car yest (the remix featuring Machel Montano).

    Yo, “Mor Tor (the Montano mix) is on my play list too, along with “Dutty Wine” and the Soca classic “Take that and cool it”!

  21. That’s a great video, Denise!

    Yes, Mortor is a great video. There are other Chutney videos by Adesh Samaroo, D’Hitman and Terry Gajraj, but I think Mortor captures Chutney the best.

    Yo, “Mor Tor (the Montano mix) is on my play list too, along with “Dutty Wine” and the Soca classic “Take that and cool it”!

    “Au Chale” by Destra and Dil-E-Nadan definitely makes my list along with “Madness” by Machel Montano and “Three Miles” by KMC.

  22. Denise, thanks for the tips on the clubs in Queens. Once my finals are over, I definitely need to check them out.

    There are even more places where you can “get on bad” , but it depends on whether you want to dance to Soca, Dancehall, Chutney, or Reggae.

    As for the above, I would love any and all suggestions for each. If you don’t feel like posting, maybe email me offline? I’ve been asking around for good soca/dancehall/chutney/reggae spots, or any spots for that matter, for ages. I should’ve known that the SM crew would come to my rescue!

    Another fun track to check out is by Kanchan & Babla: Leggo Me Nah Raja, and Rikki Jai’s Wine Beti

  23. I once lived in this neighborhood. Our house was on 123rd St. between Liberty and 107th. My family left in 1960, shortly after I had graduated from OLPH. I came across this site though another link. The pictures are amazing.
    I recognize nothing!