New York. USA: Great pride in Queens over `Little Guyana Avenue’ – updated

A sneak peak of the co-naming sign

Stabroek News- – By

The sign, which will be unveiled on May 29, has been erected at the intersection of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue.

It was made possible after the New York City Council and Council Member, Adrienne Adams voted to approve the co-naming legislation in December 2020.

Liberty Avenue and the entire Richmond Hill area in Queens, had always been referred to as Little Guyana because of the huge population of Guyanese and of the many businesses that were established there, especially those that provided local items that they were accustomed to back home.

With the Guyanese community in Queens being the second largest foreign-born population and the fifth largest in New York City, the long-awaited sign is seen as a well- deserved and welcoming gesture.

In an invited comment, Councilwoman Adams told Stabroek News: “The street co-naming of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard as “Little Guyana Avenue” is a significant milestone that celebrates the achievements of the entire Guyanese community.”

She was also “proud to have worked closely alongside community leaders and organizations to make this long-sought goal a reality.”

The Councilwoman said too: “This historic event will bring us together to honour the many contributions of the Guyanese community in all of New York City and beyond. I am truly looking forward to the unveiling of ‘Little Guyana Avenue’ on May 29!”

The unveiling falls close to Guyana’s Arrival Day on May 5 and its Independence Day on May 26.

Richard David, District Leader, NYS Assembly District 31, in an interview, told Stabroek News that he is “excited that the co-naming would finally become a reality.”

“We are paying homage to the Guyanese who have built this community for me to be a part of it today… I want people to take pride and ownership of the neighbourhood.”

He said the co-naming “is long overdue and I could not wait for it to be official. This is one way to boost tourism and get people to shop and do more business there.”

The young politician said too: “When I think of Richmond Hill, I think of a fun neighbourhood and good food. I am always excited about walking down Liberty Avenue because I never know who I would see there…”

He noted that whenever his relatives visit from Guyana, Canada and other states like Florida and Minnesota, Liberty Avenue is one of the areas they would tour.

Many businesses on Liberty Avenue have been “hard-hit” by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and David said: “We are thinking about the future and how we can support our communities as they recover…”

He also hopes that the co-naming would result in more civic engagements so as to tackle issues such as sanitation.

Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, an educator, told this newspaper that, “Liberty Avenue is more than symbolic. It encapsulates the dreams and aspirations of the immigrant.”

Dr. Narine said, “Little Guyana Avenue is a fitting testimony to Guyanese, but it includes everyone… Guyanese, and other nationalities, have contributed greatly to the development of South Queens.”

He recognised the efforts of District Leader, David and Councilwoman Adams, the New York City Council, Rohan Narine from the Mayor’s Office, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, in making the sign a reality.

Guyanese businesses 

Guyanese started to make a name for themselves in the 1970s and 1980s when a few of them started to open businesses in that area.

One of the first businesses was J&B West Indian & American Grocery, which was established in 1977 by Berbicians. The family-owned business is being run by Michael Jarbandhan and stocks a variety of Guyanese products.

An auto sale dealership opened its doors in that location sometime after, while other businesses like Sybil’s Bakery & Restaurant and Spice World, followed.

They paved the way for the establishment of many other businesses, as well as offices for doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and other professionals.

Liberty Avenue has been the main shopping hub and tourist destination for Guyanese from around NY and for those visiting from other parts of the US and from Canada, who long for a ‘taste of home.’

It has also caught the attention of media entities, including the Washington Post, New York Times, the Economist and Public Broadcasting Services.

Passing through the area for a stroll or for shopping, it is hard not to stop in and indulge when the aroma of fresh Guyanese food from popular eating spots like Sybil’s, Bakewell Bakery and Restaurant, the Little Guyana Bake Shop and Kaieteur Express Restaurant, hits you.

Much to the delight of shoppers, they can find fish and shrimp imported straight out of Guyana, at shops like Liberty Fish World, Dave’s Guyana Fish Market & Grocery, along with fresh meat from Mohamed Ally’s Meat Store. Dave’s also stocks great tasting pepper sauce, achar and other mouth-watering Guyanese goodness.

They can also find their favourite fruits and vegetables and many other local items. The businesses have been providing employment to many Guyanese who had left their possessions behind, to find greener pastures.

Sybil’s

Sybil’s Bakery has been operating at that location since 1989 and has grown to over 60 staff members, with the majority being Guyanese who try to maintain their culture.

Victor Bernard, who runs that branch, told SN that he is “proud of being in business for such a long time and to see the whole of Liberty being transformed. There were hardly any Guyanese businesses when we came here.”

He sees the unveiling of the sign as a “big move,” noting that “it is a great feeling… It gives us some recognition and people would know they are in Little Guyana.”

His mother, Sybil Bernard (deceased 20 years ago) established the first bakery at Hillside Avenue, Queens in 1978.

As the demand for her products grew, she expanded with another branch in Brooklyn, NY a few years later and subsequently at Liberty and another in Florida.

His other siblings are running the other branches of Sybil’s in Florida and in Brooklyn.

“Our cooks and bakers are seasoned guys and have been with us for many years. They try to keep our traditional Guyanese recipes from old times,” Bernard told this newspaper.

“My uncle had a bakery in Guyana back in the 60s and I grew up in it. To me, Guyana had better quality stuff then, because I guess ingredients were available. So we try to maintain those recipes and that kind of taste.” They have also introduced a variety of items to the menu.

He is grateful for the support from his customers and the community and does not cut short on quality.

“We have a good customer base and we don’t take anything for granted… our duty is to provide a service to them and to keep our employees working…,” he said.

At the start of the pandemic, he too had to close his doors for two months to avoid any risks with the virus. Since reopening, he serves only take-outs.

Auto dealership 

The owner of the auto dealership who prefers to keep a ‘low profile,’ welcomes the co-naming of the street and said, “At least we have some recognition… People have recognised us.”

He originally lived in the Bronx after migrating to New York and recalled that his first trip to Liberty was when he accompanied his brother to purchase a house.

At that time, he did not see any Indo-Guyanese or Asians, but pointed out that “today they have taken over the place.”

It was more an African-American and Spanish-speaking neighbourhood, where drug peddling and crime were rampant.

The area was deemed unsafe so much so that initially when he tried to buy a property there, the owner told him he would not be able to stay there and instead, rented it to an African-American.

Three months later, he was in Guyana when he received a call from his son that the owner was ready to sell him the building.

The area was still not safe but he still grabbed the opportunity to buy.

After he started his business he even witnessed a shootout. “I was on the sidewalk and the bullets were coming like crazy. They were not shooting at me, they were shooting among themselves.”

He barely made it to safety and was thankful that the drug users “never bothered us…”

He learnt that “half a million dollars or more in drugs were passing there. When I say big money, I mean big money. Every day, people used to get locked up. That was a very hectic time.”

A few years later the crime started to ease up. He believes that it was because the police got the perpetrators locked up and sentenced to several years’ imprisonment.

Al-Abidin Mosque

Popular Guyanese landmarks and the oldest places of worship are the Al-Abidin Mosque at 127 Liberty Avenue and the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, located one block away.

The Al-Abidin mosque was set up in 1977 on the spot of a burnt-down house with just a few persons.

It has since seen major expansion and is also currently undergoing construction that would bring it to an advanced stage with facilities like a children’s library.

It is the first Guyanese Muslim community that was established within the Richmond Hill area.

Shaykh Safraz Bacchus, who was affiliated with the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana, has been the Imam at the mosque for the past eight years.

He told SN that two additional buildings; an annexe for educational purposes and hosting programmes, and for the sisters’ arm to host their activities, were later purchased.

Bacchus is responsible for all religious, educational, as well as social programmes, which involves interactions with the New York Police Department, non-profit organisations, local politicians and inter-faith dialogues and discussions.

The mosque is located at a prominent spot and is the main praying place for Muslims on their way to and from the airport.

According to him, the mosque played an important role in changing the dynamics of the once run-down community.

“People generally respect places of worship. Having a mosque in the area sends a message… A place of worship that is registered by the New York State, cannot have places like bars nearby because there are certain guidelines. It (mosque) played an important role in cleaning up the environment,” Bacchus pointed out.

He sees the Little Guyana Avenue sign as a “great accomplishment” and is happy to be a part of the “diverse planning team. The co-naming is definitely a demonstration of the hard work of Guyanese and their contributions towards the community.”

He said too, “When Guyanese came to this country, not all of them had finances in their pockets. They traveled for financial betterment or fled from political issues, leaving their possessions behind and started over. To see them excel like that is worthy of praise and recognition.”

He noted that they developed their houses and changed the front and backyard and even their fences to remind them of their homes in Guyana. They changed the whole outlook of the area.”

Along with the rich culture and diversity, the Little Guyana Avenue sign has brought Guyanese one more step closer to the feeling of ‘home away from home.’

While the unveiling ceremony at the nearby Leo F Kearns Parking Lot is expected to be grand, District Leader David promised that they would adhere to all COVID guidelines.

SEE PHOTOS ON LINK: https://www.stabroeknews.com/2021/05/27/news/guyana/great-pride-in-queens-over-little-guyana-avenue/

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  • guyaneseonline  On 05/30/2021 at 1:31 pm

    Co-naming of Liberty Avenue gives Guyana and Guyanese recognition
    May 29, 2021- DPI

    -Diaspora key to Guyana’s development -Foreign Secretary Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York was co-named ‘Little Guyana Avenue’ at a simple, but significant ceremony on Saturday. Foreign Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr. Robert Persaud, said the event gives recognition not only to Guyana, but to the contributions US citizens […]
    Read More… https://dpi.gov.gy/co-naming-of-liberty-avenue-gives-guyana-and-guyanese-recognition/

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