‘Little Guyana’ Grows in Queens

Phagwah (or Holi) celebrations in Richmond Hill, Queens. (Photo by Roup Hardowar, Creative Commons license)

Phagwah (or Holi) celebrations in Richmond Hill, Queens. (Photo by Roup Hardowar, Creative Commons license)

At 140,000 strong, the Guyanese represent the fifth largest immigrant group in NYC, and the second largest in Queens where more than 80,000 live, most of them of South Asian background. Afro-Guyanese tend to reside in Caribbean neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Queens Tribune’s Jon Cronin takes a look at how the community has grown and prospered in the the borough, particularly in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park, often referred to as “Little Guyana.”

Aftab Karimullah, who immigrated to South Queens in 1984, said that the first immigrants arrived 50 years ago, with Cronin noting that in the late ’60s and early ‘70s, they settled on the West Side of Manhattan before moving to South Queens.

The influence of the Guyanese community can be felt in the religious celebrations and activities – and those “like a religion” – found in Queens.

Today, Hindu culture has become part of the great melting pot that is the world’s borough. Every spring thousands flock to Richmond Hill to be part to the Phaghwah Parade, a celebration of the Hindu holiday Holi, which commemorates color coming back into the world after a dreary winter with the throwing of colorful abir powder. “It has become a signature event,” said Karimullah.

Part of the genesis of the Guyanese culture in Queens is the inclusion of cricket, “It’s like a religion back home,” noted Karimullah. He said today in Queens there [are] plenty of leagues that use either a hardball or softball. “It’s kind of like a picnic event for the family,” he added.

Civic leader Richard David, who came to the U.S. at the age of 10, attributes the revitalization of parts of South Queens to the Guyanese community.

“If you look at Southeast Queens they bought real estate that was dilapidated and transformed it,” said David and added, “Richmond Hill and Liberty Avenue are thriving because of their contributions.”

He also pointed out that this immigrant community has thrived despite no government aid.

He said of all their festivals and street fairs, none have been funded by the government nor has the city given them a community center.

David stated that the Indo-Carribbean Alliance is given $5,000 a year by City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

“But that’s a drop in the bucket,” he said and added, “It’s very discouraging.”

Go to Queens Tribune to read Cronin’s full story, which includes how the community is faring when it comes to politics, and notable New Yorkers with Guyanese roots.

Festivities honoring the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence from the UK – which it gained on May 26, 1966 – will run from June 4 through 12 in NYC.

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