Welcome to Jackson Heights: Inside Stories of the World’s Most Diverse Neighborhood
By Kevin Shi and Josh Baker
Students from The School of The New York Times spent the last two weeks exploring the rich diversity of Jackson Heights, Queens by focusing on businesses in the area. We met people like Jennifer, a Chinese immigrant from Xi’an, China, who recently moved to the neighborhood from Los Angeles. “This neighborhood allowed me to see the many sides of the United States,” she told us.
Jackson Heights also enabled us to see many different perspectives. We spent two days there as a group, one day touring and the second day interviewing. The stories that we found are included in the articles that follow in this Medium publication.
Jackson Heights, with a population of 113,772 people, is said to be the most diverse neighborhood in the United States. The neighborhood is home to countless culturally diverse restaurants, stores, and architecture. The local library has books in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean languages. Walking through the neighborhood, one finds cookie-cutter apartment building complexes next to each other in the quiet streets and many small businesses stacked on top of each other on Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue.
Jennifer, who chose to not disclose her last name, has spent the last two months working at Jin Pin Market, a small Chinese-owned convenience store, at 8220 Roosevelt Ave.
“I haven’t been here for too long, but this neighborhood gives me a general feel of what America is,” she said.
The diversity of businesses and business owners is matched by the residents.
Karma Yangchin, an employee of Phayul Himalayan Restaurant, located at 89–17 Northern Blvd., said that local residents are “helpful and nice and don’t yield any perceptions of stereotypes.”
Yangchin, a Tibetan native who lived in Madison, Wisc. before moving to Jackson Heights, said that the community is accepting and close. There is no hierarchy of ethnicities, Yangchin said. They are all the same and embraced the same.
Yangchin and Jennifer both said that Jackson Heights is quiet, with few problems. There is little crime; both said they felt the police are formidable and can be trusted to do their jobs correctly, without bias.
Low-key crimes do happen. During one interview a reporter could see “loosies,” individual cigarettes, being sold over the counter.
Some residents complained about the presence of alcoholics, the streets being very dusty and dirty, and the constant fear of being squeezed, especially in rush hour crowds.
Density is a common theme. Chinese immigrants mostly moved in together as a single family into cramped apartments. Jennifer said she pays $800 rent for a one bedroom apartment that she shares with a college classmate.
Currently, both Jennifer and Ms. Yangchin feel comfortable living in Jackson Heights. Both spoke of a desire for financial stability and success in America.