Elmhurst Hospital began recruiting Filipino nurses in the 1970s, precipitating the growth of a robust Filipino American community in Woodside, Queens. [Image: Jim Henderson / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)]

'Little Manila Avenue' Recognizes Filipino Community in Queens, Amid Uncertain Redistricting Prospects

Philippines Asia

A street corner in Queens, New York City was officially recognized as "Little Manila Avenue" following the installation of a new street sign. Alongside celebrations of Philippines Independence Day, the June 12th ceremony finalized the co-naming of the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 70th street. The unveiling of the street sign, which was accompanied by cultural performances and dancing, recognized the many contributions made by the Filipino American community in Queens and throughout the city as a whole.

Filipino Americans are the third largest Asian ethnic group in the United States. Over 146,000 Filipino Americans live in New York state, with a significant concentration in the borough of Queens. In Woodside, Queens, a stretch of Roosevelt Avenue has historically boasted the highest concentration of Filipino businesses in New York City, which led to its previously informal recognition as “Little Manila”. The Filipino community began moving to the area in the 1970s, after Filipino nurses were recruited to work at nearby Elmhurst Hospital, precipitating the spread of Filipino restaurants, businesses, and culture.

The community first launched a petition for the co-naming in 2020, following the installation of a mural that paid tribute to the sacrifices made by Filipino healthcare workers during the pandemic. December 2021, the New York City Council finally voted in favor of co-naming the street corner. Alongside the mural, the new street sign establishes a visual presence for the Filipino American community that has often been overlooked by the city.

The unveiling of the street sign in Woodside comes at a pivotal moment for the Filipino community in Queens. Current Council maps divide Little Manila into three different districts, severely diluting the political power of the Filipino vote. Jaclyn Reyes, the artist and community organizer behind the Woodside mural, believes these divisions play a key role in the lack of support for resources like a Filipino community center and better translation services. Steven Raga, founding member of the advocacy group UniPro, pointed out that the Filipino business community is not represented by any one assembly member, because the area is divided into different districts. "There goes our political voice," said Raga. With the current redistricting cycle well under way and draft maps to be presented later this summer, advocacy groups, including Little Manila Queens Baynihan Arts and UniPro, continue to demand better representation and petition redistricting officials.

The recognition of Little Manila Avenue suggests that local lawmakers might be willing to listen to advocates like Raga and Reyes, but the political future of the Filipino community in Queens remains uncertain. As long as Little Manila remains divided, the new street sign represents a community fighting for unification.

Olivia Zeiner-Morrish is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from Trinity College with a B.A. in Political Science.