The New York City Council recently approved a bill to name a three-block street “Little Thailand Way.” The neighborhood, located in the borough of Queens, reflects the identity of the community which comprises a large number of Thai restaurants and businesses near the Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram Temple.
Shekar Krishnan, a council member of the New York City Council, sponsored the bill and represents District 25, including Jackson Heights and Elmhurst of Queens. Both Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst are two of the most diverse immigrant communities in the world. Being the most diverse community, Queens accounts for 53% of Thais in New York City followed by Manhattan (20%) and Brooklyn (18%) respectively according to the 2010 American Community Survey.
In celebration of the renaming of the three-block neighborhood, the event featured Muay Thai (traditional Thai boxing), massage and wellness treatments from local Thai spas, and a bazaar reminiscent of Bangkok. Team Thailand agencies such as the Thailand Board of Investment, Bank of Thailand, and Tourism Authority of Thailand, also set up fun activities for the public to enjoy. The avenue is well-known across the city for its abundance of high-quality Thai restaurants and stores.
Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don Pramudwinai, who was in town to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) also had the opportunity to give his remarks he stated: “members of the New York Thai community will be cultural and soft power ambassadors” to improve and deepen relations between Thais and Americans.
“Little Thailand Way” is one example of recognizing and celebrating diversity in New York City. Last June, a street corner in New York City's Woodside neighborhood of Queens, was renamed as "Little Manila Avenue" to pay tribute to the Filipino community. According to the 2020 US census, 54.8% of Filipinos in New York City live in Queens, largely due to the recruitment of Filipino medical workers at Elmhurst Hospital in the 1970s which later brought restaurants, shops, and culture.
Before this renaming, “Thai Town” in Los Angeles was the only officially recognized Thai neighborhood in the United States. Recognized by the Los Angeles City Council in 1999, the name reflects the community with a Thai population of 24,670 according to 2020 Census estimates. With the naming of “Little Thailand Way,” the symbolism hopes to further highlight Thai presence across the United States, as Southern California is home to the largest number of Thais living outside of Thailand.
Narupat Rattanakit is a Pericles Institute Fellow and Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated with a BA from Thammasat University in 2020 and is pursuing his MA in US Foreign Policy and National Security with a regional focus in Southeast Asia.