Response to an article in NYTimes
Литература | Публицистика

When I read an article published on the front page of Metro Section, of New York Times dated July 5, with a title «Questions of Taste in Queens» — «Bukharian Immigrants Build on Scale that Upsets Neighbors» authored by Kirk Semple, my first reaction was complete surprise and astonishment. I immigrated to the USA in 1980 and for the first four years lived in Rego Park next to Forest Hills, NY. Then, as now, Cord Meyer was one of the most prestigious areas of Queens mostly populated by the upper middle class people. I was not aware of any new Soviet Jewish immigrant families that lived there during those years.Houses there appeared to me large reminding mansions that I once saw only in pictures. I was full of respect and admiration for the people that were able to achieve professional and financial success and could afford to live in this beautiful neighborhood. I hoped that one day I might be able to earn enough, and could buy here a house. Although my dream has not come true, many Bukharian Jewish immigrants during the past decade have moved to this place and the appearances of newly–built houses in Cord Meyer have drastically changed. What once reminded me mansions, now come across as old ordinary houses.

However, the newly built houses give impression of castles. And I was proud that there are some of us made it in America and their American dreams was fulfilled. America! A capitalist country with freedom of speech, freedom of choice and actions within the law! The land of unlimited opportunities, where financial independence, entrepreneurial spirit and innovation are encouraged! A country, where people have high regards for grandiose mansions and palaces. The idols of fascination here are kings, financial tycoons, successful businessmen, Hollywood stars.And here we are! This article!? I read the article several times, thinking that perhaps I was missing something here. In my view, the tone and the title had a negative flavor.The story came across as follows:

A «highly insular», narrow–minded group of foreigners settled in one of the most prestigious parts of Queens and are slowly destroying it. This new ethnic group is demolishing the older houses once owned by the local people, destroying their heritage and building instead huge, ugly, unsavory structures, trying to surpass each other in ugliness of their architecture. The local population having a nostalgia for good old days, got upset and started looking for the ways to curb this problem and to punish these «tight–knit» strangers–newcomers for the destruction of their past.The locals want newcomers to abandon their ethnic identity and customs and blend into the melting pot of the new society.They turned to their political representatives, their community and religious leaders, newspaper journalists and tried to turn public opinion against these strangers.

Frankly, it reminds me of the Soviet Union from which we escaped, where the success of Jews resulted in harassment and persecution against them. In the article, a city councilwoman Mrs. Melinda Katz during her interview expresses her concerns and opposition to new house constructions by Bukharian Jews, because in her view they violate the historical and aesthetic character of Cord Meyer. Of course, her views are affected by a pressure from the local residents, who have strong connections in the political echelon of Queens.Her position is absolutely unfounded, because all the houses were built legally and were approved by the city authorities.Especially groundless her remarks that the new houses are too big compared to the old houses that were there for generations.Now under pressure from the local residents, Melinda Katz is trying to change the rules for house constructions in Queens, and by doing so, restricts expressions of new ideas for building new houses. It is clear that the councilwoman's position is politically motivated, and in no way in line with American standards of encouraging success and innovation. If we would confirm to those arguments, we would have to keep the Indian huts here to preserve «historical and aesthetic character» of America.Kirk Semple, the author of the article, does not directly express his own opinion, but does it through interviews and conversations with local residents and immigrants.He portrays Bukharian community as primitive and backward and describes their newly built houses as extravagant structures, unreasonably large with tasteless architecture.

Mr. Semple could give a positive spin to his article and point out that the arrival of Bukharian Jews to Queens stimulated the economy of the area. Thanks to the Bukharian immigrants, prices of the old existing houses went up significantly.While currently there is a recession in America, the prices of old houses in Cord Meyer and adjacent areas are still stable and that benefits not only the Bukharians, but all the residents there.

Mr. Semple notices a construction boom caused by Bukharians, but fails to see them as a successful ethnic group, which transformed to the better areas of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows and others. He portrays them as «insular», «tight–knit» and resisting dissolution in the American melting pot. He does not see among Bukharians successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, programmers, teachers, accountants and others who have already blended into the American way of life, while maintaining their ethnic identity and traditions. Mr. Semple could have written a balanced article, but instead, he is encouraging and inciting harassment toward Bukharian people. The leaders of Bukharian community, in order to keep down potentially explosive emotions, took defensive positions. During their interviews they attempted to explain to the author the reasons for such building architectures and preached modesty. And all this is happening in America!

During her interview Cindy Zaliski, Executive Director of the Jewish Community council said that «it's a very delicate situation», Bukharian Jews should «be part of a whole, not just an entity into themselves». Then she said that we have to find out «whether there is some compromise here put our heads together like the United Nations»! I am surprised that Ms Zalisky brings up the United Nations, an organization that is not about softening discussions, but a propaganda weapon in the hands of some countries for anti–Semitism and anti–Israeli actions.

What kind of delicate situation are we talking about here?

What compromise?

Would a compromise be braking or rebuilding already constructed houses, changing nice looking doors so they could look modest, removing columns and balconies to satisfy the neighbors so they could feel better, replacing expensive windows with cheaper ones? Or not build at all anymore, or before building any new structures ask permissions from the neighbors and seek their agreement to the architecture of new houses? I ran out of the ideas. What wonders me whether the reaction of the local residents would be similar if new houses were built by their children or relatives. I do not think they would have stood in front of newly–built homes and wanted «to spit» or «throw up» as one of the anonymous residents expressed her feelings regarding Bukharian houses. The reaction would be quite different.

I am not sure whether the author, or councilwoman Melinda Katz or Cindy Zalisky are aware of one of the most beautiful areas of Jerusalem that was built over a century ago by Bukharian Jews, the direct ancestors of today's immigrants in Queens. This neighborhood is called «Shekhunat ha–Bukharim», i.e. «Bukharian Quarter» named after the Bukharian ethnic group. This neighborhood differs from any other areas of Jerusalem and is one of the landmarks of the holy city. So where is the problem? Jealousy to success? Hatred of the newcomers? Discrimination? Fear of a new and unfamiliar? Anti– Bukharizm? I am not going to provide answers to these questions. I am sure every reader will come to his or her opinion.But, of course, the roots that led to this situation must be identified and addressed. Today, Bukharian Jews are representing a strong political force in Queens, which they do not use effectively.There are people among them that could actively participate, be elected and become part of the political infrastructure of the USA. My hope that this situation will serve a lesson Bukharians will learn from and be able to appropriately use their political capital.

In conclusion, note that Bukharians drew the attention to themselves not because they did something wrong. They are on the path to fulfill their American dreams. They are leaving their signature in the areas of Queens, and I am confident that one day Cord Meyer will be named as Bukharian Quarter, and like in Jerusalem, it will be one of the outstanding attractions of New York City.

July 10, 2008
Long Island, New York


Letter for Editor

Kirk Semple's Article «Questions of Size and Taste for Queens Houses» (New York Times, July 5, 2008) has sparked passionate discussion at the after school program for Bukharian Jewish teenagers in Forest Hills where I work.

Furthermore, Mr. Semple's article gave the staff occasion to discuss concepts like gentrification, community aesthetic, and devaluation of property with some of our teenage members. Unfortunately, the point that resonated most viscerally with our teenagers was the article's negative portrayal of the Bukharian community: notably the use of words laden with negative connotation like «aggressive» and «ostentatious,» demonizing the community leaders by quoting broken English verbatim, and then quoting residents on the street who say «they don't want to talk to us.»

Had the article wanted to understand the real estate issues in Forest Hills in a positive light, it might have focused more poignantly on what it means for the Bukharian Jews — who couldn't have built such homes in their former Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, or Tajikistan — to now have the freedom to actualize their dreams in America, the land of opportunity. It might have focused on change rather than tradition. And it might have quoted a resident on the street who said something like: «the houses aren't really my taste, but I can appreciate the significance it has for my neighbors.»

Like any relationship, the relationship between Bukharian Jews and the Forest Hills community at large is a two way street. What is needed is a forum for community residents to air their concerns in healthy and open conversation and to properly begin the process of community building which is apparently sorely needed.Neither contempt nor ill–willed criticism will help at the task of bridging neighbors at odds with one another. To me, a 3rd generation American citizen, it only smacks of xenophobia. After all, how would you have felt if had read the article through the eyes of one of the Bukharian Jewish youth who frequents our after school program?



Attention Bukharian Jews of Queens

Here I am on a Sunday morning inside BJCC, or the Bukharian Jewish Community Center. While waiting for my dear cousin, I was approached by man named Rafael Nektalov, whom happens to be Editor–in–Chief of the Bukharian Times.He has asked me, «Who are you?» In response, «I am Daniel Mirzakandov, one of the three sons (Uriel and Emanuel) of Ilyusha Mirzakandov, and Roza Malakova».

Furthermore, He than asked, «What do I do for a living? » Responding to his question, «I am 23 years old, from Samarkand. I am student, studying in the field of Architecture; soon to be graduating with my Bachelors of Architectural Science in December. And during this time period, I also work for a midsize firm that has won annually, awards of credit and merit in Architecture, respectfully».«Wonderful», he said, «your just the person I need to speak with». As we walked towards his office, he explained the reason why he needs me; «write in response to the housing development of the Bukharian Jews».

Sure why not, here's my statement:

 If you have the money to buy land and express it in any way possible to show your riches and lavishness of your «hard work», in America, go ahead; as long as you are in accordance with the zoning laws and regulations, build as you please?We, as people, are allowed to pave our front yard and design with stones, bricks, and columns of all and any types.

In addition, here's a suggestion to ease some tension, if you want to make your front yard look a bit aesthetic, design a small Contemporary, or European garden.It will add beauty to your property and not make your house look like a heavy weight on the block; have some class of your own.

As for your neighbors, tell them «jealousy will not allow you to win, go ahead spit, throw up and agonize yourself all you want, it will just make me stronger».According to Kirk Semple, of the New York Times, «Bukharian Jews of Central Asia, a big house is an essential tradition: a place to shelter multiple generations, to hold large parties, memorials and holiday dinners, to reaffirm a community's unity», in other words, keep building.

Everyone listen, live your life, and accomplish your goals.

I have been living in America for 17 years. I live in an apartment; have a car that takes me from point A to Z, I am well fed? I'm comfortable? Some day, my family and I are planning to buy a house; our time will come, no rush.

People, stop looking at what your neighbors have and just become someone better. Which leaves me to say, «two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; I'm not sure about the universe».

If you have any questions or comments contact me at
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