Review of Immigration Crossroads: Globalization, Incorporation, and Placemaking in Queens, New York
Immigration Crossroads: Globalization, Incorporation, and Placemaking in Queens, New York
Edited by Tarry Hum, Ron Hayduk, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr., and Michael Alan Krasner Temple University Press 392 pages • $42.95
By Sheryl-Ann Simpson
In the introduction to Immigrant Crossroads, co-editor Tarry Hum outlines that forty-eight percent of the 2.3 million residents of the Queens borough of New York City are foreign born, arriving from around the globe, rather than there being one dominant group. In the preface, the editors describe Queens as "certainly the most diverse community in the United States, probably the most diverse community in the world today" (vii). As someone from Toronto, I might quibble with the second part of the statement, but there’s no disputing the unique make-up of the population in Queens which makes it an important context for understanding how experiences of immigration, settlement and urban development are changing.
As Hum explains, the book sets out to understand the diversity of immigrant experiences in the borough through processes of racialization particularly related to the post-1965 experience and to place. So, the book takes the city as not just as a neutral background to immigration but aims to understand the ways in which the urban context, economic and political institutions, influence the experience and identity of immigrant residents. And it asks how immigrant communities are integrating into and influencing these institutions in return.
The book is a data-rich exploration of New York City’s Queens borough. And to be clear, data doesn’t just mean numbers. While the chapters are filled with a fair amount of tables, charts and maps, there are equally vibrant descriptions, historical narratives and organizing stories throughout that bring the borough to life. It's the detailed exploration of Queens that helps the book overcome what I'd describe as the 'New-York problem', or more generally, the problem that pops up when we base all of our planning and urban theory on global cities. The authors' attention to detail, focus on process and clear engagement with, and attachment to Queens pulls the borough off the map—to borrow a phrase from Jennifer Robinson. By featuring Queens and immigrant communities in such detail, the book becomes a useful tool to understand the place, and for comparison and inspiration rather than a blueprint for how development should happen elsewhere.
The book is divided into three sections: Globalization focuses on how broad economic trends are resonating in Queens. Incorporation examines the relationships between immigrant residents and urban political institutions. Finally, Placemaking provides insights into the everyday networks, relationships and claims to space being made within and between communities throughout Queens.
True to the focus on processes of racialization and place, when chapters focus on specific communities, attention is given to the politics of how and why these communities have formed, how and why people group together or find themselves at odds.
An excellent example is Nazreen S. Bacchus' chapter ’American Muslims: The Queens experience.‘ Bacchus starts with some definitions of Islam and figures about the diversity of practitioners, with connections to a range of countries including Iran, Bosnia, Morroco, Syria, UAE, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, India and Trinidad. Bacchus highlights the ways in which Muslim identities intersect with other identities, for example giving the case of the Richmond Hill neighbourhood, home to Little Guyana, where interfaith, but co-ethnic families are common.
Bacchus also highlights the ways in which place has shaped pan-Muslim community, for example, through the network of Halal butcheries and other businesses and services that have grown up around dietary requirements. There are also connections to farms, butchers, and frozen food, delivery services that serve residents including those without cars to those who have moved out of the city centre.
The research in the book also takes a careful look at the impact of non-immigrant organizations and institutions. As an example, Bacchus’s chapter tackles the impact of a rise in Islamophobia on the formation of a Muslim identity and community in the US. This included state surveillance of masjid congregations, student organizations and businesses post-9/11. Bacchus ends with the effects of the presidential Muslim Ban in 2017 that led to solidarity protests against the ban, a chill on everyday life, and a recommitment of community members to their home in Queens.
Lynn McCormick’s chapter ’The restructuring of manufacturing in Queens and its impact on immigrant workers' also looks at non-immigrant structures to ask if manufacturing still provides a ladder to greater economic stability, especially for immigrant residents without specialized skills or who are English language learners. McCormick uses an accessible economic analysis to demonstrate that immigrant residents are still more concentrated in manufacturing as compared to other residents. The number of those jobs, however, are falling due to conditions at multiple scales ranging from globalization, which impacts manufacturing across the US, to rising real estate prices and a lack of government support in New York City. Through this analysis, McCormick highlights the ways in which the experience of “becoming an immigrant” in Queens—to borrow from Aiwa Ong—now involves less opportunity for economic stability, not because of characteristics of immigrant residents, but because of the ways that broader economic structures are playing out in the borough.
In spite of challenging conditions captured by the authors, there is still quite a bit of optimism throughout the book. Especially in terms of the possibility for organizing that pushes local governments to prioritizes care and justice. Clear examples are chapters by Alice Sardell "Advocacy for immigrant health: Language access in New York pharmacies", and Arianna Martinez's "Deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA): On reaching Queens’ diverse and eligible immigrant population”. Both chapters outline local organizing to address inequitable access to services related to class alongside language, ethnicity and immigration status.
Sardell chronicles the passage of municipal and state legislation requiring chain pharmacies to provide translation services to residents with limited English language proficiency. As Sardell describes, some of the important ingredients for getting the bills passed included a relatively "immigrant-friendly" political climate, but also strong advocacy messaging tied to the health of New York broadly, and an extensive network of advocacy groups across sectors.
In Martinez’s article, she highlights the importance of local context and local government in implementing the federal DACA program. A presidential executive order, DACA allows certain undocumented residents to apply for work authorization and respite from deportation. The chapter reviews strategies in New York and Queens to encourage applications from eligible but underrepresented groups including working poor and low-income folks as well as folks over 21, with less education, fewer English-language skills, from Caribbean and Asian countries, and often with their own young children.
Strategies ranged from more diverse outreach to legal clinics to support applicants. Another important strategy was the expansion of adult education opportunities to meet the "in-school” requirement for DACA. Courses included English-language classes, adult literacy, GED, high school equivalency, and job training. Organizers' ability to advocate for a wider interpretation of ”in-school” than just high school, college or university meant opening access to DACA and education at the same time. Martinez's chapter also describes how the additional services were funded by the city but administered through local non-profit organizations with deep connections and understandings of the communities they serve.
Neither the pharmacy nor the local DACA programs were perfect, or easy wins, but they both demonstrate that with creative coalition building, and a focus on equity, material outcomes, and care for folks who have been most marginalized, wins are possible!
Sheryl-Ann Simpson is an assistant professor at Carleton University where she teaches environmental studies, planning and research methods courses, and researches the relationships between the state and the everyday through the lens of environmental justice, citizenship, incorporation and landscape. She also co-edited the recent Journal of Planning and Education Research special issue “Planning Beyond Mass Incarceration.”