Guyana, Little Guyana, and Their History
New York City is considered a melting pot for the many different cultures that live in the city. Out of the many famous ones like Chinatown, Astoria, and Borough Park there are many smaller ones that don't get as much publicity. One of these smaller enclaves is Little Guyana. The country of Guyana is about the size Idaho and is situated on the northeastern coast of South America. When slavery was outlawed in 1834 it created a large desire for plantation workers, thus a large influx of East Indian's into the country. Making the majority of their population a mix of East Indian and African descent. Little Guyana, however, is located in Richmond hills, Queens, New York City, New York. Richmond Hills has long been known for many European immigrants and even the largest Sikh population in NYC. Recently, however, there has been a significant increase of Caribbean Indians, for example the Guyanese. Despite its size, Little Guyana is very similar to some of the more popular enclaves. Little Guyana has Guyanese food stores like Little Guyana Bake Shop and plenty of cultural pride. For example, walking through the streets you can hear a mix of reggae and East Indian music. Little Guyana is a small, but special enclave that is very important to the cultural dynamic of New York City.
Why do people leave their home country for the United States? Better opportunities and a better life. In Guyana it is no different. About 30,000 Guyanese enter the United States every year and they've been coming to the United States since the 1970's when Guyana's economy began to deteriorate and the political unrest began. For example, The Guyanese government spends a lot of money and gives the people very little financial freedoms like investment. This may be why Guyana has one of the lowest GDP's per capita, $6,895. The government has to spend the deficit to function resulting in the public debt to raise above 65 percent. Put simply, Guyana's economy is very poor. In addition, the Guyanese government also has a very weak rule of law. The newly elected party in Guyana must deal with gun trafficking, human trafficking, narco-trafficking, gun violence, and corruption. This happens because Guyana is one of the main distribution points for cocaine to North America and Europe. Along with the violent crime and drug trafficking, the judicial system has been regarded as inefficient and slow. To make things worse, many Guyanese believe the country is insufficient at protecting property rights. Every country has their issues, but Guyana's "push" factors are too grave for people to stay.
Even though immigrants' native countries have "push" factors to make them leave, the country they immigrate too has "pull" factors, the reasons why someone would want to move to a certain country. For the Guyanese people, the United States has the most favorable "pull" factors. The U.S. has one of the best judicial systems in the world, we strongly believe in protecting people's property rights, and even though we may not have the best economy in terms of debt, our economy is the most opportunistic in the Western Hemisphere. Our country was founded on immigrants and our success is built off of them and because of this, who wouldn't want to live here?
Cultural Aspects of Little Guyana
When you walk off the 121st street subway platform Richmond Hills looks like your average Queen's neighborhood with convenient stores, dry cleaners, pharmacies, and maybe a diner or two. You keep walking and begin to see vibrant store fronts with a wide color spectrum on display. After a while, you stumble upon Little Guyana Bake shop. As you step inside, a powerful aroma of fresh coconut rolls and pine tarts slaps your nostrils. The pine tarts are one of Guyana's best known dishes. They are small bite sized pastries that are filled with pineapple jam, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and two types of brown sugars. From first to last bite the tart remains tangy and sweet. This is a close to Guyana as one can get.
After spending eighty-five cents eating delicious pastries, you step outside and walk down the street. You'll soon began to hear a wild type of music called Chutney. The pulsating fast tempo beat that reflects a Caribbean influence that blends with sounds of the Far East culminating in something truly unique. The people of Little Guyana thrive off of this music, Ray Cavanaugh of the Washington Post explains it the best: "In many cases, though, open windows were superfluous; some vehicles were equipped with speakers that blasted the music as if it were a block party." You can hear the music over the cacophonous squeaks of the overhead subway giving the neighborhood a sense of urban grit. Even though the Guyanese speak english, there are plenty of sights and sounds and smells that keep Little Guyana as unique as other enclaves.
Why is it Important For Immigrants to Live in or Near an Ethnic Enclave?
Our country is a melting a pot of different ethnicities, races, and religions. Many people believe that's what makes America great. Every group of immigrants has an ethnic enclave or a neighborhood that the emigrate to because the culture there is for the most part familiar. The Jews, Italians, and the Irish had the the lower east side, there's a large Somali population in Minnesota, and Dearborn, Michigan has the largest Muslim population in the United States. Immigrants move to these enclaves for a couple of reasons. To start, you share many of the same values and traditions as the people around you. A lot of people like to have a sense of community and when many people share similar values and traditions the sense community gets boosted. Secondly, you may possible know somebody, a family member or friend, that can help you with the many issues that involve moving. For example, trying to buy/rent a house/apartment, buying a car, finding a doctor, or something as simple as finding a grocery store. Moving to another country is hard and even the smallest amount of help can really make a difference.
The Issue With Ethnic Enclaves
America is a melting pot; and the word melting is in there for a reason and it means assimilation. Oh no! Assimilation! That means peoples cultural traditions, values, and heritage are all taken away for the status quo! This is wrong. Today, we are only taught that assimilation and acculturation as two completely one sided entities with no middle ground. What I believe to be a more appropriate definition of assimilation is you get to pick and choose which elements of the dominant culture you want as your own while keeping some of your traditional values. The only reason why people pick and choose is to succeed. For example, my family gave up Yiddish in order to get work in New York City. Wouldn't you sacrifice apart of yourself for the benefit of future generations? My family assimilated, but that doesn't make us any less Jewish than say an ultra-orthodox Jew that lives in Lakewood, NJ. Just because an Italian family in Somerset county doesn't speak Italian that doesn't means their culture has been taken away. Since assimilation is necessary for immigrant groups to succeed when moving to another country there is one thing blocking it. Ethnic enclaves.
I am not saying Ethnic enclaves are bad places, but the presence and preservation of them hinders migrant groups to succeed. Sure, we want people to be comfortable, but to a certain extent the world isn't comfortable. When you can't get a well paying job because you can't speak English due to the fact that you've only lived in a French speaking neighborhood you are not only hurting yourself, but your family right now and for future generations. If we stop demonizing assimilation then many migrant groups that are having trouble climbing up the socio-economic latter will be able to. By choosing to assimilate they would be able to provide for their families so they wouldn't have to depend on the government. Ethnic enclaves are not bad places, but the constant protection and praise of them is doing more harm than good for the government, but for the people that live there.