A street named “Little Manila Avenue” petition in progress

by Ricky Rillera

Photo Courtesy of Our Little Manila Bayanihan

NEW YORK – Our Little Manila Bayanihan, a group of individuals of Filipino descent from the community, has started a “Little Manila Street Co-Naming” campaign to have a street sign with the name “Little Manila Avenue” included and installed at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 70th Street in Woodside, Queens, New York.

The campaign, which started on July 21 has obtained 1,433 signatures, as of July 27, with an original goal of 1,500 in the Change.org Website. “The campaign is still ongoing,” one of the proponents of the campaign told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “The more signatures we have, the better.”

“The street co-naming will bring visibility to the Philippine community’s contributions to New York City. There are no records of ‘Little Manila’ elsewhere in NYC and this would make it the first,” Our Little Manila Bayanihan group said in its Website. “Our hope is that Little Manila will be recognized as more than an ethnic enclave that adds to the diversity of the borough and the city, but home to a community who has been an integral part of the care and thrivance of fellow New Yorkers.”

Serge Estrada, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said the proposal is indeed a long-time coming. He even suggested naming a portion of a park on 37th Avenue should be considered as well. He believes that the purpose is “to honor the presence of Filipino Americans in New York City – a big part of which are first responders in the battle against the coronavirus.” He added that “this is also to acknowledge the culinary contribution of Filipinos in cornucopia that’s New York.”

Once the desired number of signatories is obtained, the application is to be submitted to the New York City Council where a council member would give a detailed report about the proposal. After a vote was taken, it goes to Mayor Bill DeBlasio who would have to vote on it. The last step would be a street sign installation ceremony which may be delayed due to the COVID-19 situation, according to the terms mentioned in the application.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Woodside has 54 percent rate of Filipinos that had responded to the ongoing 2020 census as of June 9.

“It is a great opportunity to preserve the culture, heritage, and history of Little Manila in Queens, NY! Mabuhay, to all the hard working Filipinos who paved the way for the diverse community and making a significant impact for our kababayans abroad!,” remarked Michael Garrovillas.

Jeff Castaneda also commented on the Change.org Website saying that: “Woodside is where I was raised and is a beautiful and powerful example of Queens, NY’s rich diversity of cultures. As a Filipino-American, I believe this street would be a wonderful testament to the Filipino community’s deep roots and contribution to the area.

The campaign said that “In 2009, 13,000 of the 85,000 residents of Woodside are of Philippine descent, thus making up 15% of the neighborhood’s population. An estimated 86,000 Filipinos and Filipino Americans reside in NYC, making them the third-largest Asian group in New York today.”

The Our Little Manila Bayanihan has listed 37 Filipino-owned businesses, both in operation or had closed shop, in Woodside which include art galleries, freight forwarders, beauty salons, law offices, non-profit organizations, and other businesses.

The Little Manila enclave is concentrated on Roosevelt between 63rd and 71st Streets accessible through the 7 train. Filipinos residing in nearby neighborhoods of the borough of Queens such as Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, Maspeth as well as from other boroughs and even out-of-state, visit Woodside. They go there to eat at local eateries which serve familiar dishes from the Philippines or buy grocery items at Phil-Am Foodmart, the oldest grocery store that has been at its present site since the late 70’s.

Unveiling of the Mabuhay mural on the side wall of Amazing Grace restaurant on the southwest corner of 69th Street and Roosevelt Ave. | Photo Courtesy of Our Little Manila Bayanihan Arts

Meanwhile, on Philippine Independence Day on June 12, the Our Little Manila group together with representatives from the community, Filipino organizations, businesses, artists, community leaders and local elected officials, unveiled a new mural that reads “Mabuhay” honoring the Filipino neighborhood and Filipino healthcare workers and businesses during the peak of COVID-19.

The mural is painted on the side wall of Amazing Grace restaurant on the southeast corner of 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. The mural is to acknowledge Filipino healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Community leader Sockie Laya Smith read names of Filipino healthcare workers who died from COVID-19 during the unveiling ceremony.

“This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number,” she said. “We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!

Artists and community members Princes ‘Diane’ De Leon, Ezra Undag, Hannah Cera, Jaclyn Reyes, and Xenia Diente painted the mural, borrowing details from Philippine culture.

The organizers said the community has tried to create a Philippine mural for more than a decade. The “Mabuhay” mural, a Philippine expression which means “welcome,” “cheers,” or “may you live,” finally came to life, a yearlong project of the Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts.

The Little Manila community seeks to engage the community “with all the stakeholders—neighbors, local government, and outside community—by amplifying the contributions of Philippine people in New York City.”

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