Reflections On Russian Culture In Queens

It has become quite a New York stereotype to picture Brighton Beach or Little Odessa as the hub of Russian culture in this City. And while that is not an incorrect picture, it is one that should be widened in the public eye – from Brooklyn to Queens, which has become a center of Russian and post-Soviet immigration.

Looking through four-star reviews on the popular Yelp will show that Forest Hills and Rego Park are neighborhoods where one can find home-style restaurants popping up all over, to the delight of locals. Slavic people have been moving to the area since the second World War, with the trend only increasing exponentially, yielding to streets lined with the Cyrillic alphabet and these spots to get some real kebabs.

One writer comments on wandering the area: “I found myself standing on the corner of 108th Street convinced that I was not in New York anymore…So for this one night I became a Bukhari kid, stuffed with plov, drunk on vodka, and dancing with the best of the babushkas.”

There is also a large Jewish community to be found in Queens. This includes, as of 2009, over 50,000 Bukharian Jews, with their own press, social centers, and restaurants as well (find the word kosher all over those Yelp reviews). Even more interestingly, Rego Park is the home to numerous Holocaust survivors, something that was immortalized in the powerful graphic novel, “Maus.”

Little Internet guides-to-the-neighborhood about Rego Park teach one to say “hello” and “goodbye” in Russian, Hebrew, Georgian, and even Persian; Brooklyn is no longer the only place where such cultural contact and meshing occurs – the eastern borough has quietly become another thriving mix of people, languages, food, tradition, and life.

Vladimir Grjonko