Little Manila Avenue: ‘A spot to call our own’

‘Long overdue.’ Photo: Little Manila website

By Lindy Rosales

As I walked along Roosevelt Avenue on June 5, I could hear OPM music playing. I saw a big white tent on 70th Street, right next to the Philippine National Bank. Traffic was blocked off on 70th Street and event security personnel were directing foot traffic.

“This is a historic moment in our Filipino history, and I wanna be part of it,” raved Carolyn Marticio of JCI Philippines-New York. “We waited so many years. I feel very honored that we’re being appreciated and honored for the years that we contributed here in New York.”

NYC-born Marticio said the street naming is also a way of honoring the nurses and health care workers, many of them Filipinos, who sacrificed their lives providing care through the pandemic. Some of them have perished, others who survived lived through the nightmare of seeing one death after another especially in the first two years of the health care crisis.

“Sometimes our Filipino health workers are forgotten. This is such a great gesture,” she said.

While indicating a stretch of road, Little Manila Avenue is actually the southwest corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 70th Street in Queens. Roosevelt is a very busy roadway with many restaurants, shops and offices, many of them immigrant businesses. The 7 train runs on the above-ground tracks.

Many Filipino restaurants, lawyers and doctors offices have set up shop on Roosevelt. It is a long and prominent thoroughfare that snakes its way from 48th Street all the way to 103th Street. The old Payag Restaurant is at the corner of Roosevelt and 52nd. Jollibee is on Roosevelt and 63rd. Red Ribbon is on 65th. Max’s Restaurant just opened on 69th st, next to the old Krystal’s restaurant and bakeshop — now called Amazing Grace. 

The Little Manila inauguration on June 5 attended by supporters, organizers and business owners. Photo by Jaclyn Reyes

The Philippine National Bank, Phil-Am Foodmart and Ihawan have an address on 70th street. Also somewhere between 69th and 70th along Roosevelt are Kabayan Restaurant,  Johnny Air, Renee’s and a beauty parlor named Gwapa.  It is on this corner where the Little Manila Avenue street sign is visibly in place. FilAm residents of Queens and tourists like to have their photos taken under it to show a sliver of Filipino pride in NYC.

“It’s a big honor that a small portion (of the street) is being named into our community. It’s a recognition of our contribution here in the US,” said Carolina de Leon, a Jackson Heights resident and a member of the grassroots group called Malaya New York. “We’re all taxpayers like anybody else, and I feel like this is long overdue.”

She wished Little Manila could be longer. “If we can take the streets from 50th to 70th, that would be ideal. It will really reflect that we are a strong community.”

The seed of the idea for a Little Manila was first brought up in 2012 to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer by then NAFFA New York State Chair Steven Raga. “It was supposed to be named after an individual that contributed to New York. We were thinking of Jose Rizal,” he said. The proposed location was 69th Street along Roosevelt Avenue. Raga, who is running for a State Assembly seat, helped start the petition two years ago, which paved the way for the current movement.

Said Raga when interviewed by The FilAm: “This has been a long fight. It has almost been a decade since we started pushing this as a community. So it’s great that there’s multiple community partners and stakeholders that participated, and this is the end result.”

He continued, “This is a moment of celebration, a moment of happiness that not just from what we started but also to all the participants that added more work and their contributions throughout the years. I thank all of them”. 

The inauguration ceremony on June 5 was hosted May Madarang and Michael Garrovillas who kept the program upbeat and lively. Both are members of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns northeast chapter. A small crowd of about a hundred people came. The 7 train would rumble by and the program had to pause for a break.

One of the speakers was long-time resident Elizabeth Diente, a retired NYC nurse. She is known in the neighborhood as Tita Beth, the mother of Xenia Diente who is one of the leaders of the current street-naming project.

Tita Beth reminisced that when the Phil-Am Food Mart opened in the 1970s, she was one of the first customers. “What a big relief,” she said. “I didn’t have to travel to Port Authority to buy Filipino goods.”

The current movement to rename the street Little Manila started two years ago, according to  Xenia, one of the organizers together with Jaclyn Reyes. The core group that worked for two years to get the sign installed included Nafcon northeast chapter, the Filipino American National Historical Society New York Chapter, Little Manila Queens Bayanihan Arts and Phil-Am Food Mart.

Woman waves a tiny flag while celebrating the inauguration. Photo by Lindy Rosales

“There’s some history behind that which goes back many many years,” she said. “But after 2020, with the Mabuhay mural, just on the other side of the block in 69 street, in honor of healthcare workers. At that ceremony, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said he would help make this happen.”

 A petition was launched, and on December 2021 the legislation sponsored by Van Bramer was approved by the City Council with about 3,000 signatures gathered.

“We couldn’t be more proud. It’s a long time coming,” said Xenia.

Joe Castillo, owner of Phil-Am Food Mart spoke on stage. “For me, this is home. I grew up here. I moved back here. My kids go to school here, this is part of who I am. My family and I have been incredibly blessed and lucky by the growth of this community. It’s incredible to see everybody kind of coming together and rallying together the way this is happening.”

He remembered as a little boy how he would ask his mother to make him a ham sandwich for lunch, just like every other kid in school. What he got was rice and some Filipino food. Now, his kids want rice and Tocino or something. “And they don’t feel weird about it.”

An “exciting milestone,” said Father Julian Jagudilla, director of The Migrant Center at The Church Of St. Francis Of Assisi.

“We now have a spot to call our own. We are proud, we are happy that we are gathered here this afternoon, especially on Independence Day, to celebrate, to acknowledge and thank all those who made this event and this project possible.” He emphasized the importance of unity and the urgency of protecting the community against racial violence. “We have a lot of work to do, to organize and educate our people. So dapat nag-kakaisa tayo.”

© The FilAm 2022

One Comment

  1. Rosamond Andreasen wrote:

    This great article has truly peaked my interest.

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