Originally written in April 2010
Demographic change in New York City neighborhoods has been a constant fact of life in the history of New York City. Very few neighborhoods maintain a constant ehtnic composition over a long period of time. The neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens is one of the neighborhoods that went undergone a demographic change from being a White neighborhood for much of its existence to being called New York City’s most diverse neighborhood by Time Out New York. This in itself is a surprise as the creator of Jackson Heights planned the neighborhood with the purpose to keep out minorities. Jackson Heights is part of the Queens Community District 3 which also includes the neighborhoods of East Elmhurst and North Corona. From 1990 to 2000 the non-White Hispanic population numbers dropped from 28.4% to 15%. The percentage of people of Hispanic origin increased from 43.7% to 57.5%. The Asian population increased from 11.5% to 13.5%, and the Black non-Hispanic population decreased from 15.5% to 10.5%. 46.4% of the population was not proficient in English according to the 2000 census. 74.6 of people who were not proficient in English spoke either Spanish or Spanish Creole at home. 65.4% of the foreign born population is from Latin America, and 19.8% coming from Asia. The country with the most nationals in the area was Ecuador with 15.9% followed by Colombia at 14.7%. The majority of the population is from the ages of 25-44 which is 34.8% of the population and the next largest age range is 45-64 which 20% of the population is. The birth rate was 16.6 per 1000 in 2000, the death rate was 5.2 per 1000, and the infant mortality rate was 6.7 per 1000 in 2000. The median family income of Jackson Heights in 1999 was $43,197 which was lower than the median family income of the entire Queens County which was at $48,608. Only 4% of Jackson Heights residents were on public assistance. Jackson Heights is also home to a growing gay community that has been growing in numbers since the 1960’s. Jackson Heights has its own Lesbian and Gay Pride Day with an annual summer parade. Jackson Heights is home to the second largest gay community outside of Manhattan.
Jackson Heights got off to a different start from the other neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Unlike those neighborhoods Jackson Heights was never its own town, Jackson Heights was created from the visions of a real estate developer. The Queensboro Corporation purchased 325 acres of farmland near Jackson Avenue in 1913 and named the development Jackson Heights after the avenue. The neighborhood was built on the vision of garden apartment houses. For most of its early existence Jackson Heights was a predominantly White neighborhood, and Jews, Catholics, and Blacks were barred from these apartment houses. Restrictive covenants would later be struck down as illegal and the 1968 Fair Housing Act made discrimination based on race in housing illegal. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act eased the restrictions of immigration to the United States from non-White countries and would play a big part in the future of Jackson Heights. In the 1960’s a large number of Latinos started moving into Jackson Heights. One of the appeals of Jackson Heights was its location as Jackson Heights has the 7 train running through it providing close proximity to Manhattan and buses that take people from Jackson Heights to 5th Avenue. What made Jackson Heights unique among other NYC neighborhoods is that unlike neighborhoods such as East New York, the influx of Latinos in the neighborhood did not lead to a rapid demographic change and move from the neighborhood. Jackson Heights never experienced the mass panic selling that white flight and blockbusting that occurred in other areas and that would usually be followed by a collapse of the neighborhood. Jackson Heights was actually able to obtain new white residents in the 1970’s and 80’s. Another way in how Jackson Heights was unique is that it was not an area targeted for these ethnic changes in the way how other neighborhoods were. It has even been suggested that the diversity in the neighborhood prevents segregation occurring again with one dominant racial or ethnic group.
Colombia is the home country for a large portion of the current residents of Jackson Heights. Colombia is frequently mentioned in media reports for negative things that have gone in the country. Colombia is a country though rich in culture, with a diverse population, and a rich culinary and artistic heritage that draws on African, European, and native traditions.
According to the CIA World Factbook Colombia is the home to 43,677,372 people. The median age of the population is 27.1 years old, and the birth rate is 18.09/1,000. The infant mortality rate is 17.37 deaths/1,000 live births. 74% of the population lives in urban areas, and 90% of the population is Catholic. 58% of the population is mestizo, 20% is white, 14% mulatto, 4% black, 3% mixed Black/Amerindian, and 1% Amerindian. 46.8% of the population is living below the poverty line. The life expectancy at birth is 74.07 years, and 90.4% of the population is literate. Colombia is the world’s leading producer of coca derivatives, and also produces heroin and marijuana. The violence in Colombia has at times threatened to spill into other countries and is one of the leading causes for their citizens to leave to go to other countries or the United States. As mentioned, more people have been displaced from their homes in Colombia than in any other country outside Africa with the majority of them being black.
Roosevelt Avenue in which runs in Jackson Heights through Elmhurst is known as Little Colombia. This area is the heart of the Colombian New York and is known for its wide culinary features and its slice of Colombian life in New York. The area provides services for documented and undocumented Colombian immigrants with legal services, wire services, and other tools to help them. The area though has also received a lot of negative attention. Much of this attention was due to a 1993 New York Times Article describing the area as an area where major drug dealers operated, who were also involved in money laundering and prostitution. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimated that 90% of its money laundering investigations in the New York area was traced back to Jackson Heights. Wire services and travel agencies were also propped up by drug dealers. Roosevelt Avenue was described as filled with brothels, and 60 brothels alone were counted on Jackson Avenue. Little Colombia also made headlines due to the murder of journalist Manuel de Dios Unahue who wrote articles detailing the drug cartels, Unahue was killed on the orders of the cartels. The crime associated with the Roosevelt avenue drug dealers led to many whites in the community claiming that Roosevelt Avenue was not part of Jackson Heights. Community groups began to fight back against the drug dealers and prostitution centers leading to a reduction of the public presence of prostitution and leading to many of the major drug dealers relocating elsewhere. Despite this Roosevelt Avenue is still viewed with a negative perception by others, mostly the older whites in the community.
The New York Times. [Cited April 3, 2010] Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/17/nyregion/window-immigrant-crime-jackson-heights-drugs-dirty-money-prostitution.html?pagewanted=1
Maly, Michael. Beyond Segregation: Multiracial and Multiethnic neighborhoods in the United States. Temple University Press, 2005
The New York Times [cited April 3, 2010] Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/11/nyregion/seven-indicted-in-1992-slaying-of-a-journalist.html?pagewanted=all
CIA The World Factbook. [cited April 3,2010] Accessed from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/co.html#top
Reuters. [cited April 3,2010] Accessed from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN05469226
TimeOut New York. [Cited April 3, 2010] Accessed from http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/features/60591/new-yorks-most-diverse-neighborhood
New York Magazine December 31, 1973-January 7, 1974. Page 34