Living in Little Egypt
When temporarily displaced from your desk at work, you never know what you might stumble across. I noticed the book Crossing the Boulevard staring at me from the bookshelf. Being the New York-centric individual I am, I automatically assumed that must be referring to Queens- and I was correct. I immediately turned to the pages about the people who lived in Astoria, and I suddenly found myself with a new appreciation for the neighborhood I live in- which apparently has a name that I had never heard until this week, “Little Egypt.”
Little Egypt refers to the stretch of Steinway Street in Astoria between 28th avenue and Astoria Blvd that is full of kabab shops, hookah bars, coffee shops, Middle Eastern groceries, Islam fashion, a Mosque and many places serving (delicious) falafel. The population is extremely diverse, and the streets are lively- especially at night when lively conversations and backgammon games outside hookah bars and coffee shops well into the night.
What struck me once I began reading about this small stretch of Steinway was that this neighborhood was the site of violence and hostility in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Hard working residents was targeted in the wave of cultural violence; though the neighborhood seems peaceful on the surface currently, underlying tensions still exist. For example, though Little Egypt’s streets are as lively and the businesses as busy as those before 28th ave, the business owners are not part of the Steinway Street BID despite efforts to get included.
Perhaps in the wave of Barack Obama’s attempts to reach out to the Muslim World (and his recent Nobel Peace Prize) we may see a change in this situation, though it seems that the words of Hassan Sayed in a 2005 Columbia Journalist article still ring true today for some Muslims:
â€œArabs are afraid to get together and meet or organize… They think if they say something wrong, the government will exaggerate it and put pressure on them.â€
Muslims such as Mona who works at the Nile Deli on Steinway St. in Astoria said, “He [Obama] speaks very well about Islam…But will he change anything? I can’t answer this question. In two, three years, we will see.” For now, a good start would be to give a voice to Little Egypt’s shop owners in the Steinway Street BID and include them in the 2009 Steinway St. shopping guide.