Restaurants highlight Hispanic culture in Queens

Hispanic Heritage Month ran from September 15-October 15, and although the festivities are ending, businesses around Queens are proving that it’s never too late to celebrate Hispanic culture.
Take for example Asadero La Fogata, which is located at 108-40 Corona Ave right in the heart of Corona. The Colombian restaurant is owned by Andrea Rendon, who aims to serve dishes that make people feel like they are at home.
“I think the way we make the food is the way we make people feel like they are in Colombia,” said Rendon.
Rendon was born in Colombia, but has lived in Queens for the past 27 years. Her older sister was the inspiration driving her to open a restaurant.
“Ever since I came to America, I have always worked in restaurants and I started working with my sister,” said Rendon. “She works hard and she has her own restaurant. She showed me that any woman can do anything when they work hard.”
There are many other great eats within walking distance from Asadero La Fogata. Primos Bakery at 47-20 Junction Boulevard serves up delicious treats that are made on the premises. Primos Bakery is owned by Ignacio Lucero and his cousin, Yaco Rincón.
“We’ve been in business for five years,” said Lucero. “We first started with the warehouse and selling wholesale, then we opened the storefront.”
Lucero also delivers bread to stores and restaurants in the surrounding area.
Primos’ must-buy pastry is the “conchas,” a well-known baked good popular in Mexico. Additionally, Primos sells handmade bags, keychains, and clothing right outside the store every Thursday to Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. All the items on sale come straight from Mexico.

‘Armageddon Time’ films to Forest Hills

Forest Hills was the backdrop for some recent scenes of “Armageddon Time,” a coming-of-age drama about being raised in Queens in the 1980s.
On October 8, some scenes was filmed along Burns Street between Continental Avenue and Tennis Place in Forest Hills Gardens.
Commuters exiting the Long Island Railroad might have noticed 1980s-style vehicles and young cast members.
The autobiographical drama was written and directed by James Gray and produced by Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira. The cast features Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Donald Sutherland, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett.
Gray is known for his films “Little Odessa,” “The Yards,” “We Own The Night,” “Two Lovers,” “The Immigrant,” “The Lost City of Z,” and “Ad Astra.”
Based on Gray’s childhood memories, it offers a window into loyalty and friendship, as well as racial tension and bigotry, at a time America was poised to elect Ronald Reagan.
Twelve-year-old Paul Graff is raised in a warm and raucous family, where his grandpa encourages his artistic goals. His best friend, John Crocker, is an African-American student.
“I’m anxious to make something that is very much about people, about human emotions, and interactions between people,” Gray told Deadline in 2020. “In some sense, yes, it’s about my childhood, but an illustration of familial love really on every level.
“I got in big trouble when I was around 11, and the story is about my movement from the public education that I got into private school and a world of privilege,” he added. “This film is about what that meant for me and how lucky I was, and how unlucky my friend was.”
After a drug-related incident, Paul’s parents transfer him to The Kew-Forest School, a private prep institution in Forest Hills. At that time, the best friends devise a scheme to escape their lives and flee to Florida.
“It’s symbolic about what the school represented at the time, entrenched in this white protestant ethic,” Gray said. “It’s about that transition, and how it reflects on what the American society was and sadly still is. How we are separated along the lines of class and ethnicity.”
Other shows that have recently filmed in Forest Hills include “Mildred Pierce,” “The Americans” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Rose Chin-Wolner nearly wandered onto the set last week.
“Forest Hills Gardens was modeled after an English village, and is therefore a desirable setting for many movies and TV series,” she said.

Libraries to stop collecting overdue book fees

New York City’s three public library systems will no longer charge late fees for overdue books and other materials. Additionally, all existing late fees were cleared immediately.
A number of other American cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, and Dallas, have previously made the decision to go fine free. When combined, New York City’s three library systems represent the largest municipality to eliminate fines in the country.
The decision is meant to make libraries more accessible and welcoming to New Yorkers who may have been previously dissuaded by financial penalties.
“For far too long, late fines have generated fear and anxiety among those who can least afford to pay, preventing them from opening library accounts, checking out books, or even coming
through our doors,” said Queens Public Library president and CEO Dennis Walcott. “I vividly remember as a child having late fines on my card and hesitating about going to the library when I needed it.”
In Queens, the communities with the highest number of blocked cards — Corona, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, and Elmhurst — all have median incomes below the borough average.
By clearing all existing late fees, the Queens Public Library has freed approximately 25 percent of its cardholders from financial penalties. The library system hopes these new measures will spur an increase in membership and usage across its 66 locations.
“Late fines tell people they do not belong, and that shutting them out is simply the cost of doing business,” Walcott added. “This is not only unacceptable, but also totally inconsistent with our mission.”
The Queens Library will still have other measures in place to prevent property theft. Library cards will be blocked from borrowing physical materials if patrons accrue $50 in replacement fees or have 20 or more overdue items.
Even with a blocked card, patrons will still be able to access computers, e-books, and other digital services.
The Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) new policies closely align with those of the Queens system. BPL has eliminated all late fees, both new and existing, and will instead temporarily suspend patron’s access to certain library materials if they exceed a certain threshold of overdue materials.
Brooklyn Public Library president and CEO Linda Johnson said the majority of BPL’s patrons are either children, who predominantly use library services to assist with school work, or older adults, who may be less equipped to handle late fees and the anxiety associated with them.
BPL launched a pilot amnesty program for children in 2017, and saw a 60 percent increase in the percentage of previously blocked children and teens who checked out materials, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
“Public libraries strive to be the most democratic institutions in our society, providing all people access to the resources they need to enrich their minds and improve their lives,” said Brooklyn Public Library president and CEO Linda Johnson. “Eliminating late fines means providing truly equitable access to everything the library has to offer.”

Queens Comes Back: QDEC hosts block party

Over 40 vendors and 1,000 people gathered in an outdoor backlot of Kaufman Astoria Studios for the Queens Comes Back event this past weekend. The event was hosted by the Queens Economic Development Corporation.
QEDC executive director Seth Bornstein said it was gratifying to see people come together and support local businesses, especially after the last 18 months.
“When I look at this crowd, it represents the borough,” he said. “The vendors, the people here, there’s no majority and no minority.”
Bornstein said he wanted to give back, both to local businesses and to the public, resulting in the event not charging vendors a fee and no charge to the public to enter.
From plant-based and vegan cakes by Pudding Pan Desserts to Romanian sweets from Twister Cake Bakery, sweet tooths were left satisfied as lines formed outside each vendor booth throughout the day. Spanish cuisine from Sala Astoria was served and washed down with cocktails by QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.
“As an entrepreneur, it was an exciting and energizing networking opportunity,” said Tara Merdjanoff, co-founder of QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.
Performances were held throughout the day featuring Gotham Dance Theater, Chieh Hsiung, Manhatitlan Mexican Folkloric Dance Group and Greek American Folklore Society.
The original Queens Taste event is usually held annually on the first Monday of May, said Rob MacKay, director of public relations for QEDC. In past years, places like the New York’s Hall of Science and Citi Field hosted the indoor event.
MacKay said this year’s outdoor event exceeded his expectations.
“We’ve been through a lot as an agency that helps small businesses and they’ve been through a lot, but I feel like a lot of people have stabilized and found out ways to work around stuff,” said MacKay. “It’s a morale booster to show we’re going to make it.”

Grey Jones, Sightseer/Historian

Grey Jones is a self-described sight-seeing guy. However, he is hoping to do more than take pictures of New York’s most famous landmarks.
Jones moved to Brooklyn nine years ago after growing up in Louisiana and Texas. Back in the Lone Star State, he became involved with organizing an annual Juneteenth festival, long before it was a recognized federal holiday.
Now in Brooklyn, Jones aims to continue finding ways to celebrate and recognize the African-American experience.
“I started walking around in the neighborhood and wanted to do some research,” Jones explained of his many walks around Flatbush, Prospect Heights, and Lefferts Garden.
In his travels Jones encountered the Flatbush African Burial Ground, the last remaining burial site for enslaved African Americans in the city. Many of the people buried at the site are unidentified, so he set out trying to uncover their names and what he could about their lives.
“It was really hard to do that research and find those people,” Jones explained. “Some of the names are redundant and you are not sure if they are a unique person or the same person. It’s a challenge to get records and access information that might be useful.”
Jones not only wanted to recognize these people, but to also celebrate them. He hopes to eventually organize a 17 day freedom festival, which would mark the 17 days between Juneteenth and July 5, the day many African Americans in New York celebrated independence in 1776 when they heard the news.
“I tried to discover 17 insulated people who may have been buried at the Flatbush burial site,” Jones said. “I just found so much history around the life and culture of these people, and it was completely different from what I presumed. Our culture has such a great tradition of celebration, so we should celebrate these people.”

Leaving the county for another country

If you follow the Queens borough president on Facebook, you might have noticed that it was a busy week for Donovan Richards.
There was the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in Laurelton, a visit to Rudy’s Bakery in Ridgewood for the Queens Shops Small series, the unveiling of a statue of Claire Shulman at Crystal Windows, a visit to PS 19 in Corona, extended COVID testing at Borough Hall, and a rally to urge Governor Kathy Hochul to put the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia on the shelf.
Or rather, the people who work in the Borough President’s Office were busy, because the borough president himself spent the first week of October on a trip to Ukraine.
He was there to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar Massacre, in which 100,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II. The trip was paid for by the Assembly of Nationalities of Urkraine and facilitated by The Blue Card, the group who invited the guests.
The trip was kept hush-hush, with no mention that Richards would be leaving the country. His office has refused to comment on what expenses were covered for Richards.
The office did state that the official reason for the trip was to show solidarity with the Ukrainian and Jewish populations of Queens. Residents living in the borough who identify as Ukrainian American make up less than 1 percent of the population.
Technically, there is nothing illegal about Richards accepting a paid trip as long as there is ostensibly an official aspect to the visit. (See above paragraph.)
It just seems curious that his office wasn’t more forthcoming about the trip. You would think if the purpose of the trip was to show solidarity with the Ukrainian population in Queens, it might be nice if they knew about it.
Something seems a little off.
But don’t worry, if you live in Queens you were in good hands. The borough president’s purely ceremonial duties were in the capable hands of Franck Joseph, the borough president’s chief of staff, who stood in for Richards at all of the events we mentioned above.

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