New York's Number Seven subway train is nicknamed the "International Express," because it weaves through Queens County, the nation's most ethnically diverse neighborhood, with people from 150 countries living there. Amanda Cassandra has this report for VOA on the train and the many different neighborhoods it travels through.
On its 10-kilometer journey from Times Square, the heart of Manhattan, to the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, the Number Seven train passes by the businesses and establishments of many cultures in about an hour.
Jack Eichenbaum is an urban geographer and lifelong resident of Queens, one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. He says the city has one of the highest immigrant populations in the world, with a majority of those immigrants concentrated in Queens because of its relatively low housing costs and proximity to Kennedy Airport, an international hub.
"Of the population in New York City now, in the last census, which was 2000, 39 percent of the people were foreign born," Eichenbaum said. "That's two out of five people are foreign born, and these are immigrants. Some of them are children, of course, who are going to grow up to be just like everyone else. And they'll speak perfect English and they'll go to school and they'll chew bubble gum and they'll watch the same programs on television. America assimilates young people very quickly. And some are older people who never learn to speak English and will live in areas where there are immigrants like themselves.
Eichenbaum says New York is an attractive destination for many immigrants for a variety of reasons.
"There are three kinds of people who can come in as immigrants. One: People who have family already here and whose family is willing to support them. Two: People who have a desired profession, such as doctors, and of all the immigrants in New York, the Filipinos have the highest wages," he said. "t's mostly the women and it's mostly the nurses. So many female nurses come in from the Philippines where they have an American education system that helps them. Being a former colony of the United States, they speak English. They come in on this preferential treatment for professionals, in this case nursing. The third one is if you bring money, and I think it is something like a $100,000 to start a business, and, therefore, employ other people. And, the star performers of this one are the Koreans. The Koreans more than anybody else are into opening shops and offices and things. That's what they do and that's how they get in here.
Eichenbaum says the most striking aspect of the Number Seven train's international journey is not the numbers of different cultures it passes or the large number of people - 400,000 - it carries each day, but that somehow everyone seems to get along.
"Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi, they all walk up and down the street and they all shop together," Eichenbaum pointed out. "One of the triumphs of America is how quickly immigrant groups learn to get along with people they hated in the old country. It's amazing that people who were at war with their neighbors in Europe or Asia manage to get along with the same people here, particularly when they need the same kind of products."
Eichenbaum says the Seven train itself is credited with some of the urbanization of Queens, as many immigrants settled near the route of the train, and that, in turn, prompted the development of businesses to serve the borough's increasing population.
Mustafa Ali Hadi, 21, moved to the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens from Pakistan. He says, in Pakistan, Jackson Heights is known as a condensed version of Pakistan, with all the comforts of home easily available.
"I heard about Jackson Heights over there," he said. "They said it's like the same thing in Pakistan. They compared it to an area called Lalucade. So, it's cool. We have very good surroundings and nice friends. It's very easy for us to live here, because we don't have a language problem."
Glen Natkins is a lifelong Jackson Heights resident, who has witnessed the area's transformation from an Irish and Italian community to the more diverse ethnic mix it is today. She says she enjoys the area's diversity, as well as the opportunities she now has to taste different kinds of food.
"There are many different restaurants, Hispanic and Indian restaurants," she said. "So, that's very nice to have a taste of their culture. I've gone to Afghan restaurants, Hispanic, Indian and, of course, Italian."
Venturing through the neighborhoods of Queens, visitors will find museums, sculpture gardens, a baseball stadium and a vast park that hosted world's fairs in 1939 and 1964. In the Woodside section of Queens, visitors will discover Irish pubs and German and Turkish restaurants, as well as places of worship that cater to communities from Korea, Latin America and China.
In 2000, the White House designated the Number Seven train a National Millennium Trail, recognizing it as a symbol of the American immigrant experience. It is one of 16 such trails, including the Appalachian Trail and Boston's Freedom Trail, that reflect defining aspects of U.S. history.