Squabble Over Sidewalks Highlights Racial Tensions

Posted on 03. Dec, 2009 by in Business and Economics, Jeremy Caplan, Urban

The Chinese community in Bensonhurst thinks it’s garbage.

Picture 7Racially-tinged allegations have been made regarding sidewalk conditions on Bay Parkway in the neighborhood recently.  Complaints aimed at Asian-owned businesses have been voiced regarding greasy sidewalks, rotten food, and unpleasant smells during hot summer months.

“Most Chinese restaurants, large grocery stores, and bakery owners spill their liquid wastes into the streets leaving a stench in the neighborhood.  This causes the non-Chinese to think badly of the Chinese community as a whole,” said Lin De Ming, who runs Jing Xin Yuan, a Buddhist cultivation center on Bay Parkway.

De Ming, who is white and is active in the Chinese community, worries that they will develop a reputation for being unclean.  He’s also concerned that stereotypes about the Chinese people as a whole will lead to bullying in schools.

Bensonhurst has undergone a rapid transformation in the last couple of years with an influx of mostly Chinese immigrants.  The murder of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager, in 1989 and the beating of a Chinese high school student at Lafayette High School gave Bensonhurst a reputation for racism.  Recent accusations about cleanliness is another manifestation of culture clash in the neighborhood as a result of new residents.

Community Board Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia does not agree with the stereotype.

“It’s customary with any commercial strip that you tend to have issues with garbage.  It can happen anywhere.  I don’t know if it’s due to the Asian community.  I think that’s unfair,” said Elias-Pavis.

She went on to say that because many Chinese residents are new to the community, they may not always be aware of the rules and regulations regarding sanitation.

Alan Baginski, 45, is a life-long resident of Bensonhurst.  He says that while the neighborhood used to be clean, conditions have gotten worse over the past few years, specifically around larger grocery stores.  Baginski’s biggest complaint is the smell.

“It was once so bad this summer, I saw people covering there mouths with cloths and crossing the street to avoid the stench. Even on non-garbage days the smell emitting from these groceries is quite foul,” he said.

The Department of Sanitation hasn’t heard much about the problem.  During the month of October, they received about ten complaints regarding sidewalk conditions, but issued only two fines.

Still, to try and raise esteem in the community, The United Chinese Association of Brooklyn in conjunction with 40 community members and business owners held a street-cleaning event in September to show good faith.  Volunteers walked along Bay Parkway from 65th to 86th Avenues sweeping the sidewalks and gathering trash.  By the end of the event, they had gathered 25 bags of trash in total.

De Ming, Elias-Pavia, and Baginski all say they are happy to have the newfound diversity in the neighborhood as long as they are involved in the community.

Nevertheless, some resistance is still present.  A recent post of the Bensonhurst Facebook wall highlights the issue:

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One Response to “Squabble Over Sidewalks Highlights Racial Tensions”

  1. barbie

    11. Sep, 2010

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