WALK along such busy thoroughfares as Ditmars Boulevard and Steinway Street here, and one quickly discovers the obvious: New York is a town of enormous ethnic and cultural diversity.
Astoria, a community of small shops, teeming streets, crowded restaurants, and charming row houses near LaGuardia Airport boasts of having more Greeks than any city this side of Athens. But it also has more Italians than many small towns in Italy ... Hispanics also live here ... and Chinese, Germans, Irish, Koreans. And they are "Americans" all, now. Astoria, in fact, is a case study of the intermingling of cultures and peoples found throughout the Big Apple.
Most Americans think of New York City as just a big town marked by skyscrapers. But in fact, New York is a city of hundreds of neighborhoods spread throughout five boroughs or political subdivisions. New York's boroughs dwarf other United States cities in size. For example, Brooklyn, the largest, has almost 2.3 million people, a community larger than any US city except Chicago, Los Angeles - and New York. Queens has a population of almost 2 million.
Within these five boroughs can be found neighborhoods of "traditional" ethnic groupings: More than 800,000 Italian-Americans, for example, live in "Little Italy" in lower Manhattan, as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Many of New York's half-a million Irish-Americans and 400,000 German-Americans live on the east side of Manhattan and outlying boroughs. Many yuppies live in Brooklyn Heights.
Most New Yorkers, says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute, which conducts frequent polls here, not only admire but identify with their own neighborhoods.
In early August, for example, Harlem - home in years past to Dutch settlers - will be celebrating its more-recent 20th-century African-American heritage, featuring jazz concerts, a gospel picnic, a film festival and a huge outdoor international carnival.
But Harlem is no longer home just to US born African-Americans. Families from Jamaica, Haiti, and other countries live there now and are helping reinvent the communtiy.
Carol Stix, a professor of sociology and political science at Pace University, is concerned about the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the US. Polls show many Americans see immigrants as threats to jobs and traditional ways. But as the neighborhoods of New York illustrate, immigrants contribute more in terms of jobs, taxes, and culture than they take in terms of public assistance.