Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Finding Serenity in Flushing
By Deanna Fei

 

When most people think of Flushing, they tend to think of hectic traffic, overflowing street markets, noisy crowds slurping authentically mouth-numbing food. (Unless they think primarily of the Mets, in which case I’m not terribly interested.)

It’s true that anyone stepping out of the Main Street station is likely to stumble upon images like these:

Downtown Flushing (Photo by Jessica Fei)

Sago Tea Cafe, downtown Flushing (Photo by Jessica Fei)

But, as I recently discovered, there are also scenes like these unfolding every morning just blocks away:

Tai Chi in Kissena Park (Photo by Jessica Fei)

Tai Chi in Kissena Park (Photo by Jessica Fei)

I was born and raised in Flushing, and it wasn’t until I moved to Beijing about ten years ago that I became familiar with the sight of flocks of casually dressed, middle-aged locals practicing tai chi in perfect unison in ancient parks, in the Temple of Heaven, in parking lots, on street corners—on seemingly any square of pavement, so many of which appeared and disappeared and appeared again in those days of urban development at warp speed. I decided to learn the discipline, and I found that amid the tumult of life in a city of twenty-million-plus, there was nothing like focusing on a movement like “cloud hands” for a few minutes in the morning.

When I returned home to New York, I feared I’d lose my tai chi forever. Partly to keep my own memory fresh, I tried to teach it to my dad, who was skeptical. It was a badly conceived plan, quickly abandoned—and soon, amid the daily grind of long work hours and long commute times, I gave up trying to keep up my own practice, too.

But in the years since, tai chi groups seem to have sprung up all across Flushing—out in the open, in Kissena Park, the Queens Botanical Gardens, even the tiny playground where my sisters and I used to seesaw, as well as inside numerous church basements and nondescript buildings along Northern Boulevard. I’m sure there have long been a few practitioners of tai chi in the area, but it seems that now they have burgeoned into a great, kaleidoscopic community—one that now includes my father. He’s pictured above, in the blue track pants, alongside Teacher Du, a tai chi master from China who has become one of his closest friends.

Now, for Open City, I plan to have my father guide me through the places where tai chi is flourishing across Flushing, from the public parks to the hidden interiors, from formal classes to impromptu gatherings. In spending time with members of these communities, I plan to explore how they arrived at the discipline; whether they came to it fresh or carried childhood memories of, say, gym class in China; how it might have shifted their use and definitions of public and private space; how tai chi might figure in their own sense of themselves as immigrants and as citizens.

And how all of this might open a new window for me onto a neighborhood I thought I knew.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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