Immigrants Eye a Return Home

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Under the rumbling No. 7 line el along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights hangs the red, blue and yellow sign of the Ecuadorian consulate. Clusters of down-and-out men sit on the sidewalk around the sign, waiting for a job that never comes. Most haven’t worked in weeks – or months, in some cases.

The immigrants’ usual living arrangement of two to three people per apartment is now closer to seven or eight as they struggle to pay the rent. Some can’t afford housing and become homeless. Those without documentation hesitate to seek social services and must often ask their families in Ecuador for money.

“If I’m going to starve, I’m better off starving in my country,” said Patricio Garces, an Ecuadorian-born U.S. citizen who plans to return home this year.

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Remittance Pittance for Ecuadoreans

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Rosa Martinez used to stroll to the local money transfer office in Corona every week to send $200 to her family in Cuenca, Ecuador.

She still goes to the Delgado Travel office, but not to send money. Instead, it is she who collects a little cash from those family members in Cuenca.

“My husband used to earn $140 a day working three, four days a week as a construction worker,” said Martinez, 48. “Now he gets $80 a day and works two, maximum three days a week.”

The economic downturn has battered the nation in recent months, but it also has deeply affected countries like Ecuador, where a recently improved standard of living has devolved with less money flowing from immigrants working in the U.S.

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Students Find Rewards in Giving Back

Monday, June 8th, 2009

When they’re not in class, Regis High School seniors Ruben Martinez and Julian Penero spend two to four days a week delivering meals or offering computer tutoring at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging on the upper East Side.

“Whenever we do anything small, whether it’s getting a fork for them or bringing them their meal or helping them figure out how to send an e-mail, they’re always so thankful to us,” said Martinez.

“Sending an e-mail comes by nature to us, but when we help someone do that and they’re so grateful, that’s so rewarding to us,” he said.

The Regis model soon may extend to city public schools.

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CD1: Family Among Strangers

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Greenpoint is known as a Polish immigrant neighborhood.

But if you walk north on Manhattan Avenue, past three blocks of shuttered storefronts, the Polish meat markets are being replaced by bodegas and Mexican restaurants.

If you go one block farther, you will see factories and giant brick industrial buildings.

Here in this unlikely location, at the northernmost tip of Greenpoint, and nestled between Box and Ash Streets sits the aptly named Ashbox Café, an upscale coffee shop.

Yoko’s Story

The owner, Yoko Kubo, 47, is a Japanese immigrant, who serves factory workers and local artists green teas, edamame, homemade tofu and Japanese fluffy bread. She is part of an increasingly diverse neighborhood that includes Poles, Latinos, loft-dwelling artists – and a handful of Japanese.

Kubo is a minority immigrant in a sea of others, yet she somehow feels at home here – even more so after a recent personal tragedy.

“The reason why I like living here is that the people are very friendly,” Kubo said from behind the counter one recent Tuesday afternoon.

When Kubo first immigrated with her husband, Yu, to the United States from Tokyo, Japan 13 years ago, they moved to Manhattan — a place where she never really felt comfortable.

“Tokyo is just like Manhattan. It’s so crowded. Too many people,” she said.

A Neighborhood Staple

Kubo got the opportunity to leave her job as manager of a fancy Japanese restaurant in Midtown in early 2008 when she and her husband took over management of the Ashbox Café, the northernmost coffee shop in Brooklyn. The two had been living in Greenpoint for 11 years by this point, and the café had been a staple of the neighborhood for five years, with two previous owners.

For Kubo, it was the perfect fit – she had run a coffee shop back in Tokyo and was an expert in teas. She infused the western coffee shop with a “Japanese taste” so that there would be “more than just sandwiches,” she said.

“There’s a similarity to some of the small shops [in Japan],” said Gregor Asch, a.k.a. DJ Olive the Audio Janitor, who has lived in Greenpoint for 19 of his 40 years. “The people who own the shop also do the cooking and are very attentive to the detail of what’s going in the food.”

Although Kubo is one of only a small number Japanese in the area, she says that she feels a greater sense of community in Greenpoint than what she ever experienced in Japan.

“It’s not so close in neighborhoods in Japan. So I feel more comfortable to live here, because of the people,” Kubo said.

The community atmosphere she strives to create for her customers — many of whom come to the shop three times a day — is similar.

‘A Warm Feeling’

“I’m always looking for places where I can sit with my laptop and work, and it’s a really, really peaceful environment here,” said Anya Rozenblat, 31, a photographer originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, who has lived in Greenpoint for three years.

Kubo’s husband passed away in March at age 67. He had been sick on and off for the past two years and the community supported the couple.

When Kubo was still working in Manhattan, “I gave the keys for my to apartment to my friends,” she said. That way if her ailing husband had an emergency, their Brooklyn friends could get to him faster.

After her husband died, Kubo closed the store for ten days. She returned to find her doorstep covered in prayer candles and flowers.

“I had a warm feeling for neighborhood and customers at Ashbox,” Kubo said.

CD 2: A Shebeen in Fort Greene

Friday, June 5th, 2009

CD 3: Caribbeans Say ‘Count Us in’

Friday, June 5th, 2009

CD 4: Free Tuition – With a Catch

Friday, June 5th, 2009

CD 5: Judo Offers Life Lessons

Friday, June 5th, 2009

CD 6: Kicking Back With Soccer

Friday, June 5th, 2009