Punjabis celebrated that unique achievement this past Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, when the name, ‘Punjab Avenue,’ was added to ‘101Avenue’ cutting through an area inhabited by a significant number of Punjabis who make their home in Richmond Hill, Queens.
New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams of the 28th District in Queens, along with other lawmakers including Council Member David Weprin, and several members of the Indian-American community, celebrated the co-naming which was originally supposed to take place in May, but was postponed because of COVID-19. Also present at the event was candidate for State Assembly Jenifer Rajkumar, who is of Punjabi origin, and is expected to be elected as the second Indian-American to Albany, the first being State Senator Kevin Thomas.
“We started this process of renaming two years ago,” Harpreet Singh Toor, co-founder and president of South Asians for Global Development, told Desi Talk. As for the rationale behind the renaming, Toor said, “This is a Punjab in its own. We have Punjabis from all over the areas in India, and even Pakistan. There are Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, there’s a Punjabi Christian church in Richmond Hill.”
At a community meeting two years ago, Toor and community activist and an immigrant consultant Rajwinder Kaur, suggested the naming of two streets. One was 101 Ave. from 111th Street to 123rd Street. The other is the current 97th Ave. between Lefferts Blvd. and 117th Street, which will get its new sign, Gurdwara Avenue, on Nov. 30th, the birthday of Guru Nanak. It is also the street where The Sikh Cultural Society Gurdwara is located.
Adams saw the rationale as reasonable, and began working on getting the Council to approve the change. But it was easier also because the co-naming did not involve removing some other historical figure from the lamp posts and markers, just a number, say activists close to the issue.
“Wow!” is the word Rajwinder Kaur has for the inauguration ceremony. “It was real hard work getting here,” she told Desi Talk. We had to convince Councilmembers and we worked very closely with Councilmember Adams’ office, taking them to see the actual place and how people lived. And how it is considered the ‘Mini Punjab!” she added.
Candidate Rajkumar called it a proud day for a Punjabi in the U.S., noting that if elected, she would be the first Punjabi elected to the NY State Assembly, a long time coming after the first Punjabis came to this country in the late 1800s.
“I dream of a Richmond Hill where our Punjabi youth succeed in American schools. I dream of a Richmond Hill where we are safe from hate crimes. I dream of a Richmond Hill where the businesses all along Punjab Ave are thriving,” Rajkumar said.
“The co-naming ceremony celebrated the contributions of the Punjab community that remains a part of the fabric of Richmond Hill, Queens and New York City as a whole,” says the press release from Adams’ office.
“It is important that New York City’s diverse communities see themselves and their varying cultures represented in the historical landscape,” Adams is quoted saying at the event.
“The co-naming of Punjab Avenue is a long overdue recognition for the contributions of the Punjabi community both locally and throughout the city. I am so to proud to bring Punjab Avenue to our city to celebrate the culture and contributions that Punjabis have made over many years,” the Council Member added.
Weprin said it was a “wonderful way” to recognize the Punjabi community, calling it a “culturally significant” event for the city.
“I personally believe that this is the first step after a long struggle by the Sikhs,” said Toor, adding, “After chaotic events we became a target. This historical recognition that has taken place today shows the willingness to understand us as a community and as a people.”
“As a Punjabi woman, in the midst of my home life responsibilities and a full-time job, it is my privilege to embrace the commitment to empower and be a voice for the community,” said Rajwinder Kaur,
The 28th District includes the Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village and South Ozone Park. Adams, as chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions and a member of the Civil Service and Labor; Finance; Land Use; Parks and Recreation; Public Safety and Rules, Privileges and Elections Committees, was specially placed to be able to make the demand a reality.